ITV Sport Back in the Saddle for the Return of Live Sport
NEP's UK team backs production with safe, at-home production solutions.
Continuing to lead the way in the return of live sport over UK free to air television, ITV Sport resumed its horse racing coverage last weekend, facilitated by a host of innovative technical solutions from NEP, including NEP’s Home Studio offering, that allowed for remote talent contribution and interaction, all being produced by a production team from their own homes.
Broadcasting over three days, the ITV production was hosted by presenters Ed Chamberlin and Francesca Cumani, however not from the track as would normally be the case, but from the comfort and safety of their own homes. They were joined by a host of expert guests all contributing remotely using NEP’s Home Studio platform.
Not to be outdone, ITV’s production and direction team also operated from home, using NEP’s Home Studio production pods to enable remote editorial and directorial control of the broadcast.
Challenged with connecting a distributed presenting team and production crew across ten locations, NEP made use of low latency encoding technology and bonded networking solutions to deliver a secure platform capable of real time communication with robust and reliable contribution facilities.
“Over the past few years, ITV Sport’s racing coverage has become synonymous with its ability to engage, entertain and indeed educate its audiences, and key to this is the chemistry between its on-screen talent. We knew from the outset that any interruption in conversational flow could have a real detrimental impact on the editorial output of the show, therefore we knew we needed a solution that would allow the talent to communicate with each other fluidly,” said Jon Harris, Technical Projects Manager, Horse Racing, NEP UK.
Combining solutions from a number of vendors, plus some custom development, NEP deployed a platform and ecosystem that enabled real time bi-directional communication and low latency signal transport. Leveraging video conferencing methodologies, the presenting team were all able to see and hear each other all the time, as if they were in the same location while discrete signals were simultaneously being sent back to the hub to be used for the broadcast output.
“The solution provided by NEP allowed myself, Francesca, Oli and the rest of the team to communicate without the annoyance of any video encoding delays. We’ve all been there lately on awkward conference calls, where even a minor delay can lead to people talking over each other, or the dreaded silence while you wait for a reaction to the punchline of a joke! Luckily with NEP’s solution, that never happened,” says ITV Racing presenter Ed Chamberlin.
Using a combination of WebRTC and SRT transmission technologies, low latency signals were contributed discretely via an SD Wan network connected over the public internet. Leveraging both domestic ISP’s and 4G/5G many data, each of the remote locations were connected to a NEP data centre POP. From here the network was extended over NEP Connect’s Anylive Fibre network to Ascot racecourse, where Equinox, ITV racing’s regular OB unit has been setup as a hub.
“It was important to us to have a solution that reliably delivered great programmes to the highest technical and production values. Whilst we are fully aware of virtual mixing solutions running in the cloud, we were working under many time- and COVID-19 related constraints. This is one of the first high-profile live sports returning to a Public Service Broadcaster in the UK and as such there is no margin for error. The solution needed to be innovative but set around a known robust core,” says Roger Pearce, ITV Sports Technical Director.
Equinox, built for the bespoke needs of ITV’s Horse Racing coverage, provided all of the technical fire power to facilitate the production. The majority of the production crew operated remotely with just a minimum amount of technical crew located within the truck all operating within strictest of social distancing guidelines. The OB unit itself has also been physically modified to allow greater space considerations to ensure crew safety.
NEP’s remote Production Pods were deployed to the homes of production crew. The solution uses domestic Internet and 4G/5G data to extend the reach of the truck and its technical facilities, providing monitoring, talkback panels, router panels and device control such as PTZ cameras.
For the broader production team who didn’t require the physical infrastructure for monitoring and control, a web-based solution was deployed. Developed internally, NEP’s Home Studio portal, is a web-based platform that offers low latency monitoring of video, audio and production talkback via a simple and streamlined web browser.
Designed as a multi-tenant environment content, security is a key design principle throughout. Supporting a host of codecs and transmission protocols, the platform acts as a cloud based CDN and enables secure ultralow latency monitoring of video and audio content.
"To be able to be back transmitting live horse racing safely to an ITV Sport audience has been the result of a huge effort and collaboration between ourselves and our long term racing broadcast partner NEP. Making sure we create a safe environment for everyone, is paramount to all our planning. NEP's excellent new workflow enables us as a production to be flexible with planning a phased return, in line with the latest social distancing guidelines. The ITV audience is at the heart of what we do and, in this current working climate, we are proud to be able to deliver live sport back to the nation," says Ben Russell, ITV Sport’s Head Of Production Operations.
I’m delighted we’ve been to be able to support ITV, our long-standing client, in these challenging times. I’m incredibly proud of the ingenuity and innovation shown by our global NEP team in developing this solution. While there are still some uncertainties, for all of us, seeing those overcome through talent and determination and the forging of new ways – its strong and it gets the job done,” says Steve Jenkins, President NEP UK & Ireland. "I look forward to continuing to supporting ITV and our many other clients with safe, remote production solutions like these as they look to resume coverage of sports and events."
Contact us for more information about NEP Home Studio and our at-home production solutions.