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Preparing the pitch

BT Sport has opened the doors of its production studio and gone to air with three sports channels in a move begun just over a year ago when the telco surprised pundits by scooping English Premiership sports rights away from ESPN.

BT Sport has opened the doors of its production studio and gone to air with three sports channels in a move begun just over a year ago when the telco surprised pundits by scooping English Premiership sports rights away from ESPN.

The former International Broadcast Centre at iCity, built for the London Olympics, houses BT’s Production Hub containing three studios — two of which can be configured into one the size of four and a half tennis courts and claimed to be the biggest L-shaped studio in the world.

This 14,000sqft centrepiece features a suspended floor made of toughened glass embedded with LED lights. Once illuminated, pitches or areas of a field of play can be virtually presented, with former players acting out scenarios for analysis. The space can additionally accommodate an audience of 160 people.

“The principle is that instead of a traditional 4-waller, BT has the flexibility to walk presenters between the studios and other channels live on air,” says Timeline Television MD Daniel McDonnell. “It makes for one big creative space.”

This innovation makes extensive use of RF technology and multiple aerials deployed across the facility both inside and outside. This allows a radio camera-op to walk between areas without any picture disturbance (wired with Wisycom MRK960 receivers, MTP40 belt packs and DPA 460 mics). For example, a presenter could walk from the studio floor down the corridor, into a greenroom, then and outside to the stadium all on one shot.

All parties suggest that the time pressure to design, outfit, rehearse and rehearse again before live TX on 1 August was the greatest challenge. BT’s chief operating officer Jamie Hindhaugh (previously BBC head of production at London 2012) and director of TV, Alex Green, sensibly delegated responsibility for getting the project securely up and running to suppliers and equipment with proven track records.

DPP compliance
Timeline TV, whose flagship operation has been EVS logging and feed management at Wimbledon for the All England Lawn Tennis Club, landed a five-year managed service contract for technical operations including studios, MCR, post production and workflow support. That’s after designing and specifying the hub, whose technical build was subcontracted to Megahertz Broadcast Systems. The MCR itself will manage over 150 incoming and outgoing HD vision lines plus inbound satellite traffic from BT’s Madley earth station.

The production platform itself is based around EVS and includes five XS servers for ingest and seven XT3’s in the production galleries for clip record and playback. “There are 24 channels purely for ingesting line feeds and two empty ones for hire of additional channels as necessary on a busy week,” explains Alex Redfern, EVS solutions architect.
Video leaves the XS servers encoded in AVC Intra and arrives on 1 Petabyte worth of nearline MediaGrid storage from Omneon (now Harmonic). This transfer is delivered by 30 EVS XTAccess systems, the gateway between EVS and the IT world. XTAccess software runs on Timeline-supplied hardware using Timeline’s own Xware schema, which allows them more control in prioritising and scheduling clips. Media can also be moved by XTAccess to 25 Avid Symphony Nitris DX seats for craft edits of promo items backed by ISIS 7000 storage and Interplay asset management, or in low res proxies for browse and clipping on 200 desktop fitted with IP Director.

Live transmissions leave the building by fibre, but highlights packages for broadcast or VoD are coded in house via AVC-Intra 100, and then passed though a number of processes within an AmberFin iCR system to make them DPP AS-11 compliant. Indeed BT is the first broadcaster to prepare all its programming in the new metadata and file-based delivery standard.

Producers can control and log all incoming feeds with IP Director using EVS templates with customised taxomony by Timeline. Being a greenfield site with a greenfield broadcaster initially at least the archive system is the same as the work-in-progress production system.

“One Petabyte will take quite a while to fill but as it does hi-res copies will be made to LTO-6 tape onto a Spectra Logic T950 robot to free up the MediaGrid. The lease on the building is 10 years during which time they will build up tens of thousands of hours — so when it grows that big an archive management layer will be needed,” says Redfern. EVS is planning its Media Archive Director for that eventuality.

There’s a possibly unique disaster recovery plan too. At BT Tower, Megahertz has also installed an identical one Petabyte MediaGrid linked to iCity by 10Gb pipe. Aspera was asked to develop an API between both systems and EVS to automatically effect transfer of key content – Premiership soccer and rugby — by flagged metadata.

Arena and Telegenic are the OB suppliers to BT production partner Sunset+Vine. Both have trucks fitted with conventional XT3s and LSM remote control panels with the obvious advantage of an EVS to EVS timecode integration with the Hub. One of Telegenic’s trucks is 4K-ready but 4K is not on BT’s radar. “The plan is to air in HD 1080i with an upgrade to 1080p pending, for which the servers are ready,” says Redfern.

Additional kit for the project is supplied by Autoscript (prompting equipment), Calrec (audio mixers with the Artemis mixers and Hydra backbone), Avid (ProTools HDX and 32-fader ICON D-Control mixer), Evertz (multiviewers), Shotoku (TG-18 remote controlled cameras), Snell (routers), Sony (15 HDC-2400 studio cameras, TriMaster OLEDs and three MVS-7000X and five MVS-3000 production switchers), Riedel (talkback), Vinten (camera support) and graphics (Chyron).

The BT Sport facility will broadcast BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2, and ESPN. BT Sport will show 38 exclusively live football matches from the Barclays English Premier League, as well as FA Cup and UEFA Europa League, along with a range of new studio debate and information shows such as BT Sport Live.

By Adrian Pennington