Broadcasting from Brazil: How the Industry Prepares for Major Sporting Events
Brazil is about to face one of the biggest telecommunications challenges in its history with the upcoming FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games. More than 100 million of people will tune in on their TVs around the globe to watch these events. Will Brazil be able to meet the challenge?
On June 12, more than 100 million viewers in Latin America are expected to tune in for the first game of the 2014 Soccer World Cup taking place in Brazil. The global audience is forecasted to exceed 3 billion viewers, which means the country is going to face one of the biggest telecommunications challenges in its history. But this is just the beginning. In 2016, all eyes will be on Brazil yet again for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The question is — from the broadcast and infrastructure point of view — is Brazil ready to transmit these sporting events globally?
Most satellite players in Latin America believe the country is responding well to the huge demand these events require.
“Brazil’s communications infrastructure is prepared to support the demands of broadcasting for both the World Cup and the Olympics, and satellite remains a paramount factor for broadcasters as they finalize transmission services for their programming, especially when it comes to high-profile events,” says Carmen González-Sanfeliu, Intelsat regional vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Leandro Gaunszer, commercial director at Telefonica, believes the Brazilian broadcast market has the know-how and maturity to make it work, but he thinks the infrastructure needs a bit more focus.
“Brazilian broadcasters know how to perform in such a big event like this,” Gaunszer explains. “The point is that some adjustments might be done in terms of equipment availability and equipment quality. We believe there is room to increase the quantity of players to provide signal flow through satellites; especially digital satellite news gathering (DSNG). In some cases, TV stations will rely on their own structure or rental from some rental companies. Most TV stations are ready to retransmit great images captured by their headquarter stations.”
Dolores Martos, SES VP of sales for Latin American and the Caribbean, says Brazilian broadcasters are moving forward, and preparations are well underway to get everything in place for the World Cup. “[Broadcasters] are getting ready for the huge amount of video feeds that entail such an important world event,” she says. “Their requirements include satellite infrastructure (C- and Ku-band) and, in many cases, teleport services (uplink, downlink, turnaround) and fiber connectivity in various areas of the globe.”
Brazil-based Embratel currently has seven satellites in operation, and plans to launch two more satellites before the Olympic Games in 2016 in order to compensate for the large amount of satellite capacity the region is going to demand over the next two years. Embratel’s Star One C4 satellite is scheduled for a late 2014 launch, and the Star One D1 satellite will be launched in early 2016.
“We are preparing a high technology infrastructure to cover all the locations where the games are going to take place, and also the other locations used as support basis for the games,” says Gustavo Silbert, Star One’s president. Star One, a subsidiary of Embratel, is responsible for its own satellite administration.
According to Silbert, satellite is a very important complement to terrestrial transmissions in Brazil. “When you need contingency and redundancy by a different means and real-time availability for the services, satellite is the way to go. Not to mention the mobility on SNG applications, for instance,” he says. These applications are especially important considering Brazil’s large territory and the distance between the cities that are going to host World Cup games.
Intelsat is excited about their infrastructure in Brazil and how it will cover the needs for transmissions in the country. They expanded the IntelsatOne terrestrial network through a peering agreement with BT’s Media PoP in Rio de Janeiro, which will allow content originating in Brazil to be backhauled over fiber and distributed globally using Intelsat’s teleports, satellite network and PoPs. “We will also make available multiple transponders for rights-holders and non-rights-holders alike that are looking to broadcast the events,” says González-Sanfeliu.
For the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Intelsat dedicated more than 900 MHz of satellite capacity across nine satellites within their global fleet. To meet the demands for Brazil’s upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games, Intelsat will be focusing on sample satellite capacity across multiple satellites around the globe. “That way, we can leverage satellite’s significant advantages in terms of reliability and ease-of-deployment,” says González-Sanfeliu. “To provide global coverage, Intelsat will have capacity available on multiple satellites, including IS 805, IS 1R, IS 903, IS 11, IS 21 and IS 9.”
C- and Ku-band
Martos says that both C- and Ku-band satellite demand capacity will work for distribution in Brazil, Latin America and around the world. Over the last two years, SES has launched two large satellites for Latin America. This brought an additional 1.5 GHz of capacity in C-band and 1.7 GHz in Ku-band into service with coverage of Brazil and Latin America.
“Our capacity options for the World Cup and the Olympics include the NSS 806 satellite with its unique, high-power beam, which provides simultaneous coverage of the Americas and Europe in C-band, and the NSS 7 satellite with its high-power Ku-band beams over Brazil, Southern Cone, Andean, North America and Europe. Through these and other SES satellites, video signals can be transported from Brazil to North America, Europe, Latin America and Africa. The other 50 satellites in SES’ global fleet will extend the feeds across the globe. SES also has a network of teleports in the United States, Europe and Asia to further distribute the feeds to other areas like Asia, Australia, the Middle East, Pacific basin and provide a seamless solution to broadcasters,” Martos explains.
What are the Main Challenges?
Telefonica says the infrastructure of the city’s stadiums and roads need attention in order to receive OB Vans and their crews. “The distance among the host cities will be a key challenge for broadcasting teams,” says Gaunszer. “Maybe a few corrections should be made in the following months, but we trust all the broadcasting aspects will be operating to their fullest and best capacities for the World Cup. The government is investing in roads and airport infrastructure where these trucks are going to transit through.”
However, González-Sanfeliu believes that what is most difficult is the broad range of solutions needed to meet varied broadcast requirements in the context of a very mature telecommunications scenario like the one in Brazil. “We and our partners will provide the satellite, fiber and hybrid solutions to meet broadcasters’ requirements for guaranteed transmission from the competition venues and International Broadcast Center (IBC),” she says. “We also will provide single-hop, double-hop and managed terrestrial solutions for programmers requiring transmission services outside of Latin America.” By combining multiple platforms, Intelsat plans to cover all broadcasters’ needs at these events.
Showcase for New Technologies
During events as big as the World Cup and the Olympics, larger companies tend to use the opportunity to raise their popularity and make the audience more familiar with new, groundbreaking technology. During a recent event in Mexico, Samsung presented its expectations for the Latin American market, highlighting Brazil. Steve Lee, Samsung’s president for Latin America, said during an official statement that 2014 is going to be the year for Ultra-HD TV and that, because of the World Cup, the company foresees 12 times more demand for those kinds of television sets in Latin America. Sony and LG also saw the World Cup as an opportunity and released their versions of Ultra-HD televisions in the Brazilian local market last year. Ultra-HD will be available for a few games, including the semi-finals and final matches.
While only one or two TV stations in Brazil are currently able to capture and edit Ultra-HD images, Telefonica is optimistic about the opportunities for this technology in Brazil. “Big manufacturers are close to the main TV stations providing them with some state-of-the-art Ultra-HD cameras. We expect TV stations to be prepared to handle these high quality signals into the actual structure inside the TV stations,” says Gaunszer.
Telefonica was behind the first 4K Ultra-HD transmission in Latin America last year through their audio-visual division, TSA, and in association with Hispasat. “We are very excited to see how HD technology is growing, gaining popularity and becoming available for more people. Definitely, viewers will be able to see the World Cup as never before, which is very exciting,” he adds.
On the other hand, the big players are not exactly excited about 3-D transmissions. Intelsat believes the impact of this technology is diminishing. “Broadcasters such as ESPN, are shutting down their 3-D channels,” González-Sanfeliu says. Telefonica believes that broadcasters will only capture the World Cup in 3-D for documentary or cinema purposes, not for broadcast.
Orlando Nevez, product director for data and Internet at Level 3 Brazil, says the company has a special product that integrates connectivity solutions and will be available during the World Cup and the Olympics. “The formats are SD, HD and 3-D, and our client can choose which format they want to use. Constantly, new formats are added to the portfolio with new demands,” he says.
Since satellites and fiber play different roles complementing and supporting each other, these infrastructures need to interconnect so the broadcasting of these events can be successful. Only with satellite is it possible to cover the 12 Brazilian cities that will host World Cup games. With approximately 621,000 miles of optical fiber, 83 terrestrial stations and the biggest backbone IP in Latin America, Embratel is building even more infrastructure for the Olympic Games. In Rio alone, the company has installed more than 158 miles of optical fiber. “Our backbone is very quick and is smart enough to avoid failures. Our OTN Backbone is prepared for cloud services demand, for instance, and it offers high speed, low latency and high availability,” explains Silbert.
The Brazilian government collaborated with FIFA to build the permanent, fixed infrastructure so the government will build most of the optical fiber needed for World Cup transmissions. Both entities agreed that the government would be in charge of the infrastructure that will remain in use after the games. Meanwhile, FIFA is paying for the infrastructure that will be used only during the World Cup. The Brazilian government also said it would spend around $155 million on urban networks, network reinforcement, training, hardware and the network itself. Part of that work is delegated to Telebras, the state-owned company that maintains the infrastructure and support service networks for federal government communications. Telebras has been in charge of building the optical fiber that will be used to broadcast HDTV audio and video content between the stadiums and the FIFA International Broadcast Center located in Rio.
“We will be using links totalizing 300 Gbps, connecting every stadium to FIFA’s IBC, using Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) technology, which guarantees a higher quality than Brazilian market is used to, but answers to FIFA standards and to the minimum availability of 99.99 percent. Then, the images are going to be transmitted by HBS and VIDI, that were hired by FIFA,” says Paulo Kapp, operations and technical director at Telebras. Even though Kapp says it was difficult to get municipal licenses to install the optical fiber in the urban areas of big cities that will be hosting World Cup games, the urgency of the World Cup shortened the average time of installation of that infrastructure. The federal program of popular, cheap, government-subsidized broadband will also help the Brazilian government beat another goal. If Brazil can meet this objective, and score plenty of goals during the competition, it will be a success all round.