NBC Stamford Facility To Help Power Sochi
For its extensive, two-week coverage of the Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, next month (Feb. 6-23), the NBC Sports Group will put into play a new facility in Stamford, Conn., that will supplement its massive production presence in Sochi and help produce a record amount of TV and digital coverage.
The facility, which was still under construction during the London Olympics in 2012, will perform a host of duties — everything from covering remotely the curling competition to creating highlights to thwarting video pirates.
Stamford will account for about 400 of the 3,100 people that will be working on the games for NBC.
“The Stamford facility is purpose-built for sports,” says Tim Canary, vice president of engineering, NBC Sports Group. According to Canary, the center will obviate having to press other NBC production resources into Olympic service. For Beijing (2008) and London, he says, NBCU had to take over control rooms in New York normally used by MSNBC and Saturday Night Live.
Having a dedicated facility will also allow NBC to work with 50 Hz video from Sochi in its native state. “Literally, with a few cable swaps, we can convert [Stanford control rooms] to 50 Hz,” Canary explains. "To do that at 30 Rock would have taken a lot more time.”
NBC has announced the most ambitious coverage plans to date for a Winter Olympics. It will produce content for six platforms: NBC (185 hours), NBCSN (230 hours), CNBC (36 hours), MSNBC (45 hours), USA Network (43) and NBCOlympics.com (more than 1,000 hours).
NBC's coverage begins on Thursday, Feb. 6, at 8 p.m.
The three control rooms in Stamford, each with EVS slo-mo and replay, have been assigned different tasks, says Canary.
- One will be used to produce play-by-play coverage of the curling competition for distribution on the cable channels. In a booth in Stamford, the announcers will watch the competition in Sochi on monitors as they describe the action and comment.
- The second will produce Gold Zone for NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports Live Extra app. From 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET on most days, Gold Zone will provide "whip-around" coverage of the most popular events and, it is hoped, promote interest in primetime coverage on the TV channels.
- The third control room will produce news cut-ins for the digital coverage.
Stamford is also home of the “highlights factory,” which will crank out highlights from all the events for all the platforms.
Other Stamford chores include cataloging and generating metadata for video so that it is fully searchable, identifying appropriate spots in online coverage where commercials can be inserted and protecting content from piracy.
“We will be taking IP encapsulated feeds and generating digital fingerprints so ... there is a way to identify it and we can pressure those putting it up to take it down,” says Darryl Jefferson, VP, digital workflow, NBC Sports & Olympics.
Both Google and YouTube have been alerted to the digital fingerprinting so they can recognize NBCU Sochi footage and remove it from their sites immediately, he says.
Key to the whole operation is the Avid asset management system, says Jefferson.
Under development for several years, the system makes it possible for producers, editors and journalists to search and retrieve footage of specific action from a desired event without regard to where they are or where the footage resides in the system.
The system automatically senses the geographical location of the user and provides access to a copy of the content stored on the nearest server.
Tying Sochi and Stamford together are 30 video feeds from Russia to Stamford and 10 from Stamford to Russia as well some 18 IP feeds, including video, data and communications, Canary says.
NBC video from Sochi will be compressed using JPEG-2000 compression at 220Mb/s. Video feeds from host broadcaster Olympic Broadcasting Services will be IP encapsulated at 26Mb/s, Jefferson adds.
Because of the complexity involved in reaching a wide range of digital devices, NBCU has partnered with Microsoft to handle digital distribution. It is sending digital content to Microsoft's origin server in the Southwest via an Aspera content delivery system.
Canary and Jefferson agree that the Stamford facility not only will help the network meet its ambitious coverage plans for Sochi, but also for other productions.
“It’s hard to overstate the importance of having a facility like this that’s built specifically to make our coverage on linear TV and digital platforms easier to do,” Canary says.