June 23, 2011
Watch a major American sporting event on TV, and there's a good chance that the mobile production facilities used for the telecast have been supplied by Game Creek Video of Hudson, NH. Founded in 1993, Game Creek has grown into a premiere provider of top-quality television production units and engineering services. Clients such as ABC, CBS, and NBC keep Game Creek’s thirteen RTS-equipped HD trucks working up to 250 days a year on events including the World Series, the NBA Finals, and the Kentucky Derby.
During the latest football playoff and bowl season, Game Creek worked the Super Bowl and NFC Championship for Fox Sports as well as the BCS Championship and Rose Bowl for ESPN. Intercom for each of these events was handled by RTS ADAM systems enhanced with new software-configurable MADI-64 Plus cards, which provided fast and foolproof linking of ADAM systems from multiple trucks.
As an indispensable part of every broadcast, intercom is an integral component of what Game Creek supplies for televised events. “We’re a facilities provider,” says Jason Taubman, Game Creek’s VP of design and new technology. “The client typically has freelance operators for positions like cameras and audio, and we bring in mobile television trucks that supply all of the infrastructure for video, such as cameras and tape machines, as well as for audio and intercom. We also provide a core engineering staff that is very well versed in the truck’s equipment.
RTS ADAM systems are utilized across the board on the Game Creek trucks. “We’ve included ADAM on every truck we’ve ever built,” Taubman says. “RTS is the de facto standard for intercom in sports video. A couple of companies that I know of have gone with other systems, and it hasn’t worked out well for them. That’s why everybody in our business uses the ADAM system.”
At high-profile events such as the recent bowl and championship games, two main trucks are typically used simultaneously. “In big shows like these,” says Tom Kline, Game Creek’s on-site communications engineer, “one production team typically handles the on-field and crowd coverage for the game itself, and another team handles pre-game, half-time, and post-game. Each team has its own truck.”
Communication between the teams in different trucks requires two types of connections. “We have point-to-point connections,” Kline says, “and also party lines, where you can have multiple people talking and listening at the same time. Each of these conversations between trucks requires a trunk line that provides a path between the ADAM systems.” At the Super Bowl, for example, 36 trunk lines were in simultaneous use between the two main trucks. A third production truck, positioned more distantly to capture red carpet arrivals, was connected to the intercom of one of the main trucks via RTS RVON interfaces, which established VOIP connections over Ethernet.
“For the ADAM systems in the two main trucks,” Taubman says, “we have historically connected our trunk lines using analog 4-wire ports, either with individual XLR cables or with snakes. It’s kind of a headache, and if you’re doing it on a big scale it can turn into a spaghetti mess.”
Using Multichannel Audio Digital Interface (MADI) made setup of the trunk lines far faster and easier. “MADI was really helpful on these jobs,” Kline says, “in part because it gave us such a large volume of available connections, up to 64 at the same time. To get 64 trunk lines before, we’d have to run 64 lines from truck A to truck B, and another 64 from truck B back to truck A. So it took 128 wires to make the capacity that MADI gives us by connecting a single piece of fiber or coax.”
Apart from convenience, an even more important consideration was the reliability of the connections. “It’s not always possible to predict in advance who will want to talk with whom,” Taubman says, “or to find the time before the game to properly test each and every possible connection. There may be people who finally get a chance to sit down and put on their headset five minutes before game time. If that’s when you find out that for some reason they can’t reach the guy across the way, it can turn into a big scramble.”
With MADI, a single connection eliminated the possibility of hook-up errors, so setups configured via AZedit software could be relied on to work from event to event. Another advantage, Kline adds, is that the connections are digital. “You don’t have the buzzes and ground problems that you sometimes get with analog connections.”
Overall, Taubman says, the MADI capability turned out to be a big advantage at the bowl and championship games. “It was a huge bonus, because the intercom needs of these high-profile games are pretty immense. MADI made it a lot simpler to connect our trucks, and it increased our practical capacity for trunk lines. The added capacity enabled everyone to talk back and forth with whomever they wanted, which was a big benefit. We don’t have to guess anymore who might want to talk with whom, because with MADI everybody can talk to everybody.”