Super Bowl 50 Marks an IP Milestone

CBS deploys new routing and camera technologies to improve images, analysis
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Related: How the Golden Bowl Got So Super

Super Bowl 50 will not only be a notable anniversary in the history of America’s most popular televised event. It will also highlight an important milestone in the use of IP video by a major broadcast network.

IP video has been used to stream the Super Bowl since 2012, when NBC provided the first live stream from Super Bowl XLVI. But this year’s game will mark the first time that IP routing and IP video technologies will play a central part in the broadcast production.

This seemingly obscure development is important because it will help CBS Sports handle a much larger amount of video, high-resolution 4K replays, archived material and audio feeds in ways that could improve both the visual quality of the broadcast and the analysis that announcers will be able to provide.

“IP routing gives you a lot more flexibility in the size and scope of signals that you can move around,” says Ken Aagaard, executive VP of engineering, operations and production services at CBS Sports. “That gives us a lot more power in our production efforts.”

At the center of the production is the new SSCBS truck from mobile truck provider NEP that CBS started using last fall for NFL games. It features a Grass Valley Kayenne production switcher with 192 inputs, Calrec audio consoles, 12-channel EVS XT3 servers, RTS Omneo intercom system and a groundbreaking Evertz hybrid IP routing system.

“It is the newest NEP truck with everything from all the latest technology for IP routing to all the latest Sony 4300 cameras,” which are capable of shooting 4K images and providing 8X super slow-motion images, says Bill Niehoff, engineering manager at NEP U.S. Mobile Units.

Because the use of IP video in live broadcast production is still a relatively recent phenomenon, CBS and NEP decided to deploy a hybrid IP/baseband system rather than going fully IP. Even so, the truck greatly increases their ability to handle a massive production like Super Bowl 50, where CBS will have a crew of about 550 people and use 70 cameras just to shoot the action on the field.

Shooting Better Replays

The game will also see some notable advances in camera technologies. The network will be deploying a record number of advanced Sony 4300 cameras capable of shooting HD, 4K and super slow-motion images, as well as a prototype of a new Sony ultra high frame rate camera and some new Canon lenses.

The flexibility provided by these highly sensitive cameras and lenses will allow CBS to expand its slow-motion coverage of the game, which will include a 4K replay system. “All the key cameras will be high-frame-rate cameras,” says Aagaard.

While CBS will be supplying an HD feed, the higher-resolution cameras will also improve the visual quality of the game feed. “The lenses and the cameras are so much faster and have so much more clarity than the last time we did the Super Bowl [in 2013],” Aagaard says.

Other notable improvements include an expansion of pylon camera systems in the end zones from eight to 16 cameras, and the freeD 360-degree replay camera system from Replay Technologies. “We’ve made some improvements to it that we think will really surprise some people,” Aagaard explains.

The SSCBS truck will also break new ground as the first mobile truck to use the new RTS Omneo intercom system, improving communication between announcers, producers and crew. “It is an example of how this router gives us a lot more power in our production efforts,” says Aagaard, who adds that the system will also make it much easier for CBS to quickly access and air archival materials from previous Super Bowls.

Some notable changes will also be occurring with the live stream of the game. “The big change for us is the new set of platforms for connected TVs and OTT devices” like Roku and Apple TV that will be able to stream the game back to the TV, says Marc DeBevoise, executive VP/GM of CBS Digital Media at CBS Interactive.

Overall, DeBevoise says that “we have been seeing a tremendous growth of streaming on [connected TVs and OTT devices] and that those new platforms will provide an interesting new wrinkled.”

To handle the heavy expected traffic for the event, DeBevoise notes that they will be using Akamai was the CDN for streaming and that they have extensive experience in streaming very popular high profile events to their Super Bowl 50 efforts.

Still, he notes that they are expecting the vast majority of usage to be via traditional TV distribution and that all the divisions of CBS, including their digital operations will be working together to drive tune-in to the game.

Other notable developments include their advertising strategy and a major effort to simplify the process of accessing the live stream.

DeBevoise says that the live Super Bowl stream would closely match the TV feed. Unlike some past Super Bowls where different ads were inserted for the digital stream, CBS is placing all the national ads from the broadcast feed in the same position in the digital feed.

The only differences will be local ad or promotional avails, which they can’t place into their digital stream. “The stream will look more similar to the TV than it ever has,” he says.

CBS has also worked hard to help users find the right place to stream the game, which will be streamed for free without the need to authenticate with a pay TV provider.

The game won’t be streamed on the CBS All Access subscription product, but users will be directed to a link where they can access the feed.

CBS will also be providing information on where the user can access the feed on different platforms and devices.

Such help is important because of rights issues. Users can access the CBS feed on computers, tablets and home entertainment devices like Xbox One, Apple TV and Roku.

But Verizon has the mobile rights, which can only be accessed by its subscribers on the telco’s NFL Mobile App.

Related: How the Golden Bowl Got So Super

Super Bowl 50 will not only be a notable anniversary in the history of America’s most popular televised event. It will also highlight an important milestone in the use of IP video by a major broadcast network.

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