At World Series, Fox Sports Stays Connected, Enables Remote Work Via Hybrid-Cloud Workflows on Virtualized Infrastructure
THUMBWAR services have proved critical in an event generating tons of video data
The World Series is one of the biggest productions that Fox Sports puts together each year, and the prospect of a neutral-site Fall Classic during a pandemic presented the network with a slew of challenges, as well as a huge opportunity for technological growth.
The ability to establish a single compound onsite at Globe Life Field in Arlington, TX, eliminated some of the traditional travel logistics that complicate a dual-site series. That has allowed Fox Sports operations professionals to focus on getting the most out of the compound while using the cloud to deploy rapidly maturing remote workflows, enabling contribution by offsite staffers.
Fox Sports’ Features Group and pool of editors have greatly benefited from a new virtualization platform based on a hybrid-cloud infrastructure. Deployed by partner THUMBWAR, the system features remote virtual edit tools (powered by Teradici Cloud Access), a remote media-management network (powered by iconik), a custom-built remote feed-monitoring solution, and ancillary support of HDR transcoding, ingest, and collaboration all in a single virtual stack.
“What this really means is that people at home are connecting to site and are having the same experience as if they were onsite,” says Trevor Carlson, VP, engineering, THUMBWAR, who has been onsite since the beginning of the month supporting Fox Sports’ complete MLB Postseason efforts.
THUMBWAR has deployed six virtualized edit systems (four of which are remote) and a remote DaVinci Resolve editing and color-correction system to securely support 10-15 remote producers, with users located all across North America.
The media-management complexities for this World Series are compounded by the sheer number of video files generated and by the large file sizes involved in the 4K, 5K, and HDR content flowing through the Fox compound.
For example, per day, Fox Sports is averaging 1,200 clips processed from HDR to SDR and 250 clips processed from SDR to HDR. Each game recording averages about 3 TB of data and about 750 ENG clips from such cameras as the (6K-capable) ARRI Alexa Mini, RED, and Sony FS7.
To manage such a heavy load of content, THUMBWAR’s onsite gear presence is hefty. The virtualization stack is supported by 392 processing cores, 2.5 TB of memory, and eight NVIDIA Tesla GPUs, which funnel 400 TB of usable storage in an 80-Gbps switching core.
THUMBWAR has been supporting Fox Sports’ coverage of the World Series since 2007, but, according to Founding Partner Brain Carr, the cloud-based remote media-management system is the company’s most transformative effort to date. In the future, the cloud-based workflow will allow the system to be constantly online and always accessible to remote editors throughout the Series. In the past, the system was down on travel days until technicians arrived onsite.
“This is something that we’re big on and looking to integrate into all our projects where we are empowering people to continue to work even when the stack isn’t stood up,” says Carr. “This project is always a beast, but, usually, the challenges are around logistics: travel, synchronizing two different locations. This year, that complexity has been reduced, allowing us to focus efforts onto these new complexities in enabling remote work. The challenge has certainly evolved: we’re dealing with a lot more data at higher resolutions and enabling people to view content offsite and share content offsite.”
The system is playing a huge role in the live broadcast as well. Although there are more than 200 staffers onsite working on the World Series television project, there are many contributing to the show in a significant and tangible way from offsite locations through this remote workflow. That includes editing at Fox Sports’ Pico facility in Los Angeles or even live-broadcast technicians working from their own homes. For example, one Fox Sports staffer is helping color the live show from his in-laws’ home in Arizona.
The custom-built, two-way, real-time monitoring of signals between the site and remote users is a critical solution that has bolstered all ends of the production. THUMBWAR’s in-house development team created a custom WebRTC-based viewing application to securely deliver programs and other video to personnel working remotely. Users have a menu for choosing from available feeds – both video feeds and edit-system outputs. The system also solves the issue of feeds’ lagging the production broadcast, reducing the latency that remote workers typically have to combat.