Telstra distributes the 36th America’s Cup to global audiences for circle-o

Yachts on water

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The America’s Cup is the oldest international sporting trophy in the world and has been in existence since the first sailing match race between the United States of America and Great Britain in 1851.

For the 2021 running of the event, the 36th America’s Cup presented by PRADA (AC36), a new company, America’s Cup Event Limited (ACE), was formed to plan and deliver the event on behalf of the competing teams. Host production provider for AC36 was leading television production company circle-o GmbH, an Austrian-based joint venture between Riedel Communications and WEST4MEDIA.

Telstra Broadcast Services worked closely with ACE and circle-o from January 2020 onwards to deliver the event to a worldwide audience, helping make it the most watched America’s Cup ever.

Customising a network to meet mission-critical needs

The America's Cup is without doubt the most well-known and widely watched sailing competition worldwide. As such its broadcast presents a notable challenge — not only does the host broadcaster have to capture all the action from the competing yachts in an at-times hostile marine environment, it also has to ensure that that coverage gets distributed reliably around the world.

AC36 took place in Auckland, New Zealand across a four-month period leading up to the final races in March 2021, and its key requirement was for scalable and reliable contribution and distribution services that could meet the demands of 55 major networks looking to deliver coverage to around 190 countries. While, on top of the traditional broadcast requirements, global online distribution was also required via YouTube, Facebook, and the America's Cup’s own website.

As a result, the content would require two separate feeds – a standard version and then a less branded version for European broadcasters — instead of the single world feed typically used for live broadcasts, as well as multiple versions for streaming partners and social media platforms.

The challenge did not stop there either, as the production plan for AC36 also required the upload of significant amounts of content daily to a media cloud, as well as a 24/7 connection to circle-o’s remote operations centre in Wuppertal, Germany.

With three different and distinct areas of distribution to cover as a result, there was a strong desire to find one company to bridge across all three in a single solution rather than split the contract between multiple providers. And with its expertise in all these areas, Telstra’s media managed services business, Telstra Broadcast Services (TBS) was a perfect match for AC36’s requirements.

Curating a multi-layered solution with global reach

Each edition of the America’s Cup is different, and AC36 introduced an entirely new class of boats and an entirely new range of broadcast challenges that needed to be met as a result. On the water that meant 44 video sources at any one time, including two cameras on helicopters, two cameras on chase boats, and 10 cameras on each of the yachts that were racing. Off the water that meant TBS had to design a bespoke network solution featuring a multi-layered offering encompassing a wide range of different services — one that few other companies would be able to match within their portfolios.

To meet this challenge, TBS curated an international contribution and distribution solution from its high-bandwidth media network, known as the Special Events Network. This managed, end-to-end IP broadcast network provided all the services required, including on-site and remote broadcast operations; remote production; the distribution of world feeds and streaming feeds to global rights holders; the contribution of signals (including 24/7 upload and Point-to-Point IP connectivity) from source to circle-o; and bespoke internet services onsite, including ethernet private lines.

On the ground in Auckland, Telstra’s deployment of diverse dark fibre from its point of presence in Auckland to the AC36 IBC (International Broadcast Centre), coupled with advanced multiservice media edge equipment, provided high quality HD-SDI media services, ethernet data services and high-speed Internet services. A range of high-quality media edge hardware was deployed to support H.264 encoding, RTMP, Zixi and SRT, alongside remote production capable equipment. From here, the multiservice edge equipment backhauled all contents to the Telstra Broadcast Operations Centre (Telstra BOC) in Sydney where the centralised booking, monitoring and distribution to global media and digital rights holders took place.

The operation in Sydney covered bespoke service bouquet multiplexing and preparations for global broadcasters; monitoring and quality checks; a booking desk for AC36, and 24x7 live operations support centre for rights holders; live streaming using RTMP to support companies streaming on Google and Facebook; and high-quality contribution for multiple HD-SDI Internet streaming for world broadcasters.

The Telstra Broadcast Operation Centre also aggregated AC36’s world feeds, including boat feeds, clean feeds, data feeds, and dirty feeds for contribution and distribution across Telstra’s global media network. A media cloud solution was deployed to handle the upload of a large amount of content, as much as four hours of broadcast content a day, which all had to be uploaded in a short time. The remote operations centre in Germany, meanwhile, supported the on-site software and camera equipment, and as such required a 24/7 data connection.

With operations centres spanning from Auckland to Sydney and then onto the world, it was a complex operation involving the provision of multiple services that all had to operate within typical broadcast SLAs. As such it helps illustrate the impressive breadth of the TBS offering — there are very few companies worldwide that would be able to offer such a one-stop-shop and end-to-end range of services.

A bespoke solution with impressive results

As a result of the combined efforts of TBS, circle-o, ACE, and the international broadcast partners worldwide, AC36 broke all previous broadcast records for an America’s Cup. All-in-all a total global audience of 941m people and a dedicated audience of 68.2 million viewers across the world, in 236 territories, watched 52 hours of live broadcast from the event.

The achievement was all the more remarkable too given the disruptions that the Covid-19 pandemic forced on the event. The America’s Cup challenges leading up to the main event in Auckland were originally planned to be held across three locations: Italy, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. However, as Covid-19 began to spread around the world, it was decided to centralise the AC36 challenge events over a four-month period in New Zealand.

While this might seem to have made the production schedule easier to manage, the reality was very different. Covid-related restrictions meant that none of the usual international broadcast teams could make it into the country, making an international remote production solution mission-critical to delivering the event to global rights holders.

TBS was, however, able to deliver a seamless service to circle-o that brought all the different components of a complex multi-layered delivery strategy together into one unified whole, giving it a single supplier and single point of contact and ensuring that Auckland, New Zealand, and the America’s Cup were positioned firmly in the global spotlight around the world.