Nothing brings the world together more than football. A World Cup – even one with challenging off-field issues – is a very special, once-in-four-years occasion, and fans everywhere want to feel involved.
SuperSport holds the broadcast and streaming rights to the competition across its footprint in Africa. The host broadcaster’s feeds are trunked to the home of Multichoice, SuperSport’s parent, in the suburbs of Johannesburg.
“Obviously we feed game coverage across all of our footprint, but we wanted to provide tailored feeds to seven countries, each with their own cultures and local languages,” explains Mark Boyle, manager audio operations at SuperSport. That means we have to generate tailored coverage in 10 local languages, on top of the English, Zulu and Sotho of our main feeds. We do this by involving local commentators and pundits.”
It goes without saying that this is all live, which for sports fans means very low latency indeed, and the commentary must stay in precise synchronisation with the pictures. Nothing is more irritating than describing an incident that viewers can see happened many seconds ago.
The only practical production workflow is to create the SuperSport production output in Johannesburg, then insert local language commentaries in each territory. So there is a need to provide high-quality, ultra-low latency feeds to each remote hub, allowing each country’s football experts to add their commentary to the local feeds.
It is worth bearing in mind that this has to be accomplished over remarkable distances. Johannesburg to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, for example, is over 4000 km. Feeds have to be stable and fast over these sorts of circuits.
“We already knew about Intinor’s approach to video transport,” adds Boyle. “For us it presented the obvious solution to this challenge.”
The Intinor Direkt family is designed to deliver high-quality compressed video streams with very low latency to multiple receivers. This is important as each country hub supports multiple local languages: Nigeria alone has four different language commentaries.
Four Direkt link racks (main and backup) were installed in the MCR at SuperSport headquarters, receiving SDI feeds of the programme. These created the streams to each country. The headend supports 64 channels of audio, so there is plenty of headroom for expansion in future. The audio is handled as an AES67 multicast on a dedicated ETH port. That is important as it separates the commentary from the intercom.
At the receiving end, Direkt Router Lite units provided an HDMI output to see the action, and Dante audio inputs for the commentators. The audio input could be USB, ethernet or AES67, depending on local facilities. By managing the latency throughout the process, the commentary remains timed to the pictures. The racks in each of the remote facilities each have a spare Direkt lite unit to provide redundancy.
The Intinor network also carries the production intercom so the main gallery can talk to remote commentators, either collectively or selectively. The Direkt routers provide a direct interface for digital intercoms (CTP in this case), using AES67 and SAP (session announcement protocol) signalling and switching. In practice, it meant that the remote commentators appeared like any other destination on the talkback.
In the heat of the competition, the system is performing precisely as expected. At present the connectivity uses SRT, but Intinor will shortly make available a multipath request/pull architecture using its own bespoke transport protocol, Bifrost. This incorporates a sophisticated forward error correction which will increase still further the resilience of the signal.
“We are continuing to work closely with SuperSport to make the system even more effective,” says Martin Weber of Intinor, “Coming soon, for instance, is a new version of the Direkt link compact units, which will allow SuperSport’s MCR operators to see the remote commentators as well as hear them.”
The result is that SuperSport has a high-performance system for the current major events, with a clearly defined growth path to even greater flexibility and convenience. It means that the broadcaster can serve all its audiences, across the vast continent of Africa, giving each its favourite commentators and individual languages, and capturing all the excitement of the event.