Telstra digitises historic AFL video archives into AWS

Telstra digitises historic AFL video archives into AWS

More than 20,000 different physical assets were on fragile formats that needed to be digitised.

AFL House at Marvel Stadium

AFL House at Marvel Stadium

Credit: AFL

Specialist trucks hauled thousands of physical tapes and film canisters from AFL House in Docklands, Victoria to Canberra as part of a project involving Telstra and AWS to bring the footage into the digital age. 

For years, these tapes and canisters were held in temperature controlled vaults with manual content retrieval involving skilled technicians to access the vision, which dates back to the 1909 grand final when South Melbourne beat Carlton. 

Distribution and reproduction of tape footage as short clips and stories was challenging as it was not scalable for digital consumption in multiple video formats.

The AFL engaged Telstra Purple along with Telstra Broadcast Services (TBS) in using AWS to tackle the challenge at hand so the archives can be easily searched and retrieved on demand. 

The first phase of the project began with digitising the tapes with DAMsmart, a provider that specialises in audio-visual digitisation. The tapes were securely transported and prepared for AV extraction and saved as high-quality digital files.

Using AWS Snowball -- a petabyte-scale data transport service -- around 500TB of extracted digital video footage was uploaded and stored using Amazon S3.

With each match taking up around 120GB of storage (up to nine matches are played every week, creating over 1TB of data) plus additional non-match content, the AFL faces an ever-expanding footage catalogue.

Telstra Purple configured the AWS cloud services for the AFL to manage their digital video archive. It also implemented a media asset management (MAM) platform, Dalet Flex, so that AFL could meet its on-demand and multi-platform distribution requirements.

Telstra Broadcast Services provided an end-to-end platform-as-a-Service solution to the AFL, combining all aspects of digitisation, as well as connectivity, to support the MAM platform hosted on AWS.

TBS head Andreas Eriksson said the business has historically worked with the AFL across a number of projects in not just delivering the live game to fans, but also on companion services with tipping, Match Centre, AFL on-demand, connectivity for its review centre and using augmented reality in this year’s grand finals, and took the opportunity to work through this latest challenge with them. 

“They were driven to preserve their archives, search and retrieve content easily,” Eriksson said. “The first step is archiving the content and then working around different aspects with artificial intelligence, clipping and editing, and this is why it’s important to have the right technology platform. AWS has other strong features and functions, which is an area we can tap into later on.”

Eriksson said the project combined a multitude of skill sets from across Telstra Purple, TBS and its recent acquisition of Mediacloud in June. 

“We leveraged a number of different parts of the business, which shows the complexity as a lot of different competencies need to come together to get the outcome the AFL was looking for,” he added.

When AFL head of production, Monica Forlano, joined the organisation in 2019, the challenge to digitise the footage was brought to light and the project began taking shape. 

“We needed to do something, otherwise all that great content might disappear and we’ve heard some horror stories of other sporting leagues that might have had their tapes in hallways with leaking pipes that could’ve possibly damaged their footage and some stories about sending tapes off to India and waiting for hard drives to come back,” Forlano said.

“There was a lot of concern that the footage will be lost and there's a lot of passionate people at the AFL that are really keen on preserving the game.

“There were 20,000 different physical assets and these were on fragile formats that rely on obsolete technology for playback, so we needed to get these quickly digitised otherwise we would lose this rich history of the game. It was costing us money to store and stopping us delivering more content to our avid fans.”

Forlano added that it recently kicked off a beta version of its on-demand platform, which has experienced a great uptake among footy fans. 

This portion of the project is expected to be completed in December, with the next step focusing on photographic images. 

“We have a deep archive of historical stills -  that’s the next phase for us and then being able to create content so much more efficiently, it just opens up our world just to have all that metadata and then we’ll be able to do quick searches for players, coaches or specific events,” she said.

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