ESPN’s St Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational returned to Clearwater, Florida in February 2020, providing more than 40 games of softball across ESPN’s networks.
Each participating team played between four and six games over the course of four days, with the USA Softball Women’s National Team also competing in three exhibition games throughout the weekend.
Gravity Media provided three Simply Live ViBox all-in-one production solutions, as well as engineering to integrate with the OB provider, to provide coverage of three of the pitches at the event.
The setup included a single-user production with three cameras and one director/producer; a dual-user setup with five cameras, director/producer and dedicated replay operator; and one large three-user setup with 10 cameras, director/producer and two dedicated replay operators.
The whole ESPN team produced 40 games in four days from four fields split between two compounds a mile apart. On Friday 14th, we were live on ESPNU for over eight straight hours, which created a post-season-coverage type of atmosphere.
The streaming numbers for the tournament were impressive, and the Sunday night ESPN2 game delivered in dramatic fashion both on and off the field, with a solid rating for a softball game in February.
By Heather McLean, Editor - Sports Video Group Europe
Euro Media Group (EMG) has launched a fully cloud-based video review solution for video assistant referee (VAR) with Simply Live. The new combined technology means that VAR match officials can work remotely from anywhere with internet access.
Spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, EMG and Simplylive have worked together to develop and deploy a cloud-based solution that combines the software development and operational deployment capabilities of both companies.
With latency at 0.5 seconds over the public internet, EMG has combined Refbox technology from Simplylive with bespoke and easy to deploy communication technology to enable the referee on the pitch to communicate easily with the video official room, wherever that might be.
Matthieu Skrzypniak, chief digital officer at EMG, told SVG Europe: “We did not wait for COVID-19 to work on remote production concepts, but COVID-19 is changing mindsets. More and more of our partners are actively looking for remote solutions to limit staff travel in order to cover an event.
“Although we have been working on technical aspects of remote production tools for a while now, we think that COVID-19 is a trigger that makes it clear for most organisations that they have to seriously consider cloud workflows.”
On how this technology development might change the way VAR is used in the future, Skrzypniak noted: “Most of the time, for example on a premium football match, there is a dedicated OB truck at the stadium with two or three people in it. There are also remote VAR rooms with expensive connectivity to be connected to the stadium. The solution we worked on is based on public internet; it will make this type of solution much cheaper [to produce] and the VAR will therefore be available to tier two and tier three federations, that can’t afford [VAR as it has been made available over the last two years] today.”
Hosted on Amazon Web Services, this solution offers flexibility of deployment and allows seamless, instant review of multiple cameras from anywhere in the world.
The solution includes a new generation of EMG’s stagebox that encodes and transfers the audio and video signals to the cloud infrastructure on the internet.
“The reactivity is the same as on a local user interface,” explained Luc Doneux, managing director at Simplylive. “Euro Media Group is a key partner for us and [these] type of remote solutions have never made more sense than during those uncertain times when movements are limited.”
Skrzypniak, added: “Simplylive technology is perfectly adapted to cloud implementation. This solution will significantly change our approach [to] VAR because it will allow for completely different workflows where the referee can work remotely from any place with an internet access. As such, it is perfectly suited to simplified VAR implementation, and medical review.”
Touchscreen multi-camera systems that make live production simple for College and High School sports.
Simplylive, the makers of the world’s most intuitive and ultra-efficient multi-camera production systems has announced the release of four product bundles specifically designed for Colleges and High Schools needing to produce live sports programming. All four “Varsity” bundles are based on the revolutionary Simplylive ViBox platform. ViBox redefines multi-camera sports production with its easy-to-use, touch screen interface and flexible workflow options, allowing schools to easily produce a show using just one system interface—or grow their productions to have multiple users doing multiple tasks—all on the same platform.
The Varsity Sports Bundles
All bundles include a compact hardware unit optimized for 4- or 6-camera setups, and support baseband, IP and hybrid workflow. A simple setup requires adding just cameras and touchscreen monitors to get started.
Benefits to Schools
“I recognized before joining Simplylive that ViBox and RefBox would be perfect for High Schools and Colleges needing to produce high quality sports programming,” said Chuck Silber, Chief Revenue Officer, Simplylive. “With its intuitive touch-screen interface, small hardware footprint and system flexibility, plus the added features included in these bundles, this will be the easiest way for schools to produce truly professional-quality content at a price they can afford.”
