Live From PyeongChang: NBC’s Chip Adams on the Evolution of Venue Operations
Having done its ‘homework,’ the engineering team arrived at the Games well-prepared
Every Olympics challenges a venue-operations team in new and unique ways: cultural differences, language differences, and problem-solving philosophy can change drastically from one Games to the next. In PyeongChang, VP, Venue Engineering, Chip Adams and his team at NBC Olympics have tackled those differences, implemented new workflows, and supported the efforts of the NBC production team. And, although the 2018 Games have tossed some weather challenges at NBC Olympics (and everyone else working the Games), things are going just fine.
“The venue-engineering operations are going pretty well,” says Adams. “We took a lot of time last summer to get the systems constructed and tested back in Stamford, so all we had to do was extend the piece of fiber from a couple of hundred yards to 7,000 miles long.”
That hard work at home was occurring at the same time the local organizing committee was hard at work on venue construction.
“The surveys for the major venues were done a year ago,” says Adams, “and there were also successful test events, so the venues were clean and well-prepared.” Phoenix Snow Park, where the extreme sports are taking place, was the only real major challenge: it was an operating ski area, and the owners kept it open as late as possible, compressing the schedule for getting the venue up and running.
The biggest issue that the venue team and everyone else has had to deal with was the weather early on in the Games. The weeks leading up to the Opening Ceremony were extremely cold, and, although the day of the Opening Ceremony saw a jump in temperatures, windy conditions settled in for a couple of days and caused a number of alpine and other events to be postponed until later in the week.
The alpine events became the trickiest to handle: the two hills, the speed hill and the tech hill, are about 45 miles apart. The original schedule for the Games allowed for a single production and technical team to work both hills because there was no overlap in competition. But both the men’s downhill and the women’s giant slalom were scheduled for the morning of Feb. 15.
“We never expected to have people on two different hills at the same time, and OBS didn’t either,” says Adams. “We were short on staffing, but everyone jumped in to make it work. In some ways, having one facility to deal with [made things easier] as we didn’t try to move the announcers from one hill to the other; they called it off-tube.”
All the alpine events are produced by NBC out of Game Creek’s Justice production truck, which is located at the technical hill.
“We actually did something in 2006 at the Torino Olympics, when the speed events were 2 km away from the production truck,” says Adams. “This was just an extension of that but with modern technology so we could move commentary audio and IFB using Media Links and RTS Rvon connectivity. We pushed the limit on that link.”
The venue team is relying more and more on IP signal transport. There were a couple of issues with some IP configurations and QOS early on that needed to be sorted out, in particular with the ski-jumping and curling venues. The commentary for the curling venues was sent to Stamford, but the ski jumping and big-air events are produced out of Control Room X in the IBC.
“We’ve gotten things set correctly on all the devices,” notes Adams. “The concept of [at-home] production is being validated and moving forward.”
This is the first year that big-air events have been part of the Olympics, and the NBC production team added a 6X super-slow-motion camera to the mix yesterday as well as an RF camera. It also made use of a robotic camera in the ski-jump tower to grab video of the big-air jump, which was opposite the ski jump.
Different venues require different levels of technical support, and at-home production, which eliminates the need for a full production truck at a venue, continues to be validated by the venue-engineering team.
“We’ve been doing [at-home] production for four or five Games now,” Adams explains. “It started with just a couple of signals being sent back, but now we have added the capability of doing dissolves and supporting up to 36 feeds with the B-level flypacks.“
Long-track speed skating, for example, uses the B-level flypack, which supports seven cameras, 20 host feeds, and five EVS systems. The C World kits, meanwhile, support smaller shows, such as the sliding. At the sliding venue, only two unilateral cameras are used, and the NBC team takes in 10 feeds and has one EVS unit.
The NBC Olympics venue-engineering and -operations team will soon turn their attention full-time to preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I’ve got the greatest bunch of people to support the venue side, and, with the testing and planning we did, they were able to get everything in place,” says Adams. “The team we have has been with us for the past four or five Games, and, when you bring in the same cast of characters, they know the issues, the pieces, and the parts. You can never underestimate the value of people with multiple-Games’ experience to support you.”