Technology could replace on-ground camera operators at Fox Sports

Technology could replace on-ground camera operators at Fox Sports

Fox Sports undergoes technological transformation with move to new facility

Fox Sports is testing new technology that could sound the death knell for on-ground camera operators.

The broadcaster, which has undergone a major technology transformation under chief technology officer Michael Tomkins, is testing remote production with fixed cameras at event.

Traditionally, Fox rolls trucks to about 36 stadiums across Australia with between five and 30 cameras.

It brings back two or three feeds and a stack of hard drives back and that's what we see at home.

But Tomkins believes the technology has now moved on.

"You can keep working like that, but why would you?" he said.

"What we have done in the last few months is remote production and this is where we are testing the water - seeing how far we can go. But typically our broadcast has three cameras on a football."

He said the broadcaster ran tests last year where two 4K cameras were put in at both ends of the field at an NRL match.

"So with two 4K cameras fixed they can see the whole ground and guess what it's software based," he said.

"So I get rid of three cameraman and get one joystick bunny and he moves his (virtual) box around.

"We worked out its quite cost effective. I don't have to roll an entire crew out."

Games are now shot in HD, which is a quarter of the size of 4K.

Tomkins said that was a big problem.

"The biggest problem is 4K is not big enough," he said.

"4K is great for netball, but I need 8K for a football ground and then we can do this."

So for now, it will remain the same. But Fox is also using 4K technology to improve it's coverage of AFL, with fixed cameras catching all the off-the-ball niggles that aren't caught by the traditional three-camera set up.

The technology transformation at Fox Sports began about four years' ago, according to Tomkins.

The catalyst for the change was the move from its old facility it Pyrmont to its new digs, which required a new broadcast facility to be built.

Tomkins said he was adamant that he wasn't going to go down the traditional path.

"I wanted to everything on commodity hardware," he said.

"I was heavily into software-defined networking, software-defined storage, software defined every and orchestration."

Read more: Anchor goes Openstack to boost retail website performance

He said one of the big issues was that all the legacy systems were "bespoke" and had their own control systems.

"Going forward in television everything is still bespoke," he said.

"The problem is there are too many standards. We came up with a version that was going to be one-third traditional broadcast and two-thirds new media and the concept there was 'I don't want to talk about broadcast, I don't believe digital, this is all about new media'."

The broadcaster implemented MuleSoft Anypoint platform in 2011 to connect applications, data and devices.

He said he decided to run the MuleSoft product right through the middle of the system and placed all the company's business systems at the core and extracted broadcast and digital away so that within Fox Sports no one could actually tell the difference between the mediums.

"A lot of people think of MuleSoft as a technology layer, I don't... it's more ubiquitous than that, it's really the lifeblood, it's the spine and basically the nervous system of the metadata that is running up and down our system," he said.

"MuleSoft is our lifeblood if that stops we have got roughly 50 TB a day flowing through Fox Sports, the heavy lifting and control and orchestration is all through Mulesoft."

He said Fox Sports was metadata driven, but exception based.

"So by putting everything through orchestration, I can actually see the flow ,and the flow is predicted because everything is scheduled.

"When the flow differs from what's scheduled I start to see it in Kibana as visualisation tool.

"I can see if my volumes are skewing off and the important thing there is I haven't built to scale."

Tomkins built the system to deal with the average amount of data, which means on occasions, he has had to move things around through policy based workload management.

"Because I know the SLA (service level agreement). I actually slide the delivery points.

"So instead of paying for bigger systems constantly, I lowered the systems and I'm basically shifting things over time."

He said by programmatically doing that he was saving the business a lot of money.

"But more importantly my SLAs are going up and my delivery times are getting less," he said.

"It's proactively managing the business and that's the point of MuleSoft.

When the IT department starts talking APIs most line of business people's eyes glaze over.

But Tomkins took deliverables of APIs going into the common systems, legacy and new systems, moved them through the MuleSoft message bus, through Logstash and out through Kibana for visualisation.

"We could visualise exactly what was happening," he said.

"So instead of going in and talking about APIs. I went in and said: I've found this saving.

"Depending who you were in room it was either very good or very bad."

Mulesoft customers in Australia include Zurich, Suncorp, Foxtel, Telstra, News Corp, Dick smith, Woolworths, Swinburne University, the NSW and Queensland State Governments and Aldi.

MuleSoft chief technology Officer, Uri Sarid, believes that APIs will change the way companies build value and compete in 2015.

"Businesses have felt the need to go faster," he said.

"Now whether an IT department likes it or doesn't like it there several hundred applications that it did not choose. That's a big change," he said.

"Some people have managed to take these agile approaches and use it to disrupt competitors. Companies who are not able to evolve this way disappear.

"It's our business to connect systems together - we don't build the fundamental applications.

"If you get good at that you have structural competitive advantage over your competitors."

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