REMOTE PRODUCTION FACILITY WITH REMOTE PRODUCTION VEHICLES
Production services and outside broadcast facilities provider QTV undertook a far-reaching, long-term programme of technological innovation and development to provide the foundation for an ambitious growth strategy that would see it become the largest provider of outside broadcast facilities in Scotland.
Engaged at the beginning of this process, initially to provide the company’s first fully fledged outside broadcast vehicle, ES Broadcast played an integral role in bringing this far-reaching plan to fruition as QTV’s principal technology partner, with the development of a dedicated remote production facility in Glasgow.
DEVELOPING A TECHNOLOGY STRATEGY TO DISRUPT THE STATUS QUO
QTV’s leadership team identified that there was an opportunity to significantly disrupt the prevailing dynamic of the live sports broadcast market in Scotland. The company embarked on a journey that would see it lead the way in adopting new technologies, taking it from winning its first Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) contract covering one non-broadcast match per round of fixtures during the 2018-19 season with its then-new OB1 truck, to producing coverage of 180 cinch Premiership matches per season less than five years later.
QTV realised that to gain a significant market share it needed to think bigger than winning contracts for one or two matches and look at Scottish football broadcasting as a whole. Implementing a technology platform that would support the phased growth of the company’s capabilities was critical to this plan.
Drawing upon a burgeoning reputation for quality, reliability and innovation, QTV pitched a remote production model for all non-broadcast SPFL match coverage and centralised post-production and distribution.
This model would not only lower outside broadcast costs but would provide greater flexibility in the scheduling of matches for live coverage, help pave the way for the eventual introduction of in-game technology such as VAR (video assistant referee) and – crucially – minimise the environmental impact and carbon footprint of providing the league’s live and non-live coverage.
IDENTIFYING CORE TECHNOLOGY BLUEPRINT AS FOUNDATION OF SYSTEM
QTV’s visionary approach saw the company successfully secure a multi-year contract with the SPFL, commencing in August 2020.
Essential to delivering this offering would be a cost-effective video routing and switching solution that maintained the production standards QTV had worked hard to establish while delivering the cutting-edge innovations that would set them apart from competitors.
As technology partner, ES Broadcast identified the core technology that would underpin this remote production offering, with Ross Ultrix routers, Carbonite switchers and openGear infrastructure at the heart of the solution.
Not only would this equipment form the integral components of QTV’s technical development, it would also deliver the flexibility and scalability necessary first to bring a solution online quickly – uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic meant the initial remote production hub was spun up in barely four weeks in a temporary facility – and then to expand capacity efficiently and without down-time, especially as a premises move would be required before too long.
REMOTE ENGINEERING VEHICLES WORKING IN TANDEM WITH REMOTE PRODUCTION FACILITY
The production model being developed centred on two elements: the remote production hub in Glasgow and a fleet of custom remote engineering vehicles. Initially two of these smaller footprint vehicles were commissioned, each capable of delivering six-camera productions from a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. These would work in tandem with the bigger OB1 – the latter being deployed for larger-spec fixtures while its smaller counterparts provided coverage for the rest of the league. Each remote engineering van could send up to six camera feeds via J2K links to QTV’s production hub.
Core production infrastructure was initially based on a Ross Ultrix FR2 router loaded to 70×70 with MADI audio. The Ultrix’s hyperconverged methodology – that is, using one piece of equipment to perform the tasks of multiple solutions – was leveraged to reduce other infrastructure requirements.
Two production control rooms (PCRs), each equipped with a Grass Valley Kula switcher and SimplyLive replay system, would pair with on-site ENG vehicles, while a new master control room (MCR) would be used to coordinate all lines in and out, delivering the efficient scalability QTV desired.
This MCR was made available both to the SPFL and other clients via an additional 10 flexible control positions producing single-feed remote productions for commentary, world feeds and betting graphics for a range of sports.
RELOCATION AND EXPANSION INTO A NEW BESPOKE REMOTE PRODUCTION FACILITY
QTV’s planned move to a bespoke new home in Clydesdale House to support the company’s ongoing growth took place in 2022, with existing equipment relocated from old premises to new during a very short window in the 2022 summer off-season.
Purpose-built for remote production, this facility provided four PCRs to enable up to eight-camera broadcasts on four concurrent matches, alongside the 10 flexible production stations that formed part of the original solution design, and two traditional OB trucks. Additional MCR monitoring and lines control capacity were also installed during the relocation.
A key element in the success of this transition into the new facility was the ability to blend HDB-IO from the initial Ross Ultrix FR2 router with new cards in a new Ultrix FR5, thereby increasing capacity to 124×124. The backwards compatibility of the routers allowed QTV to continue to generate ROI even while the move was ongoing.
ES Broadcast was able to build customised user interfaces within the Ross Video’s DashBoard control platform that would provide QTV with bespoke control interfaces for both engineering and operational staff, for all key equipment within the system. Initially developed for router and monitoring control, this was further expanded to control audio mapping and subsequently to control newly released MXR licences for in-router audio mixing – further increasing production capacity.
A third six-camera remote production vehicle was added to QTV’s fleet at this time, to support the expanded production capacity realised by the opening of Clydesdale House. For the same reason, the Ultrix FR5 router was also expanded to its maximum capability.
QTV DELIVERS VAR TO THE SCOTTISH PREMIERSHIP
Most significantly in this phase of development, VAR (video assistant referee) was launched for Scottish Premiership matches in October 2022, with the operations centre based at Clydesdale House and operated by QTV. This was the culmination of four years of planning that needed to deliver a world-class environment where referees were able to excel, while also being financially sustainable.
REMOTE PRODUCTION FACILITY EXPANSION CONTINUES APACE
QTV’s success and continuing ambitions meant that within a year of the move to Clydesdale House, it decided to increase its capabilities still further. In Summer 2023, ES Broadcast delivered a new flagship 16-camera REMI production gallery with Ross Carbonite Ultra switcher, two replay positions and bespoke desk and monitor stack to fit the angled shape of the room. At the same time PCR1 was expanded to be able to handle 12-camera productions, while a fifth production control room was also added.
An audio upgrade also formed part of the development, with the addition of a dedicated audio gallery capable of functioning with all five PCRs and the gallery, which features a Calrec Brio audio mixer.
All this necessitated an upgrade of the core Ultrix routing infrastructure to an FR12 model, along with the addition of another RTS Odin talkback system. And a new 12-camera remote engineering vehicle, ENG4, was also added to the fleet to provide the on-prem capability to support the new 12-camera REMI gallery and PCR. This vehicle provides double the capacity in the same footprint as QTV’s other remote production vans.
CONNECTIVITY KEY TO REMOTE PRODUCTION OFFERING
As far back as 2018, QTV had invested in its connectivity infrastructure, with 24/7 vision paths to and from BT Tower opening up the possibility of producing world feeds. All Scottish Premiership games, meanwhile, are on BT Media & Broadcast’s TV Outside Broadcast (TVOB) networks, which provide the high-speed fibre connectivity to plug-and-go unmanned cabinets that then underpins the core high-quality, low-latency network that is vital the remote production.
DELIVERING ON ENVIRONMENTAL PROMISES
QTV has successfully delivered on environmental and sustainability promises that were a key requirement of the SPFL’s tender process. By adopting its innovative remote production model, it has significantly the number and size of vehicles that need to be on-site for a production. The fleet of remote engineering vans are able to handle all contribution, with signals fed back to Clydesdale House. The vans also serve as tender vehicles for equipment – so whereas previously up to five vehicles might be needed for a production, including at least one full OB truck, a single Sprinter-sized vehicle is now all that is required.
And with that, the number of crew needed on-site has also been reduced. With production handled centrally, not only are fewer staff needed at each fixture, but also the same production team can handle more than one match, whereas the need to be on-site had meant a full crew was needed at every stadium.
REVOLUTIONISING LIVE SPORTS PRODUCTION IN SCOTLAND
QTV’s transformational production model has led to Scottish Premiership matches being captured, ingested and distributed in a consistent manner for the first time. With Clydesdale House acting as a matchday production centre for each round of fixtures, there have been significant improvements in the quality and uniformity of match productions with benefits apparent not only to the SPFL but to its partners, not least member clubs, for whom QTV has provided production services for their own club content.
Now Scotland’s largest OB provider, QTV’s pioneering approach to its technological development has reaped results at a commercial level too, with turnover tripling from 2018 to 2023.
- Ross Ultrix FR12 router (upgraded from previous FR5 and FR2 routers)
- Ross Carbonite Ultra vision mixer
- Ross Carbonite vision mixers
- Grass Valley Kula AV vision mixers
- Ross Ultrimix MXR
- Calrec Brio audio mixer
- RTS Odin comms matrix – vehicle and at-base comms are connected using RVON over BT circuits and managed using Trunkmaster
- TSL Tallyman control system
- TSL AIB-3 remote GPIO interface
- ES Broadcast custom platform to generate Fill & Key GFX from Singularlive web URLs that can be run from the engineering PC at the PCR positions
- Simplylive replay systems
- Simplylive venue gateway – contribution over WAN
- Cerberus Tech Livelink platform to distribute match feeds to the SPFL’s broadcast partner
- Netinsight Nimbra for contribution over designated BT network
- SKAARHOJ Blue Pill interface between local and remote BMD Atem Mixers
- Lund Halsey desks
- Grass Valley LDX86N Worldcam with XCU on the vehicles
- Remote OCP control from the PCR