Scoring a touchdown for sustainability and cost savings: How the European League of Football embraced cloud for live production

Vizrt, Novel Media, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) helped the European League of Football save 300 tons of CO2 and nearly €1million in production costs for the 2023 season’s live productions of nearly 100 American Football games

  • 300 tons of CO2 emissions saved
  • ~€1million saved in production costs
  • >100 games produced remotely

Since launching in 2021, the European League of Football has enjoyed a growing fanbase. Playing American Football, 17 teams from Germany, Poland, Spain, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and France are now part of the League with more teams joining each season.

Growing at an incredible rate, European League of Football viewership is already reaching over half a billion households worldwide through the official ELF Game Pass streaming platform and popular European TV networks.

For the important advertising-relevant target group of 14-49-year-olds, research shows that American Football is now the second most popular sport in Germany – second only to Soccer – having ousted the traditional second-place sports like ski jumping and handball. With similar growth trends expected throughout Europe, the European League of Football decided to radically improve the viewer experience for the 2023 season by delivering live productions instead of the recorded game footage of previous seasons.

 

ELF’s vision for the 2023 season

The European League of Football also wanted to make its coverage more relevant and exciting for viewers by offering multi-language commentary options and adding data-driven 3D and augmented reality graphics. For sponsors, they were keen to improve advertising options. The European League of Football was also determined to cut its carbon footprint to be more sustainable, while simultaneously reducing production costs.

The European League of Football realized that moving production to the cloud would make all this possible. So, with just three weeks to go before the 2023 season kicked off, the European League of Football and its production partner, Munich-based novel. Media, engaged Vizrt and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to help them deliver end-to-end fully cloud live productions.

“When the European League of Football told us they wanted to go completely to the cloud for its 2023 season, I was immediately excited for the opportunity. We decided to work with AWS and Vizrt to do this transition efficiently and effectively to provide an even better viewing experience for American football fans across Europe,” says Levon Milikian, Managing Director and Founder of novel.media.

“Our challenge was to broadcast more than 100 games in nine countries, wanting to be sure we had the same on-air graphics and quality of production we’ve been providing the European League of Football for the past two years. Creating a great fan experience for viewers is important, and what we have with football viewers is a love for statistics and information that we broadcast live, which is not easy to achieve. This was particularly difficult because the teams are spread all over Europe, with directors all over Europe as well. We wanted to ensure we had this high standard for everyone working in the production, all over Europe – and that was only possible with a remote production model.”

 

Vizrt and AWS’s solution

To make this vision a reality, Vizrt and AWS proposed an end-to-end cloud setup powered by the Vizrt Live Production Solution, all connected by NDI®, the game-changing technology that makes cloud live productions possible.

TriCaster® Vectar would provide software-based video/audio switching, with Viz Engine rendering graphics in real-time. Virtual augmented reality (AR) “cam carpet” advertising and 1st and 10th lines would be powered by Viz Arena, while Viz 3Play 3PV guaranteed replay and slow motion, so viewers could catch every moment of the game.

All the Vizrt tools would be deployed into the cloud for each game automatically at the click of a button, using Viz Now. An automated deployment tool, Viz Now allowed the European League of Football and novel.media to create end-to-end live production capacity in the cloud in minutes, at the click of a button, and gave them easy access to a suite of high-end live production tools usually out of reach of niche sports content creators.

And thanks to Vizrt’s “best-of-breed” interoperability ethos, third-party tools including Comprimato Live Transcoder (for encoding NDI to SRT for playout) and Tractus MultiViewer for NDI (for viewing up to 16 NDI sources at once) were included in Viz Now’s deployment templates.

AWS services form the infrastructure backbone for the set-up, including Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) which supports productions in a reliable, scalable manner, and AWS S3 for file storage.

Logic Media’s Portal framework would also be used to “spin up” cloud-hosted instances of LiveU encoders and the required AWS services for playout and distribution. Spalk’s Virtual Commentary Studio would provide content localization through multiple language commentary, and LiveU hardware and software would help get the camera feeds into the cloud.

 

Time, cost, and carbon savings 

Producing in the cloud live productions proved incredibly cost-effective and carbon-efficient, as it means live productions can be delivered by remote teams, with no need for Outside Broadcast (OB) trucks and large crews to be sent to stadiums with all the expense and emissions that entails.

“When it comes to sustainability, the impact of doing remote productions was huge,” explains Milikian. “We used to have five to six operators every week traveling all over Europe, and a rough calculation now suggests we are saving more than 300 tons of carbon dioxide per season.”

Viz Now was also key to achieving control over cloud costs and carbon emissions, by automating the deployment and shutdown of up to six live production environments on game days. By using cloud and Viz Now, there’s no need to buy and maintain hardware and leave it running 24/7; novel.media can spin up a cloud-based live production environment when required and switch it off when the game coverage is finished. This means they’re only using the AWS services during production, saving significant costs and carbon emissions.

