Fast, efficient and agile. Those three words were surely part of virtually every athlete’s mantra at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, July 27 – Aug. 12. They could also be used to describe the strategy of broadcasters and production companies around the world — including NBC Olympics in the U.S. — for capturing, sharing, transmitting and streaming live and prerecorded HD (and some 3-D) images and getting them in front of viewers wherever they may be.
In addition to traditional broadcasters, this year’s Games saw live and recorded coverage streamed online from Yahoo!, AOL and Google to cell phones and other portable devices from telcos AT&T, Verizon and other international mobile video services.
David Mazza, senior vice president, engineering for NBC Olympics, a division of the NBC Sports Group, said after more than two decades of Olympics coverage, his team knows how to stay fast, efficient and agile.
“Every Olympics, we get better at this in terms of acquiring and producing content, and presenting it to viewers in ways they want to watch it,” Mazza said. “Although the distribution platforms have increased exponentially, the ways in which we prepare packages for these platforms has not changed that much. Efficiency in how we do everything is the key.”
The fast, efficient and agile connections (using adaptive bit-rate distribution) employed to bring the Games home included a minimum of 100Mb/s as to accommodate multiple HD channels. NBC Sports, the U.S. rights holder this year, presented more than 100 channels across its various platforms. Most featured live coverage, according to Mazza. Internally, the network employed more than 40 bi-directional channels of contribution material between London, NBC’s New York City headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center (“The Highlights Factory”), and its NBC Universal Cable Network facility in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Four trans-Atlantic 2.4GB pipes served as the main backbone.
The “Highlight Factory,” which was responsible for creating highlights content presented across the Web, cable set-top boxes and mobile devices, used Sony’s Media Backbone, an SOA-type workflow platform designed to streamline production by leveraging metadata associated with each clip.
All content captured at the venues was edited at the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) at the northwest corner of the Olympic Park in London. Then, it was transmitted to the 30 Rockefeller Plaza and Universal Cable Network facilities — where commercials and graphics were added, and programming was distributed as required. Both of these NBC facilities used their previously installed bases of more than two dozen Grass Valley Trinix routing switchers and Encore control systems to make it happen. In addition, both facilities had large, installed bases of older Grass Valley Profile, and the latest-generation K2 Summit servers that record, store and distribute the Olympic content. These installations included extensive use of the Grass Valley Time Delay Application, installed on the K2 Summit servers, to target delivery to different time zones across the U.S.