With no live sport taking place due to the coronavirus pandemic, sports broadcasters are having to produce new content to fill their schedules.
The team at BT Sport has been employing remote production in order to bring live programming to its viewers. In the past four weeks the broadcaster has launched eight live shows using a virtual studio set-up developed by their engineering team and partners.
“When you think about BT Sport, you think Stratford. Everything that makes up BT Sport goes through Stratford,” the broadcaster’s chief operating officer Jamie Hindhaugh tells TVBEurope. “So, our first challenge over the last three and a half weeks was how on earth we managed that without having people in Stratford. We’ve completely changed all of our workflows that enable us to edit, access our media management, playout and control MCR remotely. We’ve done this in a way that is sustainable, addresses all our security problems and enables us to have just a single person working at Stratford, and we’re still delivering all of our channels and content.”
With no live sport available, the key question for BT Sport was how to generate new schedules, using its archive as well as its portfolio of documentaries. Hindhaugh tasked CTO Andy Beale with meeting the challenge of enabling programming that’s live, relevant, topical and allows BT Sport to still engage with its audience while also meeting the government’s requirements around social distancing. “I asked Andy to go away and have a think and a play, and he spent a lot of time with Daniel McDonnell and Timeline Television, who are our engineering partners, and MOOV, who are our graphics partners,” explains Hindhaugh.
“What has been done is absolutely phenomenal, we’ve created a virtual gallery. If you think about the gallery and you think about the different positions, so in the front row, for instance, you’ve got a PA, producer, vision mixer and director, all of the infrastructure for those galleries are now in different people’s houses across the UK. What we’ve actually got is the same gallery setup, but configured across the UK connected by broadband and 4G.
“That means in a live environment we can still operate a gallery but everyone is working from home and in social isolation,” adds Hindhaugh. “Combine that with putting remote cameras or smartphone cameras in the talent’s houses, depending on 4G, broadband etc., and we’ve got a full production chain.
“The technology we’re using isn’t all new. We have bought in Avid’s MediaCentral, which we didn’t have before because we’ve never had a need for it.”
Hindhaugh admits to finding it ironic that while many broadcasters have been talking about, and moving towards, a remote production workflow, the current situation is forcing them to take remote production to the next level. “We’ve decentralised the remote operation down to individual’s houses through this virtual network,” he says. “It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears but we got it up and running, and more importantly, we’re pleased with it and how it’s working.” Asked about issues around latency, he admits that has been the biggest issue but as BT Sport’s production teams are used to working in the remote world they are already used to managing any delays.
“In four weeks we’ve gone from all being based at Stratford, to launching eight live programmes using a virtual studio set-up which we had to develop ourselves,” continues Hindhaugh. “I’m stood here in sunny Dorset pulling the strings from my son’s bedroom. I think it’s a phenomenal achievement. Our partners are important to us and the way Andy and they took the brief and enabled this to happen is quite incredible.”