The Sports Video Group is pleased to welcome our newest platinum sponsor, Microsoft. Silverlight, Microsoft’s popular browser plug-in, has been used to stream sporting events worldwide and, most recently, delivered front-of-the-pack online coverage of the Tour de France.
France Televisions provided Internet users in the race’s host country with two streams of cycling’s greatest race, both powered by Microsoft. The first was a standard-definition stream, in Windows Media format, played back in either a Silverlight application or a Windows Media Player ActiveX in an HTML page. The second was a high-definition, IIS 7 Smooth Streaming stream, played back in a Silverlight player application. Seven bitrates were provided, from 350 kbps to 3 Mbps at 720p definition.
Microsoft worked with two content-delivery networks for the three-week event: Akamai delivered the Windows Media Stream, and Level3 partnered for the IIS 7 Live Smooth Stream. The encoding was completed at France Televisions headquarters in Paris. Audio was added into the stream as part of the HD-SDI signal sent to the encoders.
Metadata was generated by the Tour de France organizer and published by France Televisions as part of the Web service. Proper tagging enabled the online portal to display the exact positioning of the lead riders and main pack at any given moment. Metadata was also used in the Silverlight application to display the position of the pack in the stage profile, when fans could time-shift their view of the race.
The video content was exclusively produced by France Televisions and was the same feed available on live television, with two modifications: advertising was eliminated, and a clock image was added to the stream, which made it easier for fans to utilize the time-shifting feature.
The IIS Smooth Streaming technology allowed fans to time-shift their viewing with pause/play, rewind, and go-to-live features. The Silverlight online application presented users with a timeline for each stage profile, complete with topographical notes. Users navigated that timeline to watch video live as it happened or rewind to catch a mountain climb earlier in the stage, with the option always available to jump to the live video.
Getting the stream from the French mountaintops to computer screens across the country was a painstaking process. HD cameras positioned on motorbikes throughout the course sent the signal to two helicopters, which bounced it to two airplanes flying above the road. From there, the stream traveled to three trucks in three different points before being beamed to Satellite 1.
From the satellite, the signal traveled back down to a receiving truck on the finish line of that day’s stage, which distributed the signal to two production trucks, to two emitting trucks, and finally up to Satellite 2. Satellite 2 sent the signal to the new-media control room in the France Televisions signal-processing center in Paris, where the signal was encoded for the Web. From there, the signal was pushed out to the Akamai or Level3 Network, then to the internet and the computers of cycling fans throughout France.
For more information on Silverlight, visit Microsoft online at silverlight.net.