Enhancing the Live Streaming of County Championship Cricket
Written by Darren Wilders, our Technical Director.
This is part two of our previous blog post where we discussed the various challenges we faced in developing our live streaming solution to be used by Trent Bridge in Nottingham (for streaming County Cricket).
Our live streaming solution stayed largely the same in 2015, due in part to digital rights issues, but in 2016 we were able to expand the service further.
We constantly monitored social media for feedback on the live stream and the most requested feature by far was the addition of commentary. BBC Sport holds the rights for commentary and they were providing this service on every game of English County Cricket. By far the best solution would be to integrate this into the stream.
After a lot of discussions between everyone involved the BBC agreed to let us take a feed directly from their equipment at the ground – an amazing development.
Adding audio, like video, gave us a number of challenges.
The first audio challenge – Getting access to the BBC audio.
The BBC had their mixers on-site at every game, where they controlled all audio levels, microphones, etc. being broadcast to BBC Local Radio. We needed to get access to that output. Luckily, the mixers had a “Mixer Out” XLR port (XLR is a type of connector used in professional audio) – this provided an output all audio and (after working with the BBC technical team) we decided that this was the best way to access the commentary.
The second audio challenge – Getting the BBC audio on to the stream.
We now had an XLR output that we needed to convert and access from our streaming software. We looked into various solutions and an XLR to USB Interface was needed. We researched numerous professional equipment solutions and decided on a device that had strong reviews and excelled at the features we needed.
We required the equipment quickly, including all cables, so I got in my car and drove 100-miles to York one Saturday, where Gear4Music (a professional audio retailer) had everything in stock. After the 100-mile return journey, we had all of the equipment ready for testing.
The third audio challenge – There was a delay between video and audio.
We’d been using a basic piece of software before, which was great for video, but was limited in audio controls. Something we noticed immediately was that the audio component was out of sync with the video (due to video processing delays). Not a ‘massive’ amount, about 1 second, but enough to be annoying – imagine the ball being hit, hearing it, and then the bat swinging shortly after.
We decided we needed better software and so we went with a much more advanced programme called Wirecast. Wirecast allowed us much more control over the stream, including being able to delay the audio by any amount of milliseconds we needed. With this amount of control, we could now synchronise the video and audio perfectly.
Testing and Going Live with Audio.
It fell that the first game we live streamed with audio was Glamorgan vs Leicestershire in the County Championship. As we’d never tested audio actual BBC audio before, we went to Cardiff a few days before during the warm-ups, where Nick Webb, the BBC Sports Wales cricket commentator kindly offered to do some test commentary for us. It worked perfectly! We were ready.
Sunday came along and I ventured back down to Cardiff for the start of the game, with my colleagues working remotely on the monitoring and testing. The first ball was bowled, Nick Webb and Richard Rae (BBC Sport Leicester cricket commentator) fired into action, and we’d done it – we had a full live stream, with commentary, being broadcast to the world.
The audio was by far the biggest enhancement we made. It added a whole new dimension to the stream and because of this, it attracted more viewers. For the first time, people could watch County Cricket on a free live stream with the fantastic BBC Sport commentary.
Our other developments.
We continued to monitor social media and improving the streaming service. Some weren’t really viewer-benefits but enhanced the stream for us. One example is the type of cameras being used. At Trent Bridge, we had a fixed camera. Whenever a game came around someone had to go on to the TV gantry and manually move the camera to point at the pitch being used. We soon realised that a PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) camera would be better as we’d be able to manually move the camera between pitches remotely.
We also integrated a scorecard facility. We developed this on another Cloud Server where it took scorecard data, generated a fully branded image file, and we’d fetch and embed the scorecard on the live stream.
Once we’d brought everything together we had a solution which allowed us to broadcast moments like these.
Jake Ball’s Hat-Trick vs Middlesex at Trent Bridge in 2016
Leicestershire vs Glamorgan at the Fischer County Ground in 2018
Glamorgan needs 4 runs to win, Leicestershire needs 1 wicket to win. What happened next?
Obviously the viewers were bowled over (sorry).
Now and the future.
By 2016 we were live streaming County Championship cricket for Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club and Glamorgan County Cricket Club, with audio. 2018 came along and we also started streaming with Leicestershire County Cricket Club.
By now, lots of other counties were starting to see the benefits of live streaming and started looking at their own solutions. We knew it’d be popular when we started in the 2014 season and we are proud to say we were first. We’re proud that we started what has now turned in to a service that’s massively valued amongst county cricket supporters. People could follow their team, in the 4-day championship format, whether they were at home, at work, or on holiday. That’s exactly what we set out to achieve.
Live streaming brought together lots of our services – from server support, to network support, to Cloud support. It was a great way to showcase our expertise in these fields – seamlessly serving terabytes of data to a worldwide audience. From live streaming theatrical events to letting fans see training sessions or rehearsals, the possibilities are brilliant for business exposure and ideally suited to a world that has got more savvy of late about online events and management. Get in touch if you think your business could benefit from any of our services.