Organizing a Eurovision Song Contest in these COVID-19 times was a huge challenge. Last year, the international event was postponed to 2021. But this year, too, the pandemic imposed several restrictions. To meet the challenges, Broadcast Rental and Com1 Communication Solutions joined forces to realize the Eurovision Song Contest’s innovative Remote Green Rooms.
Green Room Interviews
The question the NPO’s innovative task force posed: What if the performers cannot come to Rotterdam, how will we realize a Song Contest? After all, it is not just about the recordings of the performances that are broadcast, you also want to talk to the performers to get the desired interaction. Julien Hommes, Technical Producer at Broadcast Rental says: ‘We were looking for an innovative on-line solution that would make the Green Room interviews fit in with the broadcast seamlessly.’
A way had to be found to enable countries that could not attend in Rotterdam, or had to quarantine in their hotel rooms, to still take part in the show, by a means of a remote on-line solution with broadcasting quality. Preferably not via the Eurovision network and its outrageously expensive satellite connections, which requires manpower, lots of technology and extensive planning. Rapid anticipation was another requirement, in the event that one of the participating countries would be infected with the Coronavirus just before the show.
Speed, quality and security were the key words. ‘For those cross talks, all known solutions were a no-go because of low latency issues. Also, those solutions were simply not practical. To realize such a system for 26 countries, plus the necessary explanations takes a lot of effort. We also had to have built-in redundancy, and we could not use a public server for security reasons. We therefore preferred our own infrastructure, so we could monitor everything.’
Another issue was user convenience. It was important that the contestants could easily set up video and audio at home or in their hotel rooms without the input of an external technician.
New, Secure Internet Technology
In consultation with the organization, Broadcast Rental came up with an innovative conference call-like solution, with the countries connecting to the Broadcast Rental platform using their own cameras and microphones. Broadcast Rental called on its IT partner Com1 Communication Solutions (C1CS) for what proved to be an ideal match. For some time, Bas Sanders, director of C1CS, had been toying around with the idea of a solution to transmit video signals in a simple way. ‘C1CS has been involved before in events in which similar solutions would come in handy. A flexible transmission of audio and video from A to B without the costly video links. When Broadcast Rental came to us, all the pieces fell together, and we started to develop like crazy.’
Thanks to new, secure, internet technology this RSU is secure, fast and of high-quality. ‘In the past we have done a lot of work in the security field, so this was not new for us’, explains Sanders. ‘Everything ran via our own infrastructure, which meant it was fully secured. An absolute must for the NPO in an international production like the Song Contest. More importantly, videocall apps like Zoom, Skype or Teams feature those annoying watermarks, while our signal is completely white-label.’
Super Low Latency
A major pro of the solution provided was its latency. Long before the actual event, the organization knew that the Australian delegation would be addressing the Eurovision audience via the platform of Broadcast Rental & C1CS. Hommes: ‘The Australians used our remote Green Room intensively. They were extremely satisfied with this solution. Not only because it is a practical tool, but they were pleasantly surprised by the speed. A 300 millisecond delay from Australia is really top speed!’
‘You always have to rely on the internet lines, of course’, Sanders admits. ‘To and from Australia alone is some 270 milliseconds. But from remote locations in Europe, we can realize a latency of 40 to 50 milliseconds.’
For the participating countries the solution was not just fast, it was also extremely easy to use. There was no need to create accounts, no need to download software and no need to install equipment. You just had to click on the link in the browser, and you were LIVE on the show. ‘The first words we often heard were “Was that all?”, Sanders smiles.
All contestants had been briefed about the one camera position with microphone that links to the platform. After positioning the camera and the microphone and entering the URL in their browsers, users were bidirectionally connected to the venue. The remote locations could see what was happening at Ahoy, while the users of the Online Green Room were visibly connected to the LED screens in Ahoy and live on TV.
IP & Broadcasting
For years Broadcast Rental & C1CS had been collaborating on realizing the different unilateral links for customers during Formula 1 weekends. During the Eurovision Song Contest the two companies were the link between the participating broadcaster, the host broadcasters and the screens at the venue. This is how IP and Broadcast joined efforts.
‘As soon as a remote Green Room was live, we made sure that all video and audio links went smoothly. We could communicate with the countries using our RTS Omneo Intercom, passing the signal to the screens and the mobile production units. In one of the cabins near the venue we set up a mini-MCR. This contained part of our Flypack, with at its beating heart the Ross Ultrix Router that takes care of all connections, embedding and de-embedding’, explains Hommes of Broadcast Rental. ‘Using the Axon Cerebrum we could connect both audio and video at the same time. The Cerebrum had been redundantly executed on two servers, handling the different N-1’s from the production units. But we also built in a smart solution; in case we had to switch to the backup production unit, one click would do the trick.’
“The network forms the basis for communication between all components with, of course, thorough security at the edge. With a cleverly deployed solution based on Extreme Networks Fabric, all components communicate with each other on a secure basis. Ultra flexible and without active configuration because it is a software-defined network.”
Flexibility and Speed
The solution provided had to be innovative and flexible, so that if need be, it would be possible to anticipate one hour before the world’s biggest song contest would start. ‘If a delegation would be tested positive on arrival, they would have to go straight back to their hotel rooms. So we had to make sure they would be able to take part in the shows from a remote location at short notice’, Hommes says. ‘I had a camera and a microphone in the trunk of my car for this emergency scenario, so we could take it to the hotel quickly if necessary.’
Bas Sanders from C1SC: ‘That speed especially was great. Within a few minutes you could be on air, just open your laptop, camera on, link and off you go.’
Simple and Versatile
‘The way we made the set-up, all 26 countries could take part in the contest in real-time from their remote Green Rooms in a worst-case scenario. Here at MCR we could pre-connect the lines that the production unit would need. That way the production unit would not have to juggle 26 different connections’, Broadcast Rental’s Technical Producer adds.
‘Because it is such a simple solution, people see the possibilities. People are interested in applications like providing commentary on sporting events from other locations than the actual venue. And during the Song Contest the commentator in Iceland was working from home. He was shown the program feed and could provide his commentary without any problems thanks to the low latency. Not what we built our platform for in this assignment, but it worked perfectly!’
And there are many more possibilities, if it would be up to Bas Sanders. ‘We developed our RSU crazy fast, to suit the demands of the Eurovision Song Contest. It worked as we hoped it would but as far as I am concerned we can make it even better for future use. For instance, we could improve on image quality, and we have plans for multi-user applications.’
Julien Hommes: ‘It was great that in the end most countries could attend the Eurovision Song Contest physically but I won’t lie – for us it would have been even more fun if we would have used all 26 connections. Let’s hope all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted soon. One thing is sure; we will get a lot of use out of this solution in the future. The possibilities are endless. We look forward to our next collaboration. IP & Broadcast are an exceptional team.’