When viewers tune into NBC’s production of the 2014 Winter Olympics between Feb. 7 and 23, they will notice a number of improvements from the 2010 Games, with a completely new look for its studios in Sochi, Russia, significantly enhanced virtual graphics and new camera positions that will take viewers closer to the action than ever before.
Less visible, but arguably more notable, are all the behind-the-scenes developments that are now a part of how NBC will produce these Games, evidence of the painstaking preparation hours that go into the network’s plan to deliver mind-boggling amounts of video.
Current plans call for an astounding 1,539-plus hours of total coverage, more than the 2010 and 2006 Winter Games combined, and a record 536 hours for its television channels, up from 436 in the Vancouver 2010 Games. “We could not have gone through these huge growth spurts in both the amount of content and the complexity of the production without the technological advances we’ve made,” says Dave Mazza, senior VP and CTO of NBC Sports Group and NBC Olympics.
One example of those streamlined workflows is the tight integration between the Avid asset management systems in the new NBC Sports Group facility in Stamford, Conn. and in Sochi, which will allow producers in the U.S. and Russia to quickly share content. As a result, producers in Sochi will be able to access Stamford archives while U.S.- based editors can start editing video from Sochi very quickly after it is shot.
NBC’s Tech Diet: High in Fiber
Even though crew sizes have remained about the same as during the 2010 Vancouver Games, the scale of the coming production is massive. The Olympic Broadcasting Services, which provides a great deal of the coverage for international rights holders and acts as the host broadcaster, will have over 450 cameras and employ some 2,700 people to produce more than 1,600 hours of live coverage.
To supplement that coverage, NBC will be sending 2,200 people to Sochi while also hiring another 450 Russian staffers who will feed content to NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, USA and NBCOlympics.com.
NBC alone will be laying some 192 miles of fiber optic cable, 30 miles of SMPTE hybrid camera cable and 20 miles of CAT 6 cable to service the 150 cameras under NBC’s control reports Chip Adams, VP of venue engineering, NBC Olympics.
Notable changes in the look and feel of the production will include completely new studios, designed by New York-based ClickSpring. “It is a radical departure from the studios we’ve had in the last four or five Games,” says Michael Sheehan, coordinating director of production for NBC Olympics. “There are a lot more screens and LED floors, with the idea that we could add more energy to our studio presentations by getting announcers up from behind their desks and have them moving around the studios to show what is going on.”
Measuring the G-Force
NBC has also invested heavily in new virtual graphics that will be used throughout nearly all the competitions, Sheehan adds. During the bobsled races, for example, that will allow them to show the speed, how hard the operator is braking and even the force of gravity against the operator’s face.
“A lot of people may not be watching these sports on off-Olympic years so we go to great lengths to make them more understandable to the general public,” Mazza says.
OBS has also deployed cameras in new places and is using more camcorders that move along cables to bring viewers closer to the action. “The cable-cams gives you an enormous sense of intimacy and allows you to drop right down in for that big ‘wow’ shot,” Sheehan says.
Key vendors for the broadcast production include Sony (70 cameras, several MVS production switchers and over 500 OLED monitors); Canon (camera lenses); Avid (45 editing seats, the ISIS Storage and the Interplay production and media asset management system); EVS Broadcast (60 XT2 and XT3 HD video servers and 40 IP Directors); Harmonic (40 channels of ingest and 300 terabytes of storage); ChyronHego (graphics); Cisco (routing, networking and various Videoscape products); Calrec (audio consoles); Bosch/Telex (intercoms); Snell (standards converters); Linear Acoustics (sound processors); Miranda (infrastructure and KX, Densite, and iControl products); Ericsson (MPEG-4 encoders and decoders), PESA (routing); Cryadis (event controllers); and ScheduALL (scheduling).
NBC has also been working closely with OBS to improve both the technology and the way the Games are produced. “OBS has really gotten more and more innovative,” says Mazza, who adds that teams at both places exchange ideas regularly. “Their coverage is so good that we can focus on the U.S. athletes and stories.”
From Sochi To Samford
NBCUniversal Sports Group’s new Stamford, Conn., facility will play a major role in the company’s Sochi coverage and its ongoing efforts to streamline workflows and production. Dave Mazza, senior VP and CTO of NBC Sports Group and NBC Olympics, says the network can now break from its past pattern of building and rebuilding production systems for each Olympics.
“Now, instead of just standing up a system for 17 days, we have the new broadcast center in Stamford so we can just extend the Stamford system to Sochi,” Mazza says. That will allow some events, such as curling, to be produced from Connecticut, with most of the digital team working out of the U.S. Over all, about 300 people in Stamford will be working on the Games.
To share content between the two locations, NBCU will have a record amount of bandwidth. It has contracted for two 10-gigabyte circuits from Russian telco Rostelecom that will carry feeds to AT&T’s network. AT&T will deliver some 55 HD feeds from Sochi to the U.S. and haul some 14 HD feeds from the U.S. back to Russia.