Australian Open: Gearhouse Aces Remote Production for Seven

Gearhouse Australian Open 2018__MG_4262_small

By Brad Watts

The Australian Open tennis tournament holds a special place in the hearts of Aussie sports lovers. Part of the world’s ‘Grand Slam’ tennis circuit including the French, Wimbledon, and US Opens, for a fortnight during the middle of summer, international tennis stars battle it out in Melbourne amidst the relentless Australian heat.

It’s not only hot on the court. Behind the players and umpires are hundreds of support crew and media professionals ensuring the coverage is delivered to Australia and the rest of the world. Channel 7 holds the Australian broadcasting rights for the Australian Open. It’s a top-shelf-ticket event for the broadcaster that has previously always captured and broadcast the event from on-site at the Tennis Centre in Melbourne Park. This year Channel 7 stepped away from tradition and housed its production team off-site at Melbourne’s Docklands precinct utilising remote broadcasting.

I spoke with Ian Stokes from Gearhouse Broadcast, project manager for the build of Channel 7’s Australian Open remote broadcasting centre.

Brad Watts: What prompted the idea to move the broadcast centre away from the action at Melbourne Park?

Ian Stokes: “Channel 7 and Gearhouse have partnered for the Australian Open as a Remote Production this year. With the advances in technology and after a lot of testing it made sense for the station to move the tennis production away from the Melbourne Park Tennis Centre, and build one facility that could handle both the Australian Open, along with the lead up events to the Australian Open. December through to February is now entirely covered from the Remote Broadcast Centre, it makes sense with the multiple events to build it into one facility.”

BW: Who was responsible for specifying the remote system?

IS: “Gearhouse and Channel 7, there was myself and three others who managed the build from the Gearhouse side. I oversaw the build, with Danny Riess and Adrian Jenner looking after audio and fibre systems. Gavin Romanis oversaw the project and team at a high level and was key in the partnership negotiations.”

BW: How long did it take to put together? You’re dealing with a new set of issues when compared to an on-site broadcast.

IS: “It all happened from early October. There was to-ing and fro-ing for a good couple of months, and then the physical build of the facility took around two weeks with a week handover. Adrian at Gearhouse tackled getting feeds in and out of each venue, then once they reached a venue, I tackled how to integrate them into a control room atmosphere for production. Danny tackled how they would need to land in a production environment for audio. The way Channel 7, Channel 10 or Channel 9 work are all very different, so you can’t simply land a signal in one area and make it work. It needs to work for each team’s production regime.”

BW: Was the only prompt the economics? I understand the Remote Broadcast Centre was possible because of the IP infrastructure.

IS: “The Remote Broadcast Centre was made a reality through Net Insight and the Nimbra 688 frames providing the encoding and decoding of the feeds between the venues. We have deployed two Nimbra 688 frames at each venue, with a diverse fibre ring between the RBC [Remote Broadcast Centre], Melbourne Olympic Park and 7BCM, Channel 7’s master control for Australia.

“With regards to planning for the fibre transport in particular, Adrian Jenner would work with Techtel [Australian distributors of the Nimbra systems] on the overall design. I would work with Channel 7 on how many feeds we needed in and out of each venue, and based on that feeds list, Adrian would work with Techtel to design a system that could encapsulate that many feeds down a small amount of fibre. The two companies (Gearhouse and Techtel) have been working together with a view to remote broadcast production previously, so we’ve tested this out quite comprehensively already.”

BW: With such an aggressive schedule, I’d imagine cooperation between each party is paramount.

IS: “Well as it turned out, Nimbra was the a very solid system to work with. Net Insight were very forthcoming with help and providing a solution that worked for the companies involved. So to elaborate on that, we would collaborate with Techtel in Australia and Net Insight in Sweden to create a working system to cater to our needs. The amount of feeds that were required, SDI video out of Melbourne Park in particular, was a huge collaborative effort. There were also a number of MADI and Ethernet paths between the venues. Without the cooperation between Net Insight in Sweden, and Techtel and Gearhouse in Australia it’d be an insurmountable undertaking. All our Nimbra systems came ex-Sweden, but down the line I can see Gearhouse working much more in-depth with Techtel. This has proven to be a very solid solution, so we will continue to work with them.”

BW: How many feeds are we looking at?

IS: “There is mixture of SDI video, ethernet and MADI, to get from venue to venue. All up, there are approximately 80 HD SDI video feeds, 6 MADI and a number of 1G and 10G ethernet paths. We have chosen to use a mixture of uncompressed and JPEG2000 compression on the video paths.”

BW: Six MADI lines full?

IS: “Full. Chock-a-block. With regards to audio, we have multiple MADI feeds from the Tennis Australia Host Broadcaster plus we’ve got a studio and three commentary booths at Melbourne Park which we need to service, so there’s a lot of audio involved.”

BW: How fat is the fibre umbilical cord between each site? Is that your network or are you piggybacking on someone else’s?

IS: “We have two fibres in running clockwise and two fibres running anti-clockwise, both of which are dark-fibre put in by Vocus, and we purpose that fibre with two CWDMs at each location. That ends up providing us 120 gigabits of bandwidth – within that we can then fit video feeds, networks between sites, and all the audio feeds.”

BW: There’s no reduction in facility compared with a traditional on-site broadcast?

IS: “Not at all. So, this whole floor is taken up by us. We have seating for 56 background personnel from Channel 7, all connected to their own corporate network. We have extended out the corporate network for Channel 7 through the Nimbra transport, so these guys can all log in as they would back at any Channel 7 facility and everything feels normal. There are Reidel Artist 128 frames on-site here and out at Melbourne Park. The frames are trunked so we can talk across the fibre transport to Melbourne Park as if you were just talking to someone in the next room. There are also communications from 7BCM to both RBC and Melbourne Park. There is a separate EVS network across to Melbourne Park ingesting and pushing content over a 10G network back to the RBC. The Technical Director at RBC can look after the Hitachi cameras at Melbourne Park – he can actually control the cameras at Melbourne Park from here. It’s business as usual. Plus we’re not forced to fit into the event infrastructure, which makes logistics easier for us.”

BW: In other words, this is the way forward in terms of remote broadcast and sportscasting?

IS: “With a ‘production hub’ model there are greater efficiencies compared to a traditional on-site facility. The fact we can use this facility to cover two series of events speaks for itself. When you consider the number of people involved and the cost of relocating everything between events it’s a no-brainer. As discussed we’ve got a studio for the Australian Open Series and the Australian Open as required. Two birds with the one stone. We’ll be working alongside Techtel with this model for the foreseeable future. It’s game, set and match as far as we’re concerned.”

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