IBC2019: With remote production set to be a hot topic at IBC2019, Paolo Pescatore takes a look at BT Sport’s plans for the new technology.
Remote production and 5G will be among the prominent themes at this year’s IBC Show in Amsterdam. Both offer the broadcasting world opportunities to transform their operations and connect with users in different ways. BT Sport is leading with the deployment of remote production in order to enhance its output for sports fans.
The UK sports broadcaster has been steadily increasing its capabilities and output following the successful EE Wembley Cup - the first sporting event to be broadcast live over 5G using remote production. Over the last few months it has conducted numerous test broadcasts with remote production over satellite, fibre and 4G depending on the network connectivity at stadiums.
BT Sport has grander plans for remote production this year. Recently, it held a briefing at its studios in Stratford, and at Dagenham & Redbridge FC to showcase remote production in action. The number of sporting events that will be produced remotely for the year ahead will significantly increase. This will include all the Vanarama National League games as well as WSL which will equate to around 50 broadcasts.
- Read more: Behind the scenes: BT Sport’s Early Kick Off
According to BT, increasing the number of live matches from competitions will bring these benefits:
- Linear TV highlights of every goal from certain leagues/competitions in the early/mid evening, closer to the final whistle than has ever been done before. To put this into perspective, fans are currently forced to wait until later in the evening or the following day for TV highlights shows to catch the action from many leagues.
- Release resources to deploy cameras and talent to a wider variety of locations, improving creativity and editorial quality (e.g. quickly deploying a camera to a team bus or breaking news incident around the match), and, by providing digital services such as Virtual Reality at more matches
In essence, the move allows the broadcaster to be more creative with the content. This is something that Jamie Hindhaugh, COO at BT Sport strongly advocates. BT Sport will now show every goal from every Vanarama National League game on a Saturday afternoon by 7.30pm. This will now be the fastest highlights show in the UK, beating the BBC’s Match of The Day by three hours. Furthermore, this is in stark contrast to BT Sport’s highlights show last year which aired on Sunday night.
From a technology perspective, BT Sport has had to enhance its own studio operations in Stratford. In particular, areas like multiplex for dealing with multiple feeds coming in, optimise them due to delays, more monitors and operators in the gallery. Hindhaugh claims, that he has been impressed with the way his team are working on remote production, it promotes greater collaborative working. For this reason, he argues, “it has been very well received internally.”
Remote production is feasible thanks to BT Sport taking a hybrid approach towards its programming output and mix of network technologies. Typically, most broadcasters rely on satellite, fibre if a stadium is equipped and now 4G given wider coverage availability of the network technology. The challenge of course with 4G is the lag, hence why it is not well suited for showing live coverage. This is set to change rapidly with the wider rollout of 5G which brings about low latency and far more robust connections. A concept known as network slicing in the telco world which Hindhaugh refers to as ‘virtual fibre’.
Undoubtedly, BT Sport is very well placed given its parent’s vast network assets with 4G and rolling out 5G quite aggressively. In fact, it’s so called cousin, EE (part of the BT Group) 5G network is available in parts of Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester. This will expand to a further ten more cities by the end of the year and another ten cities in 2020.
Interestingly, connecting a stadium with mobile technology leads to further opportunities for providers to be more creative with content. Camera operators and the cameras become untethered to provide more coverage behind the scenes. As Hindhaugh says “We can be more creative by putting a camera on a team bus, dressing room, in the tunnel all live; previously different RP points, rig and fixed locations.”
Rights owners should be looking at remote production more closely. It represents a great way for them to improve the quality of their asset, reach sports fans and keep them engaged in a much more efficient way.
Overall, Hindhaugh believes that remote production should be pursued for the following reasons:
- Creative output (as underlined above).
- Work life balance (less staff who have to travel to locations outside of normal working hours).
- Sustainability credentials (no need to send trucks and have OB at multiple locations during the weekend).
- Staff Inclusion: More diverse workforce as people work more closely together onsite in say the galleries rather than commuting on trains.
- Efficiency, important but not main driver. Being more efficient, rather than pursuing a strategy to use remote production to cut costs.
Moving forward, expect BT Sport to work more closely with its parent to identify key sites at stadia for 5G connectivity. Also, BT Sport will be identifying other sports within its rights portfolio that can benefit from remote production. Within football, this should include the FA Cup especially the early rounds.
BT Sport has a strong pedigree of bringing innovation to the UK Sports broadcasting market. This builds upon numerous firsts which include Ultra HD 4K, HDR, Dolby Atmos and 360-degree viewing. For sure, more is coming in terms audio and video formats. We can expect BT Sport to rollout remote production to other sports. However, it will not replace all of its sports programming which Hindhaugh is keen to emphasise; a hybrid approach is something that will probably work best in the future. After all, when broadcasters fork out billions on sports rights it is important to have an onsite production around it.