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2021 in Review (Part 2): A Year Unlike Any Other as Live Sports Productions Navigated a Pandemic-Altered World

28/12/2021

2021 in Review (Part 2): A Year Unlike Any Other as Live Sports Productions Navigated a Pandemic-Altered World Reports from Tokyo Olympics, Field of Dreams, US Open, Ryder Cup, NHL puck-drop, NBA tip-off, and MLS Cup By SVG Staff

Tuesday, December 28, 2021 - 9:57 am

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Story Highlights

After a pandemic-fraught 2020, the live-sports-production industry welcomed 2021 as a return to normalcy. However, new and even greater challenges arose as live sports productions continued to navigate the pandemic throughout 2021. Nonetheless, sports broadcasters, technology vendors, and production-service providers worked together to continue to develop unique new workflows - both onsite and remote - that paved the way for a new era of live-sports broadcasts.

While early 2021 saw near-constant overlap of sports seasons due to schedule changes, the sporting events calendar began to stabilize as the year went on. As a result, sports viewership and ratings began to rise and sports-production teams began to return onsite. Below is part 2 of SVG's overarching look at how the industry continued to innovate in 2021 (CLICK HERE for Part 1). Check out the monumental efforts undertaken by broadcasters to produce live sports events over the past year despite the ongoing pandemic, including the Tokyo Olympics, MLB Field of Dreams game, US Open, Ryder Cup, NHL puck-drop, NBA tip-off, and MLS Cup.

Tokyo Olympic Games

July 23 Aug. 8

Dave Mazza (left) and Errol Foremaster in Studio A at the NBC Olympics IBC facility.

The Tokyo Games are completed and for many the hard work on the Summer Games is giving way to the hard work preparing for the next Olympics: the Beijing Games to be held next February. Dave Mazza, SVP/CTO, NBC Sports Group and NBC Olympics, did take a moment to reflect on an Olympics experience that, for more than a year, has been unlike any other before.

We came in with a bit of trepidation because the extra year of planning saw a plethora of new, good ideas from production to enhance the coverage, said Mazza. And then we were also trying to make good on some very aggressive technical initia- tives. It made the plan better, but, for every bit of better that it got, it was more daunting as to how we were actually going to pull it off.

Invariably, an Olympics effort is always compared to previous ones, whether it be ratings comparisons, the scale of the show, or the production achievements. Mazza said the Tokyo efforts were about three times more complicated than the 2016 Rio Games. First, a doubling of the complexity around new technologies and workflows like IP, HDR, 1080p, and immersive audio. Another step up was due to the complications from attempting such a large-scale production during a global pandemic.

From a production element standpoint, Mazza noted things like the Friends & Family effort, which allowed athletes to see and talk to family and friends back home immediately after their event. Born out of the pandemic, it was a complicated effort, often taking a tremendous number of worker-hours to simply get a 10-second shot on-air.

Another extra effort that paid off was apparent during the Opening Ceremony. The show was already expected to have a very different feel from the typical Ceremony, not only because fans were absent but also because the teams and parade of na- tions were being handled in a different way.

From a technology standpoint, the big lift this year was to create a wide variety of video formats floating through the ecosystem in Tokyo, the U.S., and Sky in the UK. OBS provided content in 4K HDR and 1080p SDR, which NBC Olympics then intermixed with its own 1080p HDR as the primary production format. But there was also 1080i SDR, which NBC used for all

the cable and digital feeds to its Stamford, CT, facility. On top of that, NBC Olympics in Tokyo handed off an HDR signal in the HLG standard to the NBC playout facility in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, where it was flipped to PQ and emitted via HEVC compression.

The improvement offered by HDR, 1080p, and immersive audio, he noted, is dramatic and noticeable, especially with proper compression rates and formats. HEVC compression looks really good at the bitrate we're using. But we can't squash it any further, as has happened to HD, because then it won't look very good. So we're very pleased with how it looks now.

The pandemic did more than just make people concerned about health issues. It also caused operations to shift out of Tokyo, most notably production facilities for beach volleyball, basketball, indoor volleyball, diving, and golf.

And it's not just COVID. The weather resulted in events' changing times, venues, and more. And all those details needed to be conveyed to multiple teams in multiple places.

Said Mazza, we could not be doing this [here in Tokyo] without the incredibly hard work of the giant team in Stamford; 30 Rock; CNBC; the NOC; the team in Dry Creek, CO; and Telemundo Center in Miami. - KK

Field of Dreams

Aug. 12 A total of 40 cameras and 50 microphones covered the field built a quarter of a mile from the original Field of Dreams movie site.

It was a beautiful blend of the past and the future as Fox Sports delivered a special, 4K HDR live production of the MLB at Field of Dreams game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox from the famous Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, IA.

At a new field constructed by Major League Baseball just for this game, Fox Sports deployed a crew of more than 240 people and an arsenal of nearly 40 cameras, 50 microphones, and a commitment to deliver this game in a cinematic way that promised to make it quite different from a typical broadcast.

Yes, it's a baseball game, but it's more than that, said Michael Davies, SVP, field operations, Fox Sports. We want to make this like
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