NBC Olympics breaks new ground in workflow for Sochi Games

Darryl Jefferson says that the decision to have file sharing at all of the venues was a huge step forward for NBC Olympics.

Darryl Jefferson says that the decision to have file sharing at all of the venues was a huge step forward for NBC Olympics.

NBC Olympics coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia, begins tonight and it will give new meaning to the phrase “spanning the globe” as production teams at each of the venues, the IBC, and back home in Stamford, CT, are connected more closely than ever.

Since the 2008 Beijing Games NBC Olympics has used the large fiber and data pipes to do much more than just backhaul content. The goal has been to give production personnel, no matter where they are located, access to the content they need when they need it, and with true autonomy. This year NBC has accomplished that goal as not only are the two main production centers in Sochi and Stamford connected but also all of the venue production teams.

“We’ve never tried having connected venues and the idea of doing this is a huge leap,” says Jefferson. “[The connected IBC in] London was a huge leap but to extend off of that and make spurs for every venue in the coastal cluster and a spur for the mountain cluster is huge. At the alpine event someone can log into the system, find a clip, and then send it to themself.”

Server and asset media asset technologies from Avid, EVS, and Harmonic play the key role in both Sochi and Stanford as the FileCatalyst file transfer platform allows for users to search for content within EVS IP Director and then move files back and forth across the Atlantic (and then some) via Level 3 circuits.

“The big change now is there is just one MAM system,” says Sascha Tischer, Avid, solution engineer, Interplay MAM Delivery. “In 2012 there was one MAM in London and one in Stamford but now there is just one.”

One of the more fascinating aspects of the system is that when staffers in Sochi want to find a clip or piece of content they are finding it courtesy of metadata that was input by a logger back in Stamford, CT who will be logging events as they happen. The metadata from the host broadcast, Olympic Broadcaster Services (OBS) is married with the logger’s metadata to provide a complete picture of what happened and what makes it worth using.

“OBS is on the hook to deliver the objective metadata like when the race started, who is racing, and who won,” says Jefferson. “And our loggers will log information like an athlete hugged their mom or fist bumped a team mate. Those subjective log notes are important.”

As that information is logged back in Stamford, CT, production teams using 41 Avid editing systems and four EVS playback machines at the IBC in Sochi and additional gear at the venues can then use the metadata to begin assembling content for air. About 288 TB of Avid Media Grid storage and 85 TB of EVS storage is on site at NBC’s IBC operations and more than 5.5 Petabytes of archived material is in Stamford.

“Most of the venues have Avid systems, some just EVS, and some a mix of Avid and EVS,” says Jefferson. “The format flavor of the day is an XDCAM OP1A file so the systems will then take that content in and transcode it for the EVS servers.”

The team in Stamford includes more than 300 staffers working on everything from logging to creating a number of programs. The Gold Zone will take viewers from one event to the next, keeping up with the hottest action between 7 am and 3 pm EST (and this year Andrew Sciliano, host of DirecTV’s NFL Red Zone Channel will co-host long with Golf Channel host Ryan Burr).

Also originating out of Stamford will be Olympic Ice, a daily half-hour studio show that will stream on NBCOlympics.com and Live Extra starting at 5:30 p.m. That program will feature overviews of all the figure skating action, of which there is plenty this year thanks to a new team skating event that began yesterday.

And the Olympic News Desk will also be produced out of Stamford, offering updates throughout the day at NBCOlympics.com.

And then there are the promo and marketing departments who will access content to build needed elements and the curling coverage which will involve five baseband signals being sent back to Stamford where announcers will call the action off tube.

“Half of the education is figuring out where stuff is and then identifying and keeping track of assets as each group works a little bit differently,” says Jefferson.

The Olympics game provide a perfect example of the growth of “at home” efforts as with a centralized production team like OBS doing much of the camera and event production work the rights holders can concentrate on editing and building story packages.

“You certainly want a presence on site but you can often do just as good of a job from far away,” says Jefferson. “The difference today is that technology is no longer in the way…we are not waiting for another advancement. It’s really a matter of what you are trying to do.”

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