Live sports and similar real-time entertainment programming are the lifeblood of audience ratings, both for traditional broadcasters and their streaming content channel competitors. It’s especially so in this time of off-season series repeat doldrums and Pandemic binge-watching.
While a boost to any channel’s bottom line, live events bring significant challenges to Control Center staffing and workflows. With rare exceptions, it’s not economically feasible, nor an efficient use of staff resources to dedicate an individual operator to each source feed in today’s centralized multiscreen, multitasking environment. Nevertheless, ad hoc breaks in the game action demand focused operator attention and quick reflexes –or– an automated interface to set off the cascade of actions that assure smooth transitions and consistency on-air.
A well-known North American All Sports, All the Time content network found a solution in TSL Products' versatile Anything Interface Box (AIB-4) to manage complexity amidst the proliferation of source feeds, as well as to streamline operational workflows. For example, when the facility must interface with a geographically remote Regional Sports Network (RSN) for a specific viewer-driven sport, league, or high-profile game. Utilizing the AIB’s 16 bi-directional General Purpose Input / Output (GPI/O) capabilities, network control center can activate those essential red (sometimes green) tally lights that inform on-field camera operators when they’re on-air.
Another example: To alert network control that a time-out has been called or the period of play will end in n-seconds so that a commercial break can be inserted. Other uses for the flexible AIB’s GPI/Os include controlling announce booth lights, remotely activating microphones, even turning “On-Air” signage on and off.
The sports powerhouse also employs AIBs to place their mark on generic “World Feed” events – akin to pool coverage of a press conference. A remote AIB, triggered by the on-site switcher [vision mixer], “phones home” to its counterpart which in-turn initiates a sequence of actions on the “mothership” switcher to seamlessly replace the remote source’s transition wipe or animated graphic with the network’s own proprietary visual branding, e.g., when there’s an unscheduled break in the action – an instant replay or commentator chat during a time-out.
At times, a “fly-away” kit incorporating one or more AIBs will be deployed to a distant venue for one-off events. Network operators can easily access, configure, and control each remote device by its specific IP address via a Web browser over a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection. Alternatively, AIB systems may be controlled by Dual Tone Multi-Frequency (DTMF) bursts over a spare audio channel or intercom line. And for those occasional “belt and suspenders [braces]” moments, a Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) via dial-up modem option is always available.
As often happens, a tool purchased for one specific task or project may harbor greater functionality waiting to be discovered. Such is the case for the adaptable AIB range: It can send back digital Score Board data to update on-screen graphics in real-time and without operator intervention. Or monitor Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) alerts, create virtual Web browser control buttons, copy configuration data to and from other AIB units, and even remotely control devices over IP whether across town, countries, or continents.
NO VPN, NO PROBLEM!
An “NTSC” Solution for Outside Broadcast Operators
Mega-remote broadcast [OB] vans and professional team stadiums are well-equipped for “plug-in and go” coverage. That’s rarely the case at the lower tiers of sports fandom that include high school or collegiate football, basketball, or the myriad of narrow-interest sporting events. These competitions often play-out in fields far removed from bright Friday Night Lights or major metro markets with an abundance of bandwidth and connectivity options.
Unfamiliar venues and limited tech infrastructure are a frequent challenge to field engineers. Dealing with “Never Twice the Same Connection” leads to ad hoc workarounds and occasionally having to do without some niceties in order to bring a remote event to air. On-site, once the basics – power, signal path, etc. – are established, some less obvious necessities need attention. For example, a path for tally signals from the remote production center’s vision mixer [switcher] to alert on-site camera operators when their shot is “live.”
A virtual Swiss Army Knife of point-to-point connectivity, the Anywhere Interface Box supports Ethernet, bi-directional DTMF, Serial RS232 & RS422, plus TCP / UDP / SNMP and HTTP interfaces, up to 16 opto-isolated GPI/Os, and even dial-up modem when POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) is the only available option. In addition, AIB supports SNMP messaging and traps, along with a wide assortment of dependable DNF device control interfaces. Multiple non-volatile memory configurations can be created, stored and replicated using the AIB’s intuitive, programmer-free Web-based set-up tools.
This piece was written by Steve Krant
Creative Technology Associates
For Desert Moon Communications