Even in a pandemic, the show must go on

September 23, 2020

Newton Buchner, Jr., Senior Director, Broadcast Operations, TVG Network, explains how the nation’s largest horse racing network, ramped up the production of HD horse racing content during the global Coronavirus pandemic.

Horse racing has taken major strides during the pandemic to continue to bring fans live racing from around the world. TVG and LTN are at the forefront of this effort. The partnership between the nation’s largest horse racing network and the emerging leader of secure IP (internet protocol) transmission has led to the dramatic increase of picture quality from key racetracks across the country at a significantly reduced cost.

It has long been the desire of TVG to increase the level of HD programming from racetracks from around the country. Early barriers were cost and infrastructure. Unlike most venues from the four major US sports, the infrastructure at some tracks was not conducive to a significant transmission install without a capital investment.

The growth of IP

The growth of LTN’s internet-based transmission protocol provided a gateway to TVG and racing tracks to overcome this hurdle. By utilizing a combination of the tracks’ existing bandwidth and installing a new diverse internet circuit, the number of tracks that were converted to full-time HD transmission grew exponentially.

In a short time frame, the percentage of races presented in HD on the TVG family of networks grew by almost 30%. Furthermore, by leveraging LTN’s technology, TVG worked with other key tracks such as Gulfstream Park, Keeneland, Los Alamitos and Monmouth Park to enhance the transmission backbone and increase the production capabilities at these locations for TVG talent.

Horse racing takes center stage

As the pandemic paralyzed the world as a whole, and halted the mainstream sports world, horse racing was thrust into the spotlight. Regional sports networks (RSNs) across the countryneeded content to fill the void and looked to TVG to help. TVG, like the rest of the industry, quickly moved from the conventional in-studio format to an -at-home- production format, with only essential personnel socially distanced at the racetrack and in-studio, with the rest of the talent and production crews located in their homes.

Within weeks after this production transition, “Trackside Live,” TVG’s cornerstone program, began airing on select regional sports networks during the key weekend hours when mainstream sports would have aired. The results were astounding, as an entirely new audience was introduced to the sport of horse racing.

The number of RSNs taking TVG content quickly grew, with coverage expanding to weekday simulcasts on RSNs in key markets across the country.  LTN made this possible by facilitating cost-efficient transmission connection between TVG and key RSNs.

More than a transmission company, LTN offers a full-video-chain ecosystem of media technology solutions. With Live Video Cloud, a high-capacity media-control console from LTN Command, remote and on-the-ground production services from LTN Create, portable LTN Flypacks that provide high-quality transmissions from the homes of on-air talent or from a production truck, LTN has provided TVG with flexible solutions for horse racing and sports wagering coverage, all while ensuring high production value.

Ellis Park in full HD

A prime example of this production was the coverage at Ellis Park, located in Henderson, KY, where key Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep races were held the first two weekends of August. Ellis and TVG were interested in bringing full HD broadcasts for these events and upgrading to HD for all future dates slated at Ellis. LTN Global brought the smallest of production trucks capable of managing the cameras needed to show the races, while using an expert team of horse racing production specialists back in the LTN Global Production Hub in Liberty, MO.

Taking advantage of this package while abiding by quarantine guidelines, TVG sent both of its in-state correspondents, Scott Hazelton and Gabby Gaudet, to appear at an in-state racetrack. They were able to do host spots, commentary, and interviews using this setup.

The multiple video streams handling the track video and audio were sent via IP transport to LTN, where it was mixed and produced as a program for TVG to broadcast. From there it was sent to Los Angeles, where it was mixed into the TVG Channel with all the other racing content it shows. This happened in split-second increments, ensuring that the end product seen by viewers on their TV got there faster than any other method.

Now in HD, Ellis Park fans saw compelling racing action the way it’s supposed to look, with the availability of a national network. Customers showed their appreciation for this upgrade as the handle was up significantly over the same time period last year.

“I cannot say enough about LTN Global, its capabilities, and professional staff. LTN allowed us to broadcast our races in high definition on TVG and local stations — something that was previously not possible,” said Jeff Inman, General Manager at Ellis Park. “The team at LTN Global made the entire process simple, from planning to execution, enabling us to overcome every obstacle and produce a show that put Ellis on the national stage,” Inman continued.  “The quality of the exported signal and the broadcast on TVG resulted in the best and third-best days ever at Ellis Park. Despite the limitation of reduced spectators at the race, each day was over 100% ahead of last year.” 

IP technology reaches maturity

The technologies to make this happen have been around for years and are prevalent in other sports, especially college sports leagues, where high-quality productions are important but the budgets do not reflect the travel costs needed for a bigger crew. Using IP to transport video, over older and outdated satellite technologies, ensures that productions only need a small footprint of equipment and an internet connection to set up a transmit stream that is suitable for broadcast. At the same time, latency improves dramatically and the quality enhancement is noticeable.

There are no specific limitations in the IP world for high definition versus standard definition. The move to IP is why there are more HD broadcasts available to the public, not to mention its lower costs of operation over older methods.

The LTN delivery backbone has provided TVG and the racing industry as a whole with a system that has proven to be flexible, scalable, and cost-effective. Critical in the world of sports transmission is end-to-end real-time monitoring of the transmission signal and seamless switching if a problem is identified within the system. In the horse racing world, where most wagering on a race is done in the last three minutes before post time, this critical monitoring becomes even more valuable.

TVG relies upon LTN’s backbone for on-time delivery of network programming and is excited to further the relationship with LTN and continue to enhance horse racing productions.

Newton Buchner Jr.

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