Sony, CenturyLink Tout Benefits of At-Home Production for Esports

Sony’s new system-orchestration product coordinates the operation’s shared resources

Interest in esports continues to soar, and continued enhancements in at-home–production technology are making it easier and more cost-effective for broadcasters and everybody else in the esports ecosystem — as well as in traditional broadcast sports — to deliver an increased number of events to viewers, according to Sony Electronics and CenturyLink executives.

The companies collaborated at NAB 2019 in April on a production across Las Vegas. With the HyperX eSports Arena in the Luxor Hotel serving as the at-home operations base, they produced a live feed from the arena’s gaming tournaments, using an workflow built around a 10GbE Wavelength network provided by CenturyLink and Sony’s portfolio of IP-based products, coupled with Sony’s new Live Element Orchestrator system-orchestration solution, which allows resources to be coordinated intelligently and shared between the two environments, according to the companies. Sony’s XVS-7000 3G switcher was located at the Las Vegas Convention Center and operated in 4K alongside a full complement of production equipment; a Sony XVS-8000 switcher was at the arena running in HD.

That type of transition would normally take several hours of reconfiguration in current environments and could still leave content creators wondering whether they had correctly changed all the settings on all the devices used, according to CenturyLink and Sony. But Sony’s Live Element Orchestrator coordinated the transition and intelligently choreographed all production environments, significantly decreasing the amount of downtime between shows and making more-efficient use of production resources, the companies reported.

With the Las Vegas demo, “we wanted to capitalize on the huge trend in the marketplace of esports and esports production,” says Deon LeCointe, senior manager, IP production technology, Sony Electronics.

The demo represented the first time his division had participated in an esports initiative, he says, noting that Sony has been a vendor of professional production equipment used at esports arenas for several years. Sony Interactive Entertainment, meanwhile, has been involved in many PlayStation-related esports initiatives.

Sony’s professional division is now “working with a number of production companies and mobile trucks that are producing esports events,” LeCointe says, adding that esports is “challenging some of the operational norms associated with typical sports productions.” Sony’s IP, 4K, and HDR cameras, switchers, and servers, meanwhile, provide esports with the “creative freedom to produce the highest-quality events by offering the right tools, service, and expertise.”

Calling the Las Vegas demo a “resounding success,” he says show attendees loved the idea that it was esports, which is a “huge trend in the production space” and, from a viewership perspective, is seeing “significant increases year over year.”

The demo’s “message to the market” was that, with the system used, it was possible to efficiently and cost-effectively share resources from multiple locations, LeCointe explains. After all, it’s “very likely that some of our customers are going to be doing different types of shows for different days of the week or even during different times of the day,” often while deploying a pool of shared devices and other resources.

For example, he explains, maybe cameras and switchers are shared by two or more control rooms or other facilities and you want to change from an HD show in the morning to a 4K one in the afternoon. Or maybe you’re a network like CNN with bureaus around the world and you have a switcher that’s not being used in New York from midnight to 8 am, so it would be great if your London bureau could use that switcher during its primetime. With Live Element Orchestrator, the London bureau can use the switcher for 4K or HD, and the New York bureau can use it again when needed, he explains, adding that the device also lets you schedule use of the switcher, reconfigure from an HD to a 4K switcher seamlessly, or even split into two to handle two shows at the same time.

Those using Orchestrator “never have to leave the control room,” LeCointe points out, and can see the changes happening right in front of them.

Everything happens “in the span of 30 seconds to one minute,” he adds. “You’re more efficient, [and] you’re using your production equipment more regularly, more efficiently, which should translate into cost saving for the customer.”

Orchestrator started shipping in July, and Sony has already seen demand from broadcasters. It will be implemented for them starting this year to go live in 2020, according to LeCointe.

It has a “broad application base,” he notes, adding, “We definitely see its being used for traditional broadcast applications,” including esports, and on production trucks. It can also conceivably be used for other sectors, such as schools and houses of worship.

Like Sony, CenturyLink sees esports as a significantly growing form of entertainment, especially among young consumers. CenturyLink has been investing in fiber builds at key sports and esports venues in the U.S. and also architected its Vyvx network to deliver content into locations that live-events rightsholders rely on to produce and stage their content for mass-audience consumption, according to Bill Wohnoutka, VP, global internet and content delivery services, CenturyLink.

Esports has “already become important to a number of different product lines” at CenturyLink, he says. “We see the popularity [and] consumption by consumers growing very quickly and growing quickly globally.”

CenturyLink is working on various esports-related initiatives. He says, for example, it has “put fiber into about 75% of the sports venues in the U.S.,” including all MLB and NFL venues, and is “about half-way through” NBA and NHL venues.

The first esports initiative Wohnoutka was involved with was the simulcast of a 2007 World League Gaming event, he says. For now, it remains a “pretty specialized business,” he adds. “There are still only 15 or so sports broadcasters in the U.S. that are really driving the demand. I think, similarly, esports today still has a very concentrated set of customers,” which include ESPN and Turner.

CenturyLink is providing “10-gig connectivity” for esports venues and is increasingly moving to 100-gig connectivity, which Wohnoutka notes is “absolutely critical” for 4K and 8K at-home productions.

Lingering challenges in the esports business include the fact that “you’ve got to have the capital and assets to build the right type of connectivity at a specific location.” With a venue like Madison Square Garden, he says, “it’s expensive to send a television crew there to go in and take all the camera feeds and take all of the feeds that are coming out of the game play, produce those onsite, and then distribute them back to master control, and then deliver them over satellite to their cable affiliates.”

The cost comes down significantly, he points out, by “enabling [at-home] production with a high-capacity connection. The idea is that our customers are spending a significant amount of money to send their teams out to those locations. They can produce more events and do a better job at it if they use [at-home–]production software, which is what” Sony and CenturyLink demonstrated in Las Vegas.

Producers are getting more comfortable with at-home production, he adds, noting that “there’s still a long way to go to get the industry to the point where it’s more broadly [accepted].”