Producing hundreds of clips a day, the team expanded into a ballroom at a nearby hotel
The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics are the biggest Olympics in history.
By the time the flame goes out on Sunday evening, 339 medal-winning events will have been organized in 33 sports in 50 disciplines. Compare that to the 43 events in nine sports at the 1896 inaugural Games in Athens, and it’s clear how much of a monster the Olympics have become over the past century.
All of this action means one thing to the NBC Sports team and other Olympic rights holders around the world: a hell of a lot of video content to cut, trim and distribute.
To meet the enormous challenge of serving the Olympic Games in the digital age, NBC Olympics operated what it calls the Highlights Factory. The internal operations group has been in place for each Olympic Games since the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Highlights Factory’s mission is to monitor all streams of each competition live throughout the Olympics, while monitoring, evaluating and processing all additional material available from Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS), such as fades, isos, post-event interviews. of the mixed zone and other ad hoc documents.
As one can imagine: it is many. Each day of the Games, the Highlights Factory team posts 120-140 video elements. It will potentially process 2,000 to 2,500 clips over the course of the Games. And that doesn’t even include a big chunk of little clips that could be passed on to the NBC Olympics social media team on demand.
This year’s Highlights Factory operation has grown to such an extent that it spans two sites. When it debuted in 2008, it was housed in one place: inside Studio 8H (yes, Studio 8H from Saturday Night Live glory) at 30 Rock in Manhattan. This year there is a significant space for editors at the NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, CT. Plus, a rented overflow space in a nearby hotel ballroom houses more than 100 writers.
While the extra space certainly helped the NBC Olympics team employ more editors and keep the large team socially distant, it was not without its challenges. Eric Hamilton, director, digital video production, NBC Olympics, says the Highlights Factory has always benefited from being in one room, which led to open communication that made it feel almost like the old trading pits on Wall Street. Now more effort must be devoted to effective communication and streamlined work.
“The division of the team into two physical locations impacted our internal communications,” said Hamilton, “more than we anticipated. We had successfully spent a year working remotely, so we thought we had lost that part. But, in the chaos and intensity of the Olympics, we found it a bit of a challenge. “
To help bridge the distance between Stamford, the hotel, and even the IBC team in Tokyo, the Highlights Factory team uses Microsoft Teams to host video and text meetings. Additionally, Cisco Telepresence monitors allow staff members to see their peers in other locations.
The crews are numerous, with Hamilton and Director, Original Programming, Wally Bruckner overseeing much of the overall effort. About 13 predictors (producers / editors) cut nearly 200 live event highlights daily. This group is managed by Director, Digital Content Strategy, Jeff Graubart and Editor-in-chief Daniel Brennan. Shot selectors, about 34 of whom work in the hotel, identify and cut top and “viral” moments. Producer Elissa Candiotti and Editor Daniel Cuthbert are running there.
Among other big additions to this year’s Highlights Factory, content is piped to a 24/7 Team USA Moments channel on the NBCUniversal OTT Peacock streaming service, and IP-based feeds grant Highlights Factory editors. direct access to selected camera feeds in Tokyo.
For the Team USA Moments channel, the Highlights Factory team uses three Telestream Wirecast devices connected to streaming encoders to create the 24-hour Peacock product. The channel, loaded with VOD content, also goes from a live stream to a live stream. another to follow American athletes in action. When Tokyo darkens for the night, the Stamford crew switch to the channel’s programming with a three-hour loop of highlights from yesterday’s team. The entire channel is operated by two teams of two technicians, an Olympic programming expert and a Wirecast operator.
Marvin pittman, Glen sanders, Tom feuer, and Daniyal Khan collaborated to produce the Team USA Moments channel. Project Manager, Digital Distribution, Laurence Master oversees a 15-person team that manages the distribution of content (live and on-demand) to MVPDs and off-platform partners, such as Peacock, YouTube, Yahoo !, MSN, Apple News and social media platforms. Media Assets Supervisor Liz Collins teams up with Feuer to oversee an intake / cataloging group of 14 staff, who manage special feeds and behind-the-scenes content. This group catalogs footage and shares it with all of the NBC Sports Group production teams.
When it comes to IP camera feeds, the Highlights Factory team is taking advantage of the fact that NBC Sports is streaming every Olympic event live with the help of OBS. It takes raw camera feeds from selected events to create compelling behind the scenes and what the team calls “raw perspective” content. Haivision’s IP encoders are used to pull the raw streams made available by OBS, and Blackmagic Design switches are used to customize versions of the live stream for digital and social distribution, where rights agreements allow.
Haivision lines were used to tap into selected cameras at eight sites, including gymnastics, swimming and track and field. The Blackmagic ATEM remote switches at Stamford were used to live stream or pack, say, an entire race from the point of view of the underwater tracking camera.
“These allowed us to essentially get instant mergers to use for post-product content,” Hamilton notes, “without disturbing the venue to provide us with material at the end of a long day.
He credits NBC Sports VP, Engineering, Tim Canary and Director, Postproduction and Graphics, Stacey Georgiou with the engineering management necessary to establish the multi-site configuration for these Games. In addition, Vice President, Post-production and Digital Workflow, Darryl Jefferson and Vice-President, Operations, Susan saladino played a vital role in identifying the tools and systems that power this well-oiled machine. Cuthbert, Candiotti, Eric Eisendrath, Lauren Fein, Corey michaels, and Lindsay Pepino are recognized for helping to keep the hotel running smoothly.
Another key cog in the content wheel is the 14 Craft Publishers. Supervised by Lori Sandrock, this team is responsible for cutting high-end features and sponsored content that helps meet partner needs.
Hamilton also notes another innovation from the Highlights Factory this summer: an experience of sharing highlights and open source footage. The operation works with other production groups at Stamford, including the Content Command Center, to create highlights that are held in a central location as open Avid footage. This way any production team can access it.