SES Preps for World Cup in Transmission-Challenged Brazil

With the kickoff of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil just six weeks away, broadcasters are gearing up for what promises to be one of the most widely distributed events of all time — not to mention a monumental transmission challenge. With limited transmission and broadcast infrastructure in several of the 12 World Cup competition sites in Brazil, occasional-use (OU) satellite providers like SES will be play an integral role in ensuring that live coverage of the month-long tournament will be delivered reliably to viewers across the globe.

“This is expected to be the largest sporting event in history from a television and distribution standpoint, so it will be a big test on the infrastructure in Brazil as well as for the transmission folks and the [rightsholders] to see if you can do a large-scale event from a location like that,” says Arnie Christianson, senior manager, occasional use technical sales, SES. “In many ways, a satellite sells itself in these less-developed environments because it is the only reliable way to get out of remote locations. There is not a better way anywhere on the planet.”

Two Years in the Making
SES estimates that broadcasters will use its OU satellite infrastructure to deliver more than 30,000 hours of World Cup coverage originating from Brazil — and that does not take into account World Cup feeds retransmitted over SES satellites after landing in another country. Earlier this month, SES announced that broadcasters had already secured more than 450 MHz of the OU capacity aboard its satellites to deliver World Cup content to nations throughout North America, Latin America, and Europe.

To accomplish this, SES’s OU team began working to secure capacity more than two years ago and had already booked the majority of its prime capacity by the end of 2013.

“We already had great orbital resources down there with satellites in that part of the world that could reach Europe and North America. So we knew what we were dealing with ahead of time,” says Christianson. “OU typically operates on a 90- to 100-day rolling window, so we can’t usually guarantee space outside that 90-day window. But, for this event, our asset-management group carved out [capacity] for that World Cup window, so no one else could touch it. That allowed us to leverage what [capacity] we already had.”

In addition, last June’s FIFA Confederations Cup provided SES and its broadcast clients a dry run of sorts to prepare for the World Cup in June.

“[The Confederations Cup] was great because, while it was very successful, it also pointed out a lot of the snafus that you could run into,” says Christianson. “So we had a lot of practice last year for transmission.”

Catering to Remote Locales
Although major cities like host Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have built out significant fiber infrastructure to deliver live video, broadcasters will remain heavily reliant on satellite delivery in more-remote cities, such as Curitiba, Manaus, and Salvador Bahia.

“There is fiber in and out of Rio and back to the IBC [International Broadcast Center], which is where everything is getting cleared to go out,” says Christianson. “We are seeing a lot of our large-scale clients have fiber in place as a primary [distribution path] with satellite as a backup in those cities. But, when you are talking about other towns throughout Brazil, the only way to get out of places like that is with a satellite uplink dish and Ku-band transmission.”

SES’s NSS-806, SES-6, and NSS-7 spacecraft will be counted on to enable content contribution and distribution feeds to and from the 12 World Cup venues throughout Brazil and across the host city of Rio de Janeiro. Broadcasters will also use other SES spacecraft, along with strategic ground infrastructure, to extend the distribution of World Cup coverage into other regions, including Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. SES’s AMC-9 satellite, for example, will be used to reach viewers in Mexico and the U.S., and SES-1, SES-2, SES-4, SES-5, SES-6, and AMC-1 will play integral roles in helping broadcasters ultimately reach a global World Cup audience of nearly 3 billion people.

“As far as we are concerned, the [remote locations] don’t present that much of a challenge because you are dealing with a spacecraft that is immune to the conditions on the ground,” says Christianson. “It doesn’t care if there is fiber in and out of a location. And with new encoding and modulation [techniques], we can do a lot more with a lot less.”

Regulatory Issues Abound
In addition to a lack of established broadcast infrastructure, Brazil also presents a set of unique regulatory challenges that SES and other satellite providers must address in order to service rights-holding broadcasters at the World Cup.

“The regulatory issues in Brazil are not easy to overcome,” says Christianson. “So you have a double whammy in terms of the complexity of the event. Not only do you have broadcasters trying to get out of Brazil back to all corners of the planet, but you also have broadcasters who have never done business in Brazil and don’t understand the regulatory hoops you have to jump through. But we are at a point now, though, where everyone is finally getting comfortable and we are in position to have a successful event.”

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