“With our tight deadline, Viz Now was incredibly important”, says Milikian. “It saved weeks of deployment and setup time, as it automates the deployment into AWS and provides a clear portal to spin up the live production environments on game days and turn them off when games were finished.”

Speaking about overall cost savings, Melikian says: “The benefits were clear, with efficiency improvement being on another level. We can do all the productions in our studios, where we can produce four games in parallel.

“In terms of savings, an almost seven-digit figure per season has been reduced in cost, and considering that this is a young league, this kind of cost reduction while maintaining a high level of production makes a lot of difference in helping them grow. We managed to reduce costs significantly while still using up to seven cameras on the field in parallel, and that of course improves the fan experience, with every angle of the game covered.”

For novel.media operators working in this cloud-based production environment, latency is no different than if they were connected to an on-premises system. An operator in the Munich office who presses a button on their control panel connected to TriCaster Vectar in the cloud will see a change in under half a frame.

Furthermore, a program feed with virtual advertising and the 1st and 10th lines added by Viz Arena can be sent back to a European League of Football match stadium via the cloud for display on the audience’s big screen with no noticeable delay from the real-time game action.

 

How it all works: the ground-to-cloud-to-fan workflow

  • Before matches begin, the Admin Service Manager at novel.media spins up the cloud-based live production environments using Viz Now. This brings all the Vizrt tools online as well as the 3rd party elements.
  • Then Logic Media’s automated deployment tool, Portal, is used to spin up the virtualized LiveU LU4000 units and all the AWS services required for transcoding and distribution such as AWS Elemental MediaConnect, AWS Elemental MediaConvert, and Amazon S3.
  • In the stadiums, there are up to seven cameras on the ground with four novel.media camera operators shooting the action. Two LiveU LU800 field units convert the SDI camera feeds to LiveU Reliable Transport (LRT) 1080p50 HEVC signals and transmit them to AWS over 4G or 5G.
  • In the cloud, these LRT signals are decoded to NDI using virtualized LiveU LU4000 units where they pass into all the Vizrt tools for the live productions.
  • From four control rooms in their Munich office, novel.media operators remotely access the Vizrt live production tools such as TriCaster Vectar, Viz Engine, and Viz 3Play 3PV via AWS’s remote display protocol NiceDCV.
  • Operators from OnAir-Graphics access and control Viz Arena from novel.media’s offices, using data generated during the game to add augmented reality graphics and the virtual 1st and 10th lines and to display virtual “cam carpet” ads.
  • To make the content relevant for fans, cloud switching tool TriCaster Vectar produces two NDI outputs: a graphics-only version of the world feed designed for local broadcasters to insert presenters and L-frames themselves; a second output is available for the ELF Game Pass platform which features European League of Football, Czech, or Polish presenters.
  • Comprimato then encodes these two outputs into SRT signals and passes them to third-party commentary provider Spalk where commentary is added for up to seven languages for audio localization. Each language then becomes a separate single language SRT signal which is passed through to Logic Media’s transcoding and distribution system in AWS, where they are distributed for OTT, VOD, and linear playout.
  • Once the games have finished, novel.media’s Admin Service Manager uses Viz Now and Logic Media’s Portal to close the cloud-based production environment until it is next needed – cutting down running costs and carbon emissions at the same time.

 

The future of sports production

Not long ago the amount of equipment and crew required to produce live sports put it financially out of reach for niche sports. However, the cloud now makes it possible for growing sports federations like European League of Football to deliver live action to their fans in true broadcast quality. The flexibility of cloud-based production also means they can test new workflows and tools.

“What the European League of Football has achieved in just three weeks with AWS and Vizrt is incredible, and a testament to the power of the cloud,” says Marc Aldrich, General Manager, Global Media & Entertainment at AWS.

As the founders of NDI, Vizrt’s cloud live production tools will have native use of the HDR support in NDI 6, so that the European League of Football and other content creators will be able to deliver live content in glorious HDR.

Nick Mariette, Director of Product Management for NDI, explains: “With NDI 6, the next update coming to our core technology, the addition of HDR support confirms that NDI is up to the quality standard professional live broadcasting requires. And that’s just one of the upcoming enhancements that will change how NDI is used, not only in broadcasting and ProAV but even in further industries.”

Commenting on the success of the project, Melikian said: “Our goal was to make a smooth transition to cloud production without losing the high quality of broadcast the fans were expecting. We were also looking to improve viewer experiences, and the new features that the Vizrt Live Production Solution offered with advanced graphics and increased video quality, gave us what we needed to take that step.”

 

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