Live events, and sport in particular, are forecast to be some of the first areas impacted by 5G, from new production workflows to increased fan engagement. In the first in a series of articles about the 2021 Accelerator programme, IBC365 finds out how this particular project is addressing the growing role of 5G.
The pandemic has had a pronounced concertina effect on the global sporting calendar, with the result that four of the largest events there are, the UEFA European Championship, the Summer and Winter Olympiads, and the Fifa World Cup are all taking place within a single, 18-month window. This in turn is putting pressure on the rollouts of new technologies designed to facilitate improvements in sports coverage, with 5G proving no exception.
The IBC Accelerator examining the growing role that 5G will play in remote production and live sport, is thus accelerated itself. Featuring some of the heaviest hitters in the sports production space, the Accelerator is examining how 5G technologies can have an impact on the production of sports content, the challenges of its implementation, and how it can lead to new fan experiences for those at the event itself.
The project is Co-Championed by an array of leading sports broadcasters including Al Jazeera, BBC Sport, BT Sport, beIN Sport, Olympic Broadcasting Services and Multichoice/ Super Sport, and is led by Grant Franklin Totten, Head of Media & Emerging Platforms at Al Jazeera.
Accelerator: 5G and remote production in live sport
Champions Al Jazeera, BBC Sport, BT Sport, BT, Olympic Broadcasting Services, Multichoice & Supersports
Participants Mobile Viewpoint, TVU, Microsoft and Native Waves (others to be announced soon)
“This Accelerator is really about the broadcasters driving the use cases and production scenarios and the vendors feeding into them,” he says. “Often it could get flipped so that the vendors are trying to find a role for their technologies, but here we’re really exploring the use cases first from the broadcaster and fan perspectives.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity, to learn by experimentation, by actually putting theories into practice and the fact that we’re tackling issues early on will really help ensure that, as we start to consume more of these services from the vendors, we will have a much great understanding of what is possible and the some of the solutions will be fit for purpose.”
Areas of focus
The project’s ambition for IBC Amsterdam in December is to potentially showcase elements of a live sports production over a 5G sliced network, with glass-to-glass latencies that can match those of a traditional broadcast solution, in the region of 100-120ms, taking in other 5G capabilities that may be available to us at the time. There is, however, still plenty of work to be undertaken before those targets can be reached
While the promise that 5G holds out for sports production is an enticing one, there remain barriers to deployment. Key elements that the Accelerator will explore include issues involving wired and wireless multi-camera synchronisation brought about by encoding/decoding latencies, leveraging 5G within a post-production environment, how to slice the network to meet broadcast standard SLAs, and assessing the latest contribution capabilities.
“The two big challenges are encoding and uplink performance,” says Totten. “Those are the areas that 5G has to adapt to and the telcos have to address.”
A comprehensive test program from Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) is already looking at some of these issues and feeding directly into the Accelerator. As Mario Reis, Director of Telecommunications at OBS recounts, recent testing on live networks has already led to some important encoder design tweaks. More tests are due to be held in Beijing in the autumn and then the Winter Olympics in February next year, with 5G deployments planned for curling, alpine and cross-country skiing events.
Amongst other issues, these will assess how well millimetre wave scenarios work amidst trees, and the degree of latency that the handover from cell to cell will introduce into the system via cameras mounted on a snowmobile as it moves locations.
Some limited 5G experimentation has already been undertaken by OBS with ‘semi-live’ ENG units used at the opening and closing ceremonies of the recent Tokyo games.
Reis contends that there are still issues with mixing wired and 5G wireless cameras together (“The director needs to be able to select from camera a to camera z, but the latency provides some issues,” he says) and suspects that limitations on uplink capabilities will limit 5G camera deployments to private networks, with even 10 HD cameras currently stretching capacity to the limit.
“If we want to use 10 UHD, or the 30 cameras we use for every soccer match in the Olympics, we will definitely need private networks. It would be impossible to put 30 cameras on a [public] 5G network currently even with millimetre wave. It doesn’t always make sense either, as for some of the cameras it will always be easier to wire them. I think the business case is still TBD. This is especially true if there are 30,000 or 40,000 people using 5G in the stadium as well.”
That stadium usage is one of the other major work streams within the Accelerator as it also looks to examine 5G’s use within stadia to enhance fan engagement.
This part of the project is headed up by Dheshnie Naidoo, Head of Production Operations at South Africa’s Supersport, and she recounts a solitary experience of driving to a Covid-hit recent Springboks vs British Lions rugby match in Cape Town.
“Had I had a fan experience where all this would have been created for me on my devices, I would have had the best seat in the house, been sitting next to a bunch of virtual people, and having the best angles and the best experience.”
There are several components to this part of the project, with the team looking at a number of different use cases including utilising 5G and AI-enabled cameras, even drone units, to start the fan experience early with real-time streaming coverage of team travel and arrival at the stadium; fan zones featuring user generated content and people being able to swap views from different seats, effectively upgrading their experience (“You have 100s of cameras in the stadium, many of them broadcast quality, many of them could be tapped into,” offers Totten); the provision of replays; increased ad and betting opportunities, and more.
Mapping out opportunities for increased monetisation features highly as well — an important component of the overall picture given Reis’ comments about the likely necessity for private networks and uncertainty over the business model regarding who pays — with more opportunities for advertising, betting, selling individual camera views, under investigation and more.
Also under test within the Accelerator is the assertion that bringing edge computing closer to the action is a worthwhile expense in all use cases. Certainly, though, this will probably be critical when it comes to ingesting large amount of UHD content into the cloud.
“It is still to be discovered whether putting some cloud computing capability closer to the action is worthwhile if you have a data centre just down the road,” says Totten. “We believe in remote locations it makes sense, in football, for example, maybe less as you can still cable things quite easily.”
In this there is some overlap with another Accelerator looking at 5G and new innovation in live production workflows. Solving the problem of ingest in the cloud is going to become ever more pressing as remote production workflows gear up.
“We need to solve the problem of ingest into the cloud, especially when you start to talk about uncompressed live UHD, otherwise you need to bring all your OB vans and all your directors to the venue,” offers Reis. “We really need to be able to get this wireless aspect of remote production into the cloud and the origin has to be closer to close this gap.”