Varsity Bundles are available immediately and can be demo’d at a value-added video equipment reseller near your location.
3zero2, a member of Euro Media Group, invested in 26 Simplylive Vibox system for their remote production operation center in Milan.
3zero2 has performed remote productions on over 1.700 events per year for the past 3 years. This summer 3zero2 had to upgrade their production and streaming facility to accommodate 1080i 50 production. The configuration is very efficient: camera streams are sent remotely to Milan using 4G and IP contribution technology H264/H265/JPEG2000 and 3zero2 operators receive the camera with audio from the field and mix the video, the sound with commentary, perform replays, highlights, streaming and archive. This is a very effective solution to stream volleyball, basketball and Serie C football content to distribution platforms.
“As we had to upgrade our current technology to produce in 1080i, we decide to move to the Simplylive Vibox solution as it offers a more flexible and powerful solution, both technically and operationally”, says Luciano Consigli, CTO, 3zero2.
“3zero2 already had committed to 2 Simplylive Vibox8 AIO 2 users in 2018. This allowed us to show the benefits of our technology in action. We are very proud to continue our partnership and to have been chosen for their big upgrade this year”, mentioned Luc Doneux, Simplylive’s Managing Director.
In September 2018, Euro Media Group closed a long-term partnership with Simplylive, in order to develop solutions for the broadcasting industry and to meet the actual & future market’s needs.
By Joe Lemire - SportsTechie
Technology takes center court at the U.S. Open whenever Novak Djokovic or Serena Williams stands in sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium, watching the replay of a line call. But in truth, innovation is everywhere, even on the sparsely attended perimeter courts.
A trio of tripods abut the nets on nine outer courts at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, holding up a pair of robotic cameras that flank a laser surveyor on the sideline opposite the chair umpire. Two other remote cameras are mounted beyond the baselines.
Those five pieces of equipment—the four cameras and a LiDAR (light detection and ranging) image-recognition system—are the only visible traces of ESPN’s broadcast coverage on these courts at the U.S. Open, which begins today in Flushing, Queens. That’s a stark contrast to the 58 combined network and Intel True View cameras inside Ashe for the early rounds, with more to be added as the tournament marches toward the championship matches.
But the gear on those outer courts, along with the tech that’s being used in the modular broadcast center across the USTA campus, makes it possible for as few as two people to produce a match for television using Simplylive’s ViBox production technology, Fletcher’s Tr-ACE system for camera player tracking, and SMT’s automated graphics in the control room. In all, ESPN will tap more than 600 workers to broadcast some 1,300 hours of tennis coverage spanning the entirety of the U.S. Open, including last week’s qualifying play and the two weeks of the main draw.
All that airtime makes the Open the network’s biggest event of the year, yet its headquarters are housed in a pair of modular buildings whose construction only began in July. “This is the largest thing we do, and it’s a flypack operation,” says Dennis Cleary, ESPN’s director of remote production operations. “This facility was empty four weeks ago.”
Sitting in the shadow of Arthur Ashe Stadium, each modular is constructed of 22 trailer units—11 on the first floor, 11 on the second—giving the sports network about 10,500 square feet per building. ESPN contracts with Gearhouse Broadcast to rent all its equipment. But as nondescript as the gray-sided buildings are, the insides resemble what VP of production Jamie Reynolds calls “a super-charged Best Buy.”
In 2015, ESPN became the exclusive domestic rights holder of the U.S. Open and is now in the fifth year of an 11-year pact that runs through 2025. But this will be only the second Open in which ESPN is covering all 16 courts with cameras, with every point airing somewhere. Linear networks ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNEWS will carry about 130 hours of coverage, with the rest either streaming on ESPN3 or via the subscription service ESPN+.
That’s possible because of the automation of key functions in the control room. Simplylive’s touchscreen monitor enables one director to cut cameras, execute replays and insert graphics. The director can access four angles on those outer courts (which the network dubbed ACES, short for Automated Court Enhancement System), as well as all of the so-called beauty cameras taking B-roll around New York City and the national tennis center grounds. “It allows us to select cameras and effectively take what is a massive, conventional control room and synthesize it and converge it down to a desktop control area,” Reynolds says.
