Below Serie A and Serie B, it is composed of various regional championships.
The Lega Pro was established in 2014, when a reform of Italian football led to the unification of two pre-existing football leagues: Serie C1 and Serie C2. This reform created a new three-division format, known as "Lega Pro".
This season, Serie C has been produced for television in "remote production" mode by NVP for broadcast on SKY Italia.
Ivan Pintabona, Technical Manager of NVP, says:
"This is a project that has revolutionized the way football matches are produced, launched by Lega Pro, with the support of NVP; in fact, since September 2023, all Serie C matches have been broadcast live from our Innovation Hub located in Cologno Monzese, in the province of Milan, managed by our subsidiary HiWay Media. The production center is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment that allows to control all phases of production remotely and send only two cameras, two operators and some encoders to the fields."
AMPP in the cloud in virtual
The championship, which started on September 1st and is on air until April, followed by the play-offs, involves the television production of around 1100 football matches.
The commitment is significant, with 30 matches played every weekend, and the major project devised by NVP spa and managed by HiWay Media is based on Grass Valley AMPP technology that operates in the cloud.
To be precise, the engagement is mixed with part on-premises equipmets (i.e. at the physical structure) collected on one floor of the building, where half of the same floor is dedicated to the 14 production galleries of Lega Pro, and part in the cloud, totally virtual.
"The technical choice of AMPP equipment," says Pintabona, "is linked precisely to the possibility of deciding how to distribute the production configuration in complete freedom and also choosing the cloud providers according to needs, as in this case, AWS structures in Berlin, Dublin and Frankfurt.
This is a rather innovative production mode, considering that this year Lega Pro is on air on SKY Italy, therefore with a much higher quality requirement than the productions of previous years.
This is true both on the production factor, and on the graphics part, and on the encoding section, since we use a new generation of encoders that, placed in the stadiums, transport the signals thanks to more efficient encodings that exploit the available bandwidth in a better way."
To give an idea of the amount of equipment and work that is engaged in the stadiums every weekend (Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday), only in September for the recovery of the first days, 160 matches were produced.
Ahead of such an operation, NVP had to carry out an evaluation in each individual stadium to understand what type of connectivity was available or what needed to be integrated.
It was therefore necessary to use a mix of connection based on low-orbit satellites, plus classic fiber infrastructure, in order to have as much bandwidth as possible.
Standards and codecs
Two new generation encoders from Haivision are sent to each field, which perform the aggregation of the signals arriving from the cameras.
The standards required by Lega Pro or Serie C are three: the typical base of remote production contemplates two-camera shots from each stadium.
The second and third standards, on the other hand, provide for the presence on the stadium of a mobile vehicle that takes care of the two or three top matches every weekend, thanks to the shots of 5 cameras.
The third standard provides for six, plus a drone, coming very close to the standards of Serie B.
All the signals reach the central of Cologno where the graphics are inserted.
Even the top matches, managed by mobile production on site, are still controlled by Grass Valley AMPP systems, as well as graphics and slow motion.
The signals arriving from each field arrive at one of the galleries in Cologno Monzese where a producer has all the classic functions of television shots, from replays to the insertion of graphics.
With this year, the section related to statistical data has also been integrated: the graphics managed as a service in the cloud is made in HTML5 and has been connected to the statistical survey.
A single international feed is produced for SKY and two for international taker and other private broadcasters authorized by Lega Pro: therefore, usually, 3 or 4 feeds are delivered that differ in audio.
The commentator has the possibility to be physically present at the match, and his audio signal is transported on the camera signals.
An Innovative Workflow
"We have created and tested the workflow and the entire Serie C system," continues Pintabona, "building on the extensive know-how we derived from the previous season and the remote production of Serie B.
The differences largely depend on the different budgets and cameras used. Central to all of this is the Grass Valley AMPP technology, which utilizes predictive encoding to ensure high quality with minimal bandwidth usage. The AMPP production gallery is tailored to the actual needs, with adequate computing power, while maintaining high signal quality."
Sharing a personal comment, I would say that there are many situations that allow for cost savings and optimizations, and we have demonstrated that this "initial" level still significantly enhances the quality of TV production, enabling us to broadcast on SKY."
A Significant Effort
Behind a product of this kind, it must be noted that the effort is truly considerable. Remote production must apply the highest level of technological innovation within a specific budget, and, therefore, using a different approach is not feasible.
It is likely the only way, given the number of matches, the challenges of covering 60 stadiums across Italy, uncertain connectivity, and various other variables. The contract was awarded to NVP, which provided the know-how for remote production, with the support of HiWay Media, the associated digital delivery, streaming signal delivery, and MCR expertise. Comintek MPP followed the production carried out with the crews and OB Vans in the field.
Serie C is produced with 1080i 50 standard images and stereo audio, with the intention of transitioning to progressive signals soon, for which the entire infrastructure is ready. Encoders from Haivision, considered highly efficient in signal aggregation and connectivity from the venues, are used in the stadiums.
For delivery, Grass Valley encoders are employed: a virtual OB Van directs and receives signals from the stadiums, processes them, and then re-encodes them for delivery.
"We have devised a model suitable for this type of production," says Pintabona, "all enabled by AMPP and its usage methods. It is possible for the director to be in Cologno while the production gallery is in Berlin.
The management part is very user-friendly, and the production interfaces are web-style home pages. The signals are transported according to the workflow studied in the alignment phase and delivered to the gallery for the production phase.
With Serie B, we became aware of the limits and merits of remote production today, eventually becoming a driving force and a testbed for Grass Valley and subsequent developments.
The highlight and delivery section toward users and third-party takers is immediate, as content can be moved to an S3 network, positioning it on very fast access systems. An interesting system of automation allows us... even just 5 minutes after the end of the match, to make the highlights available in each individual's private folder."
The Challenge of the Cloud: Knowing What You're Doing
The cloud demands even greater expertise in networks, systems, protocols, and IP-related issues, thanks to HiWay Media, which has made a significant leap in quality.
The lack of a physical connection, as there is no local machine in the equipment room, complicates the need to maintain very low latencies and delays while managing remote connections, communications, and commentary. Everything must be carefully planned "in advance" and function according to that logic.
Among the advantages of cloud production, it allows for non-continuous investments and payment based on usage, avoiding mandatory depreciation of equipment and ageing.
"We managed to set up the system in record time," concludes Pintabona, "thanks to the previous experience from last year with Serie B. We entered a completely different world, but having leveraged that previous experience and made it a 'model,' we were able to replicate it 'N' times according to requirements, and now with Serie C.
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