Fox Sports Applies Confederations Cup Lessons to 2018 World Cup Planning

A major focus is refining the IP workflow moving audio, video from venues to IBC and beyond

With the FIFA Confederations Cup in the rearview mirror, the Fox Sports production team at the center of World Cup operations has turned its focus to the next phase of planning: applying the lessons learned during the Confederations Cup to preparing for next year’s main event.

“Putting on 16 clean matches was goal No. 1,” notes Kevin Callahan, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports, “but we very much used it as a test.” Fox Sports fielded a team of 75 people in Russia for the effort.

The test covered everything from the broadcast systems that Fox Sports expects to use at the 12 stadiums next year to the use of IP connectivity between the venues and the IBC and even to security and logistics. The focus has been on the venue side of operations and refining a workflow that involves the use of IP to move audio and video signals from the commentary and pitch-side positions to two racks of equipment in the compound. The goal is to use flight cases in the cabin at each of the 12 World Cup venues and to connect them to smaller flight cases on the booth and on the field and to have all audio and video signals pass through to the IBC via the Lawo A_Line mic 8 audio-to-IP interface and Studio Technologies Dante-supported Model 380 and 374 beltpacks.

“The end product will have three different AES67 audio-over-IP domains existing on the same network hardware. Two RAVENNA networks [were deployed]: one for the A_Line mic 8’s on the field and in the booth and one Dante, which hosts RTS Omneo devices and Studio Technologies IFB and PL beltpacks. No small feat there,” says Doug McGee, head of venue engineering, Fox Sports. “Honestly, with having everything on the same network, we can take video from any stadium and pass it through to another stadium.”

Fox Sports’ Kevin Callahan (left) and Doug McGee

Adds Callahan, “This is our first time working with NEP Major Projects, and they really knocked it out of the park. They also supplied new furniture that sets up fast, easy, and packs well for shipping. That makes a difference, as we will only have a month from when we get the keys to when we are on-air when setting up the IBC.”

The Confederations Cup comprised 16 matches played by eight teams. Fox had a core three-person announce team in Russia to call 10 matches onsite; for the other six matches, play-by-play was called from the stadium, with commentary and analysis by two analysts off-tube in Los Angeles. The technical team at the venue included an engineer, tech manager, and two A2s. It is expected that at least 50 matches will be called onsite next year.

“The World Cup is a marathon, not a sprint. This year, we had six rest days in 16 days,” Callahan explains. “But, next year, we will have produced 220 hours of content after Day 12, and, on Day 15, we will have done matches 45 through 48 before we have a day without a match. The sheer tonnage of content in the first 15 days will be pretty amazing.”

At the Confederations Cup. Fox Sports used a 10-Gbps data pipe to send content to Amazon Web Services in Frankfurt, Germany. Reach Engine served as a content-management system for the AWS storage with CMSI’s Beagle Networks on hand to oversee the IP network.

“The IP connectivity between venues and the IBC also allows us to do file transfers to Los Angeles during non-match periods,” says Callahan. “Our teams can go to a venue and transfer files to us [at the IBC], and then we can get them to Los Angeles.”

One of the technical highlights for Fox Sports is a custom Lawo audio application that makes control of the in-ear mix for talent easier than ever.

“The mixes can be done with the talent locally, or I can control them from the compound,” says McGee. “I can also control all the remote kits from the compound, do changes, and hear what they are hearing.”

Fox also had a chance to test out a new version of the FIFA MAX server, which stores highlights and other video clips. The system has an interface that would be familiar to YouTube users, but it also allows the user to download not only the video and audio but transcriptions, translations, and even the subtitle files.

One thing that was not able to be tested was taking in a 1080p host-broadcast feed and passing it through the Fox facilities. Next year, Fox will take a 1080p/50 signal into the IBC in Moscow and convert it to a 720p/60 signal.

“We can’t see how it will react, but we aren’t expecting any issues with that or with handing off any UHD or HDR content,” Callahan explains. “The IBC will be the hub next year — much like, at a Super Bowl, the compound is the hub. Then the signals needed for commercial integration are sent to [to Fox Sports’ Pico facility in L.A.].”

The next couple of months will be critical: Fox Sports needs to figure out its IBC space needs by Sept. 15. All studio content next year will be broadcast out of a studio in Red Square, and there will also be a smaller studio in the IBC, which will be located outside Moscow.

“We are testing out the smaller studio right now in Charlotte[,NC],” adds Callahan. “We won’t have any unilateral sets in the stadiums, but we will take advantage of presentation studio positions or platforms with a smaller crew travelling around to put those on.”

Although the goal of the Confederations Cup was to get ready for next year’s World Cup, Callahan says the workflow in use this past month lays the groundwork for other productions as well.

“We took this project as something that is not only about next year but also about home-run productions in the States,” says Callahan. If the connectivity between the venue and broadcast center is good enough, the kits have the potential to streamline onsite studio operations by removing the need for a truck to be rolled in.

“The production people can work in an environment they are used to,” he points out, “and the system is built for growth and expansion.”

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