The two sideline cameras on the “ACES courts” are guided by laser tracking; an operator in the control room can select the player—or players in doubles matches—that ESPN wants to follow and the Fletcher system can discern the clothing and/or appearance of those players and keep them in the frame. This system, which is used on the outer courts at all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, has already passed it greatest test: doubles at Wimbledon, which featured four players all wearing white.
“Budgets and numbers are getting smaller, yet the amount of content and events that are trying to be covered are growing,” says Gregory Macchia, Simplylive’s VP sales and operations for the Americas. “The traditional way of covering events with a lot of hardware, a lot of people, mobile trucks, having people on site—that can’t be sustained.”
Relying so much on technology has its drawbacks. Reynolds says that crafting a series of shots to capture personality and “give an event that lightning-strike moment of excitement” can be more challenging without the human influence of a camera operator. But what the coverage might lose in its nuances is made up for in its scope. ESPN serves as the U.S. Open’s host broadcaster, meaning its feeds are disseminated to international networks. Tennis generates significant handle in foreign betting markets, and that could translate to the burgeoning U.S. market too.
“I think the fact that we’re doing all the courts speaks to the volume and the interest that [is] out there and available. So you probably can read between the lines of what that message means,” Reynolds says, noting the reported 10-year, $1 billion deal between IMG and the ATP World Tourfor betting streaming and data rights. Regarding the specifics of ESPN’s U.S. Open coverage, Reynolds adds, “On the editorial side of the house, we cover the event. But we’ll recognize the fact that there’s a line out there, and we’ll keep our fans aware of what it is.”
ESPN has full confidence in the new technology, having tested it in the background of the 2017 tournament prior to going live with it last year. “Because we set up for a couple of weeks and we’re there for 14 straight days, like an Olympics, we have time to test and not burden the core production that’s going on,” says Chris Strong, a senior remote operations specialist who notes that ESPN is conducting other tests for possible implementation next year.
Given the betting markets and content demands across multiple channels, the ACES coverage is likely to become a fixture of broadcasts, just as ESPN’s temporary broadcast center may become a fixed structure after this year’s tournament. “Inevitably, the USTA’s goal is—now that they’ve added a second floor—to keep this permanent,” Cleary says of the modular headquarters. “But the only thing that really stays in here is maybe some of the office furniture that we own and purchased from IKEA.”
SimplyLive will showcase the latest advances and new products at IBC 2019.
As remote productions continue to be one of the key focus of this industry in perpetual transformation, SimplyLive introduces the UI Gateway for management and bandwidth optimization of remote connectivity. The UI Gateway allows the various SimplyLive UI applications to be available remotely without requiring high bandwidth connections. The gateway is designed to work on point to point connections and can even work on internet connections of 5 to 50 Mbps per user.
This new gateway adds the last critical piece to the SimplyLive flexible architecture design to manage the various production scenarios from local, remote, cloud or true at-home situations.
The most powerful and intuitive solution for slow motion in the live sports industry just got better. The Simplylive ViBox SloMo now combines the touchscreen UI interface with the custom designed replay remote for the most versatile and cost-effective replay solution. For those that have been working with replay systems for years, the remote will act and feel much like other systems. It is quite elegant to operate. The combination of the remote and the touch screen operation make this system the easiest, fastest and most powerful slomo product for live sports production.
ESPN continued to blaze the automated-production trail earlier this month when it produced eight high school basketball games over two days for ESPN+ utilizing the SimplyLive ViBox production unit and the Fletch Follow automated robotic camera system. This follows on the heels of ESPN’s automated-production efforts for the nine outer courts at the US Open in September, which allowed ESPN to cover all 16 courts for the first time.
As part of its GEICO High School Basketball Showcase, ESPN presented three days of high school hoops at the HoopHall West in Scottsdale, AZ, from December 6-8. The first day featured a linear broadcast of San Joaquin (CA) vs. Pinnacle (AZ) on ESPN2 that was produced out of a mobile unit using traditional manned cameras and a full production and technical staff. However, on December 7-8, ESPN utilized an automated-production model to produce four games each day, allowing the network to deliver games that would otherwise would not be covered.
“This initiative falls in-line with our on-going effort to innovate at the large events, as well as the smaller events where we are focused on new technologies and work-flows that allow us to operate more efficiently. The key is to also maintain quality, which both the ViBox and Fletch Follow systems provide,” says Chris Calcinari, SVP Remote Operations, ESPN and ABC Sports. “As a next step, we hope to evolve the workflow by controlling these tools from our centralized hubs, creating additional efficiencies long-term.”
Fletch Follow: Automated Cameras in Action on the Hardcourt
Fletcher, ESPN’s primary robotic-camera partner, developed an automated robotic system built around camera telemetry data. The system deployed for these games, included robotic cameras placed at the main game and tight positions, as well rigged under the backboards. The tight camera was controlled by a human robotic operator, with the ability to have all the other cameras robotically follow similar camera movements with appropriate framing. Fletcher provided on-site engineers capable of revising code to focus on robotic performance and accurate framing throughout the event.
SimplyLive ViBox: Streamlining the Production Workflow
ESPN worked with Bexel to design a small flypack built around the SimplyLive ViBox production system to support cutting of the show sources similar to a traditional switcher. Additionally, the ViBox supported record and replay functionality similar to a traditional replay system. For this initiative, the user interface for the ViBox consisted of two 27-in. touchscreen work surfaces. These control surface screens also served as the monitor wall. Alternatively, users can also use mouse control or an outboard shuttle wheel as replay control options.
In addition to having one robo operator control all cameras, workflow efficiencies included combining roles. The Director/Technical Director and Producer/Replay Operator/Assistant Director roles were combined and handled by two production staffers.
Bringing It All Together: Graphics, Audio, and Comms
For this game, graphics were limited to clock and score. Not having clock or scoreboard data pushed ESPN to think outside the box. Using the AJT Livebook with OCR (optical character recognition) capabilities, ESPN was able to use a camera to automate the clock and score throughout the event. The Livebook was integrated into the ViBox via NDI.
Commentary and effects audio was supported by a small traditional console, which was incorporated into the ViBox via a Dante network.
Communications was supported with a compact communications matrix for belt packs and panels, leveraging a Dante IP network, while telephone interfaces connected the remote to Bristol.
“Because Bexel and Fletcher are now both part of the NEP Worldwide Network, this project came together seamlessly. All of our divisions operate as one team very effectively, and have the same eye towards innovative, client-centered solutions,” says Mike Werteen, Global President, NEP Broadcast Services.
by SVG Staff - Sports Video Group
Simplylive has appointed Chuck Silber as Chief Revenue Officer. In his role, he will be responsible for all revenue-generation strategy and execution, with an initial focus on growing Simplylive’s presence in the North American market. His duties will include creating and implementing the sales and marketing strategy, developing a distribution and reseller network – and ensuring that these initiatives are aligned to the overall company strategy. He will report directly to Managing Director Luc Doneux.
“Chuck is a seasoned sales and marketing leader with a proven track record for growing revenue as well as building and coaching world-class teams. Among many qualified candidates, Chuck stood out as the ideal person to help lead Simplylive through our next stage of growth. We are thrilled that he has joined our team,” said Simplylive founder and Managing Director Luc Doneux.
Silber has 25 years of experience driving multimillion-dollar revenue growth and building world-class sales and marketing organizations. Just prior to joining Simplylive, he was the Chief Operating Officer for NewTek, an industry leader in professional video production products whose revenue grew over 6X during his tenure. While at Newtek, Silber architected and implemented a world-wide distribution and channel program that resulted in a reseller network that is widely regarded as one of the strongest in the industry. Previously, he was the Vice President of Sales and Services, Americas for Avid Technology, a world leader in digital media creation tools for film, video, audio, and broadcast professionals.
“Although Simplylive is a relatively new company, it is run by an impressive team of industry veterans – all with strong pedigrees in the live sports production market; in fact, the core team has well over 100 years of combined experience in live tv,” said Silber. “The future-proof software technology they developed was architected from the ground-up to enable local, remote, and cloud-based production – and to work natively in baseband, IP, and hybrid video workflows. I believe this uniquely positions Simplylive solutions to disrupt traditional sports production workflows across all levels and segments of the market. I am excited to be a part of the team and look forward to contributing to the growth of the company.”