Sport is one of the most popular genres on television, and the Middle East is rapidly increasing its sports facilities, not least in advance of the World Cup in 2022. It is now common practice for sports stadiums to be cabled ready for broadcasters. BroadcastPro ME spoke to TTL Video at CABSAT to find out […]
Sport is one of the most popular genres on television, and the Middle East is rapidly increasing its sports facilities, not least in advance of the World Cup in 2022. It is now common practice for sports stadiums to be cabled ready for broadcasters. BroadcastPro ME spoke to TTL Video at CABSAT to find out more about some of the key points to note when building this infrastructure in the Middle East
The UAE announced plans last month to build a massive 60,000 seat stadium and a smaller 25,000 seat stadium at Dubai Sports City as part of its bid to host the 2019 Asian Cup. Likewise, Qatar has plans to build several more stadiums in the run-up to the World Cup in 2022. No doubt, these stadiums will feature state-of-the-art architectural designs.
Given that these stadiums will serve as the locations for several high-profile live broadcasts, authorities must ideally engage systems integrators at the design stage to plan camera locations, cabling and other elements.
A good example is the Premier League football grounds in England, which were all pre-cabled. Cables from the camera and commentary positions were brought to a single point, ready to be connected to an outside broadcast truck. UK-based TTL Video, which specialises in broadcast infrastructure integration at stadiums, was contracted to undertake the cabling for these grounds.
The main reason for pre-cabling grounds is, of course, to save time rigging, says Alan Green, Engineering Director at TTL Video.
Pulling cables in to every camera and commentary position can take a day or more. Now that all the Premier League grounds are pre-cabled, UK broadcasters can use the same truck to cover games on consecutive days, in different parts of England.
Pre-cabling also makes for a tidy rig. Stadiums are now prestige venues, and owners like to keep them looking their best. One of the major reasons for the contract was to address the safety concerns being faced by the clubs. These concerns often include cables being draped around the walls using tape or ties to attach cables to parts of the structure which may not be designed to take loads, and covering cables in walk mats risking trip hazards are all unacceptable to stadium owners.
The original requirement for the Premier League grounds involved installing approximately 50 cables in each stadium. These included triax cables to the standard camera positions, plus audio multicores video and power cables to various presentation positions.
Today the number of cables has risen to more than 250 for each stadium, Green notes.
Part of the reason the amount of cable needed in a stadium is on the increase is due to the steady rise in the number of cameras used around the pitch to cover each match. The current standard Premier League plot can use in excess of 26 cameras. Venues for other sports have similar requirements.
International events like the Champions League have defined specifications, which stipulate the number of cameras required. Without the right capabilities, the stadium will not be awarded the match.
The cameras around the pitch are just the start of the requirements. Broadcasters now expect to be able to put cameras on the arrival area, in the tunnel, presentation positions and for some sports, even in the dressing rooms, explains Green.
Also, there may be multiple rights-holding broadcasters at an event, each with their own presentation or studio, and the number ramps up really quickly. We see 80 or more camera positions alone specified in stadiums today.
More locations and more broadcasters means more requirements for commentary positions, audio feeds, data for on-screen graphics devices and other requirements, too.
With these additional camera positions comes the added responsibility to minimise the intrusion of television on the spectator experience at the venue, explains Green.
If camera locations are not planned right at the beginning, it might be that the view of some fans might be significantly obstructed leading to disappointment at the venue.
At present, the English stadiums use largely triax camera cables, but there is an increasing requirement for SMPTE fibre. This requirement started with high-definition super slo-mo cameras, and was reinforced by the interest in 3D coverage, which relies on fibre cameras.
For a broadcaster to decide not to rig its own cables, it has to be completely confident the stadium installation will work. That means the installation, and its regular maintenance, has to be completed to broadcast standards and broadcast reliability.
This is why one requires expert broadcast engineers and operators to complete these installations, as they understand the challenges faced by broadcasters every day in the field. It is imperative that with the ever-increasing sophistication of OB trucks and the demands placed on broadcasters, engineers are 100% confident that these installations are reliable and will work as intended.
When we are on site, we use the same sorts of tools as other electricians digging trenches, installing trays and trunking, and routing cables. But experienced broadcast crew know what cables are required, and how they need to be handled in the installation, in the termination and in regular maintenance.
Green adds that new stadiums especially require a specialist to install and maintain the broadcast cabling. Having worked extensively with Argosy on several of these cabling projects, he explains some specifications in the Middle East.
Green says Middle East installations tend to specify the Fischer connector for triax cable rather than the Lemo that is the given in Europe. For a reliable connection, wiremen need different tools for each connector type, as well as familiarity with both types when terminating on site.
With the growing use of fibre optic cables both SMPTE fibre for cameras and single-mode, so-called dark fibre for other functionality, we have developed a wealth of experience in what can be achieved in stadium installations, says Green.
When we started, fibre was felt to be relatively fragile for this sort of job. We over-provide to give us resilience installing 12 fibre strands where perhaps four are needed. But actually, fibre has proved to be astonishingly reliable.
The thing most likely to go wrong with fibre is the connection, so when we are designing an installation we have to find the balance between the convenience of installing the cable and minimising, or eliminating, joints, he said.
Fusion splicing requires sophisticated equipment but when carried out by trained technicians can produce consistent reliable results in the field.
Checking these connections should be a part of regular maintenance, anticipating the joints to be a point of failure.
The other critical part of the installation is the termination in the outside broadcast area. All the cables and their sources need to be readily available and clearly identified, and again, this has to be an installation to broadcast standards of quality, electrical safety and reliability.
Power is a big issue, and the broadcasters need to have control over it so the television coverage stays on air whatever happens. We have to feed clean power to the technical equipment, and ensure earthing is continuous and consistent.
Big events will have multiple outside broadcast units all wanting feeds from the same cameras, and each may have their own generators. Keeping track of the power for security and safety is really important, he adds.
Once installed, Green recommends regular maintenance to keep the installation up to scratch.
Maintenance is essential. It delivers the confidence for broadcasters that it is going to work. Connectors will break, but if they are regularly checked and repaired it does not represent a significant problem. Fibre is susceptible to dust and sand, in the Middle East and cleaning the connectors regularly will eliminate problems.
A well-cabled infrastructure solution at a stadium is a sensible investment but it is only one part of an even bigger spectator experience that is reflected in the changes taking place in todays venues from improved turnstiles for smooth access to the ground, to new refreshment stands, food halls and digital signage screens that maximise business opportunities on site.
Furthermore, with an ever-increasing worldwide demand for television coverage of major sporting events, including downloads to mobile devices, broadcasters need to trust that the basic infrastructure on which so much of this depends continues to be technically robust. The cabling of stadiums and sports venues may seem like an unglamorous task, but getting it right is vital if broadcasters are going to have confidence that it will deliver technically while allowing them to provide an unparalleled viewer experience.