For eight years, New England Sports Network (NESN) has depended on Telecast Fiber Systems fiber-optic transceiver technology for its local television coverage of the Boston Red Sox and Bruins games as well as collegiate sports on a cable network that covers four million homes in six New England states.
Beginning last November, however, NESN partnered with WEEI Sports Radio in Boston to break new ground in combining radio and television media and experiment with remote-controlled fiber-optic technology.
WEEI, one of the most successful sports radio talk stations in America, now does video simulcasts of the "Dennis and Callahan Morning Show" each weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. It's aired live on NESN in New England and later in prime time across the country to 3.7 million viewers on NESN National.
This unique programming partnership brings together the two most popular sports media companies in New England in ways that complement the strengths of each organization. It — and other experiments like it throughout the nation — may signal a new trend in combining the power of media assets.
For the show, NESN installed four remotely controlled Sony BRC-H700 HD cameras with PTZ mechanisms connected to Telecast Fiber's bidirectional 5400-series POV remote camera systems in WEEI's studio in Brighton. The POV system allows video, audio, monitor return, a genlock signal and duplex data for the PTZ camera control to be combined on the single fiber connection.
Dark fiber supplied by Sidera Networks feeds video signals back to the NESN HD Television Center in Watertown. In the Watertown control room, NESN directs and switches the four video feeds and add graphics, finishing the program. No personnel is needed at WEEI during the recording. In the morning, before each show, the crew simply makes contact with the WEEI staff through the intercom system.
"The WEEI video link has been fantastic," said Dave Desrochers, vice president of engineering for NESN. "It has been a technical success from day one. We are doing the show from an actual radio studio and it looks like a radio show on TV which is the look we were going for."
In addition to its WEEI show, NESN uses fiber for its game coverage, pregame shows and press conferences. It uses Telecast Fiber's Viper I, Viper II and Adder modular systems to send uncompressed HD and audio feeds plus a combination of Ethernet, and analog signals on fiber. Recently, during the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup championship, NESN used Telecast Rattlers to go live from multiple locations throughout the TD Garden facility.
NESN's 44,000sq ft HD production center in Watertown connects with Boston studio facilities at Fenway Park and TD Garden, as well as an uplink facility in Needham. Postgame shows and other programming from the linked venues can be controlled from the Watertown facility, with sources coming directly into the network's control room.
Because the HD signal remains uncompressed from capture through production and is compressed only at the satellite uplink, NESN is able to maintain pristine images of the area's most popular sports events. "The image quality is superior," Desrochers said.
For the future, Desrochers said his network would like to add remote control from the Watertown control room to its cameras used for a pregame show done on Yawkey Way outside Fenway Park and implement the use of additional Rattlers throughout the park at various locations.
Currently, the cameras are operated by on-location personnel connected via a Telecast Fiber Mussel Shell portable system to the technical area in Fenway Park. "This will make for a more streamlined setup," Desrochers said.
As to NESN's relationship with Telecast Fiber, Desrochers said it has gone on for eight years because the company has been so helpful with quick attention to any problems the network encounters. "They've always supported us very well," he said.