Sportsnet stays ahead of the game with Quantel
Leading Canadian Sports broadcaster taps 'nimble and creative' Enterprise sQ
Over the last 15 years, Sportsnet has risen to become one of Canada's leading sports media operations. The Sportsnet and Sportsnet One TV channels are complemented by Sportsnet Radio, Sportsnet Magazine and its premium international sports channel, Sportsnet World. In May 2013, parent company Rogers Media also acquired Score Media, owner of The Score Television Network, further extending its reach in the sports broadcasting market. For the last five years, Sportsnet has been relying on a Quantel Enterprise sQ system for all its production needs. Over this period, the system has not only handled Sportsnet's full workload, but also accommodated a doubling of operational requirements.
Scoring with Hockey
Ice Hockey - regarded by many as Canada's national sport - is at the heart of Sportsnet's offering. For those who haven't seen ice hockey, it is one of the most physically demanding of sports, with players frequently taking a pounding on a level with what a heavyweight boxer might expect.
It's an exciting, all action game that commands a huge TV audience for Sportsnet. Sportsnet also covers baseball, basketball, American Football and soccer. Sportsnet also took a share in 2012 London Olympics coverage and will be a partner in the 2014 Winter Olympics coverage at Sochi in Russia.
VP Operations and Engineering, Virginia Gibberd, explains Sportsnet's approach: "Hockey is the business driver for Sportsnet. We go head to head with CBC (Canada's state broadcaster) and often beat them on multiple games nights. "A big part of our philosophy is that if you get all the content - digital, magazine, radio - then the audience can all benefit to the maximum. Our business model is national and regional - CRTC (the Canadian broadcasting regulatory body) regulates that we support regional as well as national events."
Sportsnet shared premises with CTV in Toronto until 2008. Three years of research and planning culminated in Sportsnet's move into its spacious, purpose-designed premises at The Rogers Building - One Mount Pleasant - in downtown Toronto in April 2008. Director of Technical Operations, Andrew Thomas, remembers it well - he led the Operations team that made all the workflow decisions. "The team that designed One Mount Pleasant - known to everyone here as OMP - started research in 2005, and the first thing we chose was the edit system that would be at the heart of the workflow. We wanted a central ingest, edit, production and playout solution - all in HD," Thomas recalls. "As part of the selection process, we looked at several manufacturers' systems in use with other customers. Included in this process were visits to the Quantel installations at ESPN in Bristol, CT and Fox in LA - to see how they supported highlights packages and high end productions in a single solution. Quantel was the only system that could do what we wanted."
Frank Bruno Rogers VP of TV Engineering states the Enterprise SQ system is the heart of Sportsnet. "A critical design element was the integration of this system to multiple third party systems. Quantel's R&D team worked closely with Vizrt, Autocue, Dixon Sports, Harris Automation and Rogers Corporate IT to ensure all these systems communicated with each other reliably. This was a fundamental requirement towards new and efficient Operational workflows," Bruno says.
"What was great about starting from scratch at OMP was that we were able to throw out old workflows and start afresh. Sometimes it's easier to change people's lives completely rather than piecemeal," Thomas continues. The scale of the Sportsnet operation is mind-boggling - as are the production demands that it supports.
At the heart of the system is 2000 hours of 1080i HD storage on sQ servers, which are split into two zones to provide operational redundancy. The system includes 84 sQ View desktop shot selection and review applications, 11 sQ Edit advanced editors and six sQ Edit Plus HD craft editors. Between 150 and 250 hours of new footage are recorded into the system daily, across a total of 40 ports on the Enterprise sQ system under the control of Vizrt DART. ENG crews send their edited material back to Sportsnet via ftp, which is transcoded using Rhozet and then transferred into the sQ server. Similarly, edited material in Enterprise sQ is exported via ftp to Rhozet for transcoding for Sportsnet's websites.
Running on full
The system typically runs between 70 and 90% full on a daily basis. Media management is all handled in the Ingest Area. This critical part of the operation is run by Media Asset Coordinator Paul Peterson, who as well as checking automatic deletions and archiving, also keeps an eye on naming conventions - evidently some staff will try anything to keep their clips on the system forever - but Peterson knows all the tricks!
Long term media asset management is now via Viz Ardome, which was installed in 2010. It has 2500 hours of intermediate (nearline) storage populated mainly with lo-res media, linked to an LTO-5 archive robot for storage of hi-res media. Current capacity is 200,000 hours. The Viz Ardome has an umbrella view of material stored on both Quantel and Ardome. Users are able to search material and captured closed captioning, and initiate transfers for edit or playout or to Rhozet for transcoding for web use.
"The result is that everything that is produced and aired can be seen by everyone," says Lisa Bowditch, Director of Media Operations. Sportsnet is now well advanced in its program to transfer 120,000 hours of media that is still on tape into the Ardome archive. This all happens in the quieter surroundings of the 3rd floor media operations area, where footage that was not logged live is also logged so that relevant clips can be easily found via the MAM system.
Capturing the highlights
There are three main studios at Sportsnet, each with its own control room. Studio One - aka 'The Stage' - looks out through its glass walls over the logging, editing and news room. Games are logged live using sQ View within the Dixon Logger - each sport has its own customized template, optimizing productivity. The logger uses Sportsnet's Autocue newsroom system to create script notes for the highlights packages - 'clip 34 - great goal' etc. On a busy night all 15 logging stations will be in operation under the watchful eye of the Highlights Supervisor. Up to eight editors sit opposite the loggers compiling the highlights packages on sQ Edit applications with the producers close by. The assignment desks are alongside, scheduling crews all over the country to get up to the minute interviews into the programs.
|Studio 1 - aka 'The Stage' takes to the air. Staff in the Logging and editing seats get a grandstand view of the program through the glass studio wall that overlooks their workspace.|
Studio 2 has been deliberately designed with a more generic look so that quick changes in lighting and what's on the big monitors can instantly reconfigure it for soccer, skiing or any other sport. Its control room is technically identical to Control Room 1, providing 100% redundancy if required. Finally Studio 3 is largely reserved for hockey and its control room mirrors 1 and 2. All three control rooms have three playout channels of the Enterprise sQ system available so they can go straight to air via sQ Play if required.
For any sports programming, graphics play an important role in helping viewers' understanding, and Sportsnet puts a lot of effort into producing high quality animations and over-the-shoulders to explain and inform, using a combination of After Effects, Photoshop and 3DS Max. When graphics are completed they are uploaded to the sQ system using a Quantel I/O station that lives in the graphics area.
Editor Chris Moskavec left college four years ago, having learned to edit on Final Cut, Avid and Adobe. He was taught to edit on Quantel at Sportsnet in two days of training - "I was editing for real within a week. It's all on the server in pieces - loggers do a loose script for a one and a half minute highlights package. There's a wonderful simplicity to sQ Edit - I couldn't imagine going back to another system - it caters for a range of very different editing styles."
The six sQ Edit Plus craft editors handle all the feature jobs, promotions, show packaging and effects work. Editor Vince Monteleone took a little while to re-orient to Quantel after spending seven years editing on Avid, but with the arrival a few years ago of V4.2 with its multilayer timeline, he is now a Quantel convert and really looking forward to the forthcoming V5 upgrade. "I'm an editor - not a sports fan! Quantel is by far the fastest turnaround system I have ever seen, and the color corrector is also by far the best I have seen - I got frustrated trying to do color on Avid. "I now use effects a lot more. It's a solid system. I also like that even after flattening finished pieces for playout, I still have the kit of parts on the server or the Ardome archive for older jobs which is great for re-edits or working into different stories."
Complete programming playout
As you would expect, all studio production playout comes from the sQ system, but Sportsnet is also making full use of its Enterprise sQ system for program content too. Under the control of automation, the sQ system provides reliable, redundant playout to air of programming content for all six Sportsnet channels, with plenty of room for future expansion.
High octane action in the Logging area when the sports action begins.
Connected with QTube
QTube also plays a major role in helping Sportsnet share media across the country. "I don't know how I did my job without it," reflects Virginia Gibberd. "It means we can make content available to all our stations and City operations, helping to make their sportscasts richer.
Nimble and creative
"Quantel has been a very good product for us - it allows us to have universal desktop access to media, through high end editing and producing content for master control - ubiquitous usage of that content is what allows us to be as nimble and creative as we are," Gibberd explains. "Last summer we had staff coming back from the London Olympics having watched other people's workflows, and they reported that their Quantel system was better than anything else there - from the associate producer, producer and journalist perspective. It reminded us that we have a technology solution that we're happy with - and that's four years on from installing it. And we've doubled live event content since then, added two channels and Quantel technology has sustained it - all we've done is added more storage," Gibberd concludes.
At a glance
- Sportsnet installed a Quantel Enterprise sQ HD production system in 2008 following an intensive three year research and evaluation program
- The system handles thousands of edits a day across 250 hours of new material recorded daily
- Over the years Sportsnet has doubled its demands on the system, which has coped without problem; every day the system runs up to 90% full.
- "Quantel has been a very good product for us - it gives us the ubiquitous usage of content is that allows is to be as nimble and creative as we are."