Every year, professional anglers from all across the world gather to compete in what is essentially the Super Bowl of bass fishing, the Bassmaster Classic. The 3-day event - which is broadcasted on WