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BBC, PBS Achieve RF Glory With ‘Big Blue Live’

 

BBC, PBS Achieve RF Glory With €˜Big Blue Live
By Brandon Costa on October 7, 2015

Big Blue Live, a nature-documentary collaboration of PBS and the BBC, captured the imagination of many Americans last month, taking viewers on a three-day journey through the rejuvenation of Monterey Bay, CA a site where marine creatures now thrive in a once-endangered ecosystem. It was an uplifting tale that brought majestic images of migrating whales, sharks. and, birds together with adorable close-ups of sea otters and sea lions. It was an achievement in live television production, and its success has both broadcast entities already drawing up plans to work together on future projects.

BBC, PBS Achieve RF Glory With Big Blue Live
By Brandon Costa on October 7, 2015

Big Blue Live, a nature-documentary collaboration of PBS and the BBC, captured the imagination of many Americans last month, taking viewers on a three-day journey through the rejuvenation of Monterey Bay, CA a site where marine creatures now thrive in a once-endangered ecosystem. It was an uplifting tale that brought majestic images of migrating whales, sharks. and, birds together with adorable close-ups of sea otters and sea lions. It was an achievement in live television production, and its success has both broadcast entities already drawing up plans to work together on future projects.

While such elements as camera placement, effective site surveys, and intelligent scouting of the region were critical to the show, the backbone to Big Blue Live was undoubtedly a complex and challenging RF transmission infrastructure supported by 3g Wireless and PSSI Strategic Television.

€œIt'€™s a huge undertaking.€ says Gareth Wildman, production engineering manager, BBC, “not least because of the geographical separation.

The geography itself was daunting with crews shooting over 1,000-square-miles of ocean in an attempt to shoot elusive wildlife on live television.

€œThe project from an editorial viewpoint was extremely ambitious,€ says Gordon Capaccio, Project Manager for 3G Wireless on Big Blue Live. €œSince we were dealing with wildlife that could appear anywhere and at any time our coverage area requirements were quite extensive. There were so many moving pieces that needed to be able to be live at any point during the broadcast.

In the modest production compound which featured a series of edit bays and suites based in the main production unit, NEP Broadcasting's Atlantic€” a trailer provided by 3g Wireless served as the hub of the production's RF coverage. Show producer Adam White liberally deployed RF cameras throughout the shooting area, including Cineflex-mounted cameras on three boats sifting through the region. €œWe had RF cameras working on one of those boats as a local link between the camera operators and the boat, says Wildman, Also, in part because having cables on the boat isn'€™t always great, we wanted to make sure that they could be working unimpeded on the boat.

In all, the production team used RF cameras underwater (on what was called a 'dip camera'€), in the air (a helicopter and three jib-mounted cameras worked the water), and within the Monterey Bay Aquarium (where three hard cameras were positioned), which served as the main hosting site of the program.

On the boat, we had two RF parts coming back, says Wildman. So we were running that boat in particular, essentially as a remote OB unit. We were in [communications] with the boat through our production[-control room] at all times. Although we had a director on the boat as well, he was working very closely alongside the director for the main show. We also had reverse vision circuits going back to the boat so our presenters there could see what was happening with the program and could commentate on [what] we were playing out. It was near broadcast-quality video going back to the boat.

The internal transmission paths were challenging, given the nature of the area where live cameras were attempting to shoot. According to Wildman, underwater-camera technology was used to produce feeds from live dives. The devices were cabled to the surface, but, even then, they were RF-linked from a small boat trailing the scene to the larger boat, which was RF-linked to the production compound on land. The signal was received by a trailer from PSSI, downlinked to the aquarium, and contributed into the live program.

That was all necessary because there'€™s a large landmass [Carmel Ridge] in the way, says Wildman. We couldn'€™t get a direct RF link or microwave link in place.

The team also got creative in using IP transmission. For one excursion that brought the show towards Moss Landing at another end of the bay, Wildman and the crew determined that they could not get enough reliable RF coverage received at the aquarium. So the BBC and PBS worked with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to establish a connection using the center'€™s fixed microwave IP link, which pushes the signal up and over the nearby hills separating the aquarium from Moss Landing. Operations encoded the ASI (Asynchronous Serial Interface) to IP, sent it over that microwave link, and decoded it back to ASI at the aquarium, maintaining ASI switching in the control room.

€œIt was technically challenging, but, working with some very good suppliers, we delivered a good result, says Wildman. €œBoth the RF supplier and our uplink suppliers 3g and PSSI  really did an amazingly good job.

In the end, says Capaccio, €œwe are incredibly happy with the results and extremely proud to be associated with this amazing project.

Jason Dachman contributed to this story. 

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