REMI Hits the Road: How Vista Worldlink Remained Fully Operational Throughout Hurricane Irma
More than 30 sports events aired as scheduled over the weekend
Earlier this year, Vista Worldlink transformed its Dania Beach, FL, production/transmission facility into the epicenter of at-home and remote-integration (REMI) production for its numerous sports properties. When Hurricane Irma threatened the facility this month, Vista didn’t shut down — or even slow down. Instead, the company took its at-home model on the road.
From Sept. 9 through Sept. 12, Vista — with the assistance of strategic partners Tata Communications, Rush Media, AT&T, IMG, Arqiva, Intelsat, and others — ensured that more than 30 sports events aired as scheduled.
The company produced seven United States Soccer League (USL) games onsite, managed the streaming for 12 USL games from Vista’s facility, and distributed six games to local regional sports networks. In addition, Vista produced four National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) games onsite, including the Lifetime Game of the Week, and coordinated production of 10 Major League Soccer (MLS) games. Furthermore, Vista provided network origination and master control for five Motors TV channels and streamed UFC 2015 for FITE Network.
“The broadcast industry may be small and sometimes competitive, but, in a crisis situation, everyone is there to assist,” says VISTA Worldlink VP Josh Liemer. “The experience reminded me how much what we do affects others. People depend on television, and their sports programming is an integral part of their daily life.”
The Storm Approaches
When Vista built its current South Florida headquarters about 11 years ago, it was constructed to withstand hurricane-force winds. “When you live and work in South Florida,” says Liemer, “it’s not about if a hurricane will come; it’s when.” High-impact hurricane-proof glass surrounds the structure, and, in case of power failure, a generator can keep the building fully operational for five days.
Although the building would almost certainly stand up to Irma’s wrath, Vista wanted to ensure that its services would continue uninterrupted. With the weather forecasts and hurricane models showing that Irma was headed straight for South Florida, the company looked for another way to handle events in place of its usual method of sending the signal back to the facility for transmission and playout.
For both USL and NWSL, Vista usually controls the transmission of both leagues via a proprietary transmission network built and managed with Tata Communications. Prior to Hurricane Irma, Vista worked with Tata Communications to use the latter’s cloud technology to transcode and deliver games from a variety of stadiums directly to the end user, bypassing Vista’s facility entirely.
“Instead of doing REMI productions, we made all our productions traditional onsite productions,” says Liemer. “We were able to do all of the various distribution to the end user within the cloud, so, instead of [the signal’s] coming back to a traditional facility — which it does week in and week out at Vista to be produced and then distributed to local television partners, OTT platforms, and social-media platforms — all that distribution happened within the cloud. We were able to navigate the signals away from the Vista facility, which we thought perhaps would be affected by the hurricane, and we were able to distribute all that content to locations like Snappy TV, YouTube, and local RSN television partners for our various clients. That technology really was a saving grace to support us during these times.”
For the full slate of MLS games typically funneled through Vista’s facility for archiving and world-feed distribution, Vista worked with AT&T, IMG, and Arqiva to route signals directly from the stadiums, via the AT&T network, to IMG’s facility through to the end point. Signals continued to be routed through Vista, but these were considered backup transmission paths.
Inside the Facility
Vista worked with Rush Media to transition its typical REMI gear to traditional onsite production complements and deployed producers to onsite locations to ensure that productions went off without a hitch. Meanwhile, a 12-person Hurricane Coverage team remained behind to keep Vista’s facility up and running.
At 4:00 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 9, Vista locked down its facility and did not reopen until 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday Sept. 12. During that time, a 12-person team — comprising Vista’s senior engineer, who acted as the engineer in charge of the facility; director of live events, who served as main supervisor; production-support personnel; digital-media-center personnel; MCR operators; special-events coordinators; and traffic coordinators — lived at the facility to ensure that all services were supported throughout the storm.
Roller beds and plenty of provisions were brought in for the team, and, throughout the four days, the building sustained only minimal damage and never lost any connectivity. (The building did lose power for 36 hours, but the generator kicked in to support the building.) At 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, a Hurricane Relief team arrived to assist and ultimately relieve the Hurricane Support team.
“It was an amazing team effort,” says Liemer. “It was one of those moments where it has nothing to do with the finances; it has nothing to do with the relationships between different companies. Every carrier, every partner of ours, no matter how large or small, just rolled up their sleeves and put out a helping hand to assist us while we were going through this, which was really amazing.
“It’s all about the people, and Vista has amazing people,” he continues. “Our founder, Roy Liemer, believes in customer service and whatever it takes to deliver our client services we have to do. It was never about anything more than keeping our employees safe and protecting our client services.”