TranSPORT: Challenges, Benefits Abound for Those Cutting the Cord on Cameras
By: Karen Hogan, Associate Editor
Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 9:51 am

Within the stadium or arena, wireless RF and cellular-based camera systems come in handy when capturing crowd reaction or getting a postgame interview. Outside the venue — say, at a golf course or road race — they are essential.

CP Communications’ Kurt Heitmann opened the panel by expounding on the spectrum challenges he faced during the Ryder Cup.

Leading systems providers convened this week at SVG’s TranSPORT in New York City to discuss how these tools help broadcasters capture a fresh, innovative perspective. However, the freedom from fixed camera positions is not without its challenges.

“CP Communications provided the wireless cameras, microphones, data, you name it, for the Ryder Cup,” said Kurt Heitmann, SVP, sales and marketing, CP Communications. “The problem with the Ryder Cup is that you have not just the U.S.-based but international-based [broadcasts] and you run out of spectrum very quickly. We had over 20 wireless cameras on site, 60-plus wireless microphones, and then probably 40-50 wireless PL systems. Spectrum’s gone. We ran out.”

When three 3D rigs came on board, CP turned to Broadcast Sports Inc.’s Blue Steel microphones, which took up less bandwidth within the 1.4 Gb spectrum.

“That’s the way you have to work,” Heitmann explained. “You have to look at varying technologies based on what production’s needs are and what’s available in the spectrum, and I think we all have to work together in the future in order to do that.”

In addition to the wireless systems’ taking up space on the spectrum, companies like CP Communications and BSI must contend with losing that vital spectrum to the highest bidder.

Broadcast Sports, Inc. GM Peter Larsson speaks as LiveU’s Ken Zamkow looks on.

“In the very early days, we all tried to operate within the assigned television spectrum … but, when you get into big shows like the major car races or large golf [events], you then move outside of the regular broadcast spectrum,” said BSI General Manager Peter Larsson. “We’re fighting against the Microsofts, the Googles, these people that have got millions of dollars to spend and then have got millions and millions of customers. … We’re constantly fighting against spectrum encroachment.”

Cellular-based video-uplink backpacks provide the flexibility of wireless RF on a smaller scale and can be deployed rapidly with minimal support infrastructure.

“What packs give you is the ability to do things you never could do before: locker-room interviews, pregame, postgame,” said Chris Bell, VP, customer support, TVU Networks. “These are now events you can cover with a backpack and mobile technologies.”

While newsgathering is the mainstay of backpack manufacturers, LiveU is seeing an increase in backpack use for short-range transmission and exclusive-content programming by teams, leagues, and broadcasters.

“We’re seeing more live high school and college games … so, any given weekend, especially on Fridays, you can probably see over 100 live high school games transmitted through LiveU units,” said Ken Zamkow, director of sales and marketing, LiveU. “Most of them go online; some of them now go on television as well.

From left to right: TVU Networks’ Chris Bell, CP Communications’ Kurt Heitmann, BSI’s Peter Larsson, and LiveU’s Ken Zamkow.

“What we’re also starting to see in Europe, not really in the U.S. yet, is,  some networks are actually going to away soccer games and, instead of getting fiber or satellite, they’ll actually just get one or two DSL connections,” he continued. “They’ll plug them into our unit and bond all of the wireless bandwidth available, as well as the DSL, and they transmit live professional soccer games that way.”

Although backpacks operate on a smaller scale, these cellular-based uplink transmission units must also fight for bandwidth, contending with thousands of fans’ texting or uploading pictures to Facebook. The key to providing quality of service within the crowded venue spectrum, said Bell, lies with the wireless carriers.

“When they can say we’re going to guarantee you x bandwidth, which the U.S. carriers are close to doing, that’s the day we can walk [into] the Rose Bowl with a high expectation of success,” he said. “But really, today, it’s all about [planning]. Foreknowledge is the key to a successful show. You don’t just walk into a 100,000-seat stadium and expect perfection.”

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