Speed to screen drives Fox Sports Australia’s networking upgrade

Virtual private network enables media company to increase HD camera footage

Fox Sports Australia has moved to meet demand for play-by-play sports coverage on high definition (HD) TVs, tablets and smart phones by building a virtual private network enabling the media giant to send three HD broadcast feeds from sporting venues back to the studio over one connection.

Fox Sports Australia chief technology officer, Michael Tomkins, told Computerworld Australia that the multiple footage is used to create a “director’s cut” of close ups, goal kicks and running play as the match is played live. This is then broadcast on a variety of mediums including Foxtel, Austar, IP TV and video applications such as iPad app, Fox Sports View.

The company completed the upgrade of its private network in early 2011 with the help of networking vendor ,Juniper, and fibre company, Nextgen Networks. Fox Sports Australia had signed a multi-million dollar deal with Nextgen Networks in 2009 to develop a fibre network connecting the studio to 16 sports venue around Australia including stadiums in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Newcastle, Canberra, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast.

Prior to the implementation, the company was using a combination of one-way-satellite and digital video network (DVN) services. However, these offerings proved to be bandwidth restrictive, requiring heavy video compression and encoding, which could impact the broadcast quality delivered to subscribers.

Tomkins added that the company wanted to secure data services in key sporting locations, removing costly satellite capacity and eliminating the need for heavy video compression. In addition, Fox Sports Australia needed to deploy a converged video, data and communications offering to enable two-way communications between sporting venues and the TV station.

“Capability within the market place when the network went in was that broadcasters could only get one [broadcast] feed from each venue and data was carried separately,” he said. By implementing the Juniper offering over the 1GB Nextgen Networks fibre connection, the company was able to send three HD quality feeds back from each venue.

“To do that via a traditional network would have taken three connections just for HD video plus extra connections for data,” Tomkins said.

We have multiple [broadcast] trucks rolling around Australia so when the truck parks up at the stadium the crew set up a data link back to the studio using the converged video and data offering,” he said.

Fox Sports films up to 700 outside broadcasts a year so the kit comes in for a lot of use. Since implementation, he estimates that the company has saved “thousands of dollars per hour” with expectations that the virtual private network will have paid for itself within the first year.

Since the networking implementation, Fox Sports Australia is in the midst of building its own data centre in Gore Hill, Sydney, as it moves data and staff from a cramped office in Pyrmont.

“Being a television station our data requirements are too high for a data centre provider as we grow at about 30 terabytes per weekend,” Tomkins said. “We’re shifting 1.2 petabytes of tape archives and 1.2 petabytes of spinning disc.”

The data centre, targeted for completion in December 2012, will have 130 racks, centralised cooling and capacity to take Fox Sports’ data requirements which grow at one petabyte every six months.

While the majority of its data will be hosted in the new data centre, Tomkins added that Fox Sports Australia hosts its Web services and parts of its website in a hybrid public/private Cloud.

“For video file delivery from overseas we’re looking at if we can have that file delivered to the Cloud, use the storage in the Cloud as a buffer and bring it across as required.”

“We want to use a local Cloud so we can get good speed because most of the content that we need from overseas is coming from the US or Singapore,” he said.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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