Canada Streamlines to Increase London Games Coverage

More efficient workflows will boost quantity, quality of Olympics reporting
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Even before the Summer Olympics competition plays out in London between July 27 and Aug. 12, Canada has already emerged as a winner. Canadians will be able to watch a record 5,500-plus hours of coverage in 11 languages, with more than 2,000 hours on TV and another 3,500 hours available on digital media, both streamed live and on-demand.

Of course, delivering all this content means overcoming some major technical hurdles for Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium (COBMC), a joint venture that is 80% owned by CTV and 20% by Rogers Media, which handles the coverage. Serving a population of only 34.9 million— about one-ninth that of the 313.9 million who live in the U.S.—COBMC is delivering about the same amount of content to Canadian viewers as NBCUniversal is offering U.S. audiences. And yet COBMC will be sending only 300 people to London, far fewer than the 3,000 or so folks NBCU will have at the Games.

One key component in COBMC’s efforts to deliver so much content on a more modest budget is the fact that the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) has significantly ramped up its role as the host broadcaster. The Canadians will be taking all the OBS London feeds, including an IP package that will provide much of its digital coverage, and then supplementing OBS with its own crews and cameras at five venues so that it can provide extensive coverage of Canadian athletes.

Streamlined workflows will also be crucial. Harris automation has been deployed at master controls, but the Canadians will not be using production automation. “All the master controls use standard automation systems, but the Olympics are too dynamic for [production] automation,” notes Curtis Skinner, director of engineering at COBMC. “All the control rooms are fully manned, because there is a lot of human intervention.”

COBMC has, however, signi! cantly beefed up its connectivity to London, securing a 10-gig transatlantic connection, and revamped its long distance workflows to reduce the number of people needed in London.

COBMC will get about 60 feeds in London and pare those down to about 35, which will be sent to Canada in the very high-quality JPEG2000 HD format to rooms in Toronto and Montreal, notes Skinner. Those feeds will be edited to supply 1,114 hours of Englishlanguage coverage on CTV, TSN, Sportsnet and OLN from Toronto and another 704 hours of French-language coverage on RDS and V from Montreal. In addition, about 223 hours of coverage will air on OMNI.1, OMNI.2 and ATN in nine other languages.

That system significantly reduces the staff needed on-site. “We had about 1,200 people in Vancouver [for the 2010 Winter Games] but we will have about 300 people in London,” Skinner says. “All the rest are working from their home stations in Toronto and Montreal. So it will save us a lot on cost as well as our space in the IBC [International Broadcast Center].”

These systems will also help improve the quality and reliability of the production feeds. To handle the complexity of delivering content to so many different channels, COBMC has developed a number of software packages in-house, some of which were first used for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

These include an internally developed media asset management system; a software system dubbed “the App” for managing the rundown and ad inventory for all their shows; and a third software system called “the Tech App” that helps track and control various feeds.

“It allows us to be much more dynamic with what we are covering and yet still be con! dent that we are not going to make the mistake of taking someone off the air,” notes Skinner.

The JPEG2000 feeds will also allow the team to supplement the London coverage with transatlantic interviews. The low latency of the JPEG2000 feeds means interviews will be conducted without annoying gaps between the questions and responses.

Along with the revamped workflows, COBMC has managed to improve communication between all the various locations in London, Toronto and Montreal. As part of that effort, COBMC worked closely with intercom supplier Telex Bosch to expand its system and also acquired hundreds of smartphones for staffers. “A successful Games will depend on communications,” Skinner says.

Other key vendors for the coverage will include JPEG2000 encoders from Evertz; two large Harris systems for editing in Toronto and Montreal; and six Avid edit suites. In London, COBMC has also hired Presteigne Charter to supply broadcast equipment, which will include Sony cameras.

E-mail comments to gpwin@oregoncoast.com and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow

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