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SatBroadcasting™: Live From London—The 2012 Olympics
By Alan Mercer, Operations Director, SatStream

The 2012 London Olympics are nearly upon us and broadcasters from across the globe are getting ready to descend on London to capture that all important coverage live from the action. With the Olympics playing host to 216 nations, taking part in a total of 300 events, that will be no mean feat! Alan Mercer, Operations Director, SatStream, explores the critical elements of ensuring a successful Olympics broadcast.

MercerFig1 Capturing the Feed
One of the biggest challenges at the Olympics will be acquiring the various feeds, especially as there are nine different venues within the Olympic park, a further 13 venues across London, and 10 across the United Kingdom.

Broadcasters are likely to be stretched to the limit, taking feeds from many of the sports to ensure their coverage is as all-encompassing as possible, enabling them to cater to sports fans from as wide a variety of disciplines as possible. With so much to capture, London will, no doubt, be scattered with numerous SNG and OB trucks pulling in feeds and sending them across the globe.

For major broadcasters, this will not be a huge concern, as they have enough trucks and resources to handle coverage depth. The challenge will be for smaller broadcasters who either do not posses SNG or OB trucks, or simply don’t have enough on hand to complete their coverage.

Finding connectivity in an already packed city will not be easy for those broadcasters. This is especially true for satellite broadcasters who need uplink and downlink facilities in order to send and receive feeds quickly and effectively.

Smaller-scale broadcast players will need to use ‘light’ and highly portable solutions. Fortunately, new technology has revolutionized equipment footprints in recent years. There are any number of portable Flyaway and SNG terminals available, which will go far in helping with the downlink and uplink. However, it will still be a question of setting up close to the action, which may be difficult, at best.

Fighting For Space
The question of space is an important one—even with portable equipment, camping out somewhere may not always be possible. A “Starbucks Solution” may work for someone with just a laptop for desktop editing, but even then connectivity may be an issue as the WiFi networks will certainly be overloaded during the Olympics.

MercerFig2 As an example, it’s expected that there will be an extra 500,000 visitors* to London during the Olympics and Paralympics, most of whom will be using all forms of Internet access to view news feeds, send images, send and receive emails, check out venue details on the Internet, and so on. Just watch those bit-rates fall!

When it comes to satellite uplinks, lugging an SNG system, no matter how portable, into Starbucks simply won’t work. Broadcasters will be looking for dedicated space in the city, which often comes at a premium at the best of times—rental prices for most locations will be hiked considerably during the Games.

Not only that, portable SNG systems are still larger than your average laptop. In many cases, users may need to be moved on a daily basis, yet finding adequate space with parking in London is often a whole new challenge in the best of times, so broadcasters may be forced to carry heavy equipment through the streets of London before the action starts at the beginning of the day!

Adding Value
For most broadcasters, adding voice and graphics as well as editing packages to conform to broadcast quotas and so on will be key requirements. Such necessities may be a huge issue for broadcasters without specific studio or production space booked locally.

Inserts of these reports may well need to be live, as viewers at home will want to keep as up-to-date as possible with the action as it happens. “Live” will certainly be much more challenging and will make the need for an appropriate location all the more crucial in addition to, of course, connectivity requirements.

Here, quality of service considerations are paramount—100 percent reliability needs to be the order of the day. If commentary or voice-over is to be added, then the space needs to be extremely well-thought out, both in technical and environmental terms. This is not something that can be achieved in the local coffee shop, or even realistically in any old office space or hotel lobby. A lack of infrastructure and poor acoustics will inevitably lead to frustration and disappointment, for both the broadcaster and the viewer.

Another key trend in the world of broadcast currently is multi-platform content delivery—consumers are becoming accustomed to viewing a whole range of content on numerous devices. The London Olympics may well be the first venue of its kind to reach out to such a vast array of connected devices, from large, flat-screen TVs to the smallest of smartphones. What better example of an event where multi-platform truly fits a purpose?

MercerFig3 Sporting fans across the globe will be watching the action and poring over the results, night and day, depending upon the viewer’s timezone. Many will be going about their daily routine, but will desire to keep up with the action. It may be a case of logging onto an Internet feed during their lunch break, or watching on their mobile phones on their way to or from work.

As a consequence, making Olympic coverage available for multiplatform delivery will add a whole extra angle for broadcasters and mean that not only will they need space and connectivity, but also the wherewithal to repurpose and encode content for delivery to any number of devices and platforms, worldwide.

The Winning Solution
Broadcasting the Olympics will come with its challenges, more so for those broadcasters without a fixed production space within which to handle the hundreds of hours of local feeds and to customise, package, and deliver to the host broadcasters back home. There are plenty of improvised solutions available with their associated risks. We believe broadcasters will welcome the use of a convenient, broadcast-standards facility, which is not priced ‘per 15 minutes’.

SatStream is a specialist satellite webcasting facility based in central London. It is a purpose-built facility, designed to enable broadcasters and rights owners to ensure their coverage is managed exactly as it should be: In the right place, at the right time, to the right people. The facility enables multiplatform delivery and ensures broadcasters a large amount of available bandwidth for delivering video content. It also enables satellite downlink from a large array of satellites, both in SD and HD.

As Craig Moehl, CEO, SatStream, said, “We are extremely excited about the upcoming Olympics. SatStream is a convenient broadcast-standards facility, which has great connectivity, both via satellite and IP, and yet is affordable to smaller broadcasters. We welcome the opportunity to help make Olympic broadcasting smooth and seamless, ensuring the feeds are available to viewers at the right time and on any device.”

With this kind of facility available, and with space in the capital already being booked up for July 2012...why wait?

MercerHead About the author
Alan Mercer is a professional with more than 30 years experience in the broadcast industry. He is Operations Director at SatStream, Europe’s largest bespoke broadcast-standards facility specifically designed for content acquisition from Satellite and broadcast by Streaming via the internet. As well as this, Alan runs his own media consultancy, GBF Media. He has specialised knowledge and experience in the technical and commercial aspects of distribution for broadcasters, including IP delivery across cable and Internet, as well as through conventional means (satellite, cable and terrestrial).