Agile coverage of multi-sports events

FKT Magazin 04/2020
Production & Post

2020 is the pinnacle of the four-year sporting cycle. This year sees the world’s largest and most prestigious multi-sport events held in Tokyo this summer. The last time the Summer Games were held in Asia – in Beijing in 2008—they attracted a worldwide television audience of 4.4 billion people (Statista).

The high-profile nature of these sporting events drives a continuing initiative to develop new, more informative and engaging ways to consume live sports. This article investigates how today’s event production teams are implementing the latest mobile transmission technology to capture a diversity of sports at different venues under varying conditions – and, more importantly, examine the connectivity challenges that these sports broadcasters are faced with in getting the live video and commentary back to their broadcast facilities and out to audiences in various locations across the World.

Richer content from challenging locations
The headlines in 2020 shine a light on host broadcaster NHK’s ambitions for Ultra HD and 8K Super Hi-Vision, and the deployment of 5G connectivity, broadcasters are interested in delivering a better experience for viewers; but beyond coverage of the sporting events themselves, viewers want to go behind the scenes, see interviews with the athletes and coaches at training grounds, get live insight from experts or former sporting personalities at the venues, and experience fan reactions in the fan zones.
Much of this behind the scenes live content can only be captured away from the main venues in more remote locations that don’t have the luxury of fibre connectivity and where transmission conditions can be challenging - in particular, the long distant events such as the Rowing at Tokyo’s Sea Forest Waterway and the Triathlon competition at the city’s Odaiba Marine Park.
If, for example, a talent is interviewing a cyclist whilst overlooking Mount Fuji at Tokyo’s mountain bike course in Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, which measures 2,500 m in length, with elevations of up to 85 m (hence no fibre lines); the field crew will need to rely on the cellular network to transmit high quality video back to the broadcast centre. The further away from the main venues and the access to fibre, the more broadcasters are having to depend on cellular connectivity – but how reliable is it? The host broadcaster also has the additional challenge of covering competitions over long distances, where if relying on one network provider, especially whilst on the move, could mean losing connectivity.

Furthermore, weather conditions, like humidity, heavy cloud cover, fog, precipitation, thunder and lightning, temperature inversions, are also known to affect signal reception. Proximity to cellular towers is a key factor and obstructions such as hilly terrain, dense foliage, and large buildings can block signals. Even in urban areas, regional, national, and global roaming coverage varies by network operators and, in addition, the different bands used by different operators for their mobile networks have different characteristics with respect to range, capacity, ability to penetrate buildings and to mitigate the impact of obstacles.

As the events this summer are taking place in Tokyo, one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities, moving conventional television production vehicles around the city in response to breaking stories and developing interests also presents some impracticality.

While it is easy today to create a portable production centre with little more than a camera and a laptop to create high-quality packages and deliver live inserts when required, the challenge is to get the content – whether a live feed or an edited package—from the field location back to the broadcaster’s facilities. The nature of the content means that it is often not practical to work to the schedule of pre-booked satellite slots, and the need to be agile means that large SNG vans are not always viable. A durable, lightweight mobile transmitter that encodes high-quality video, and can be carried in a backpack, or mounted in a vehicle, provides a great, versatile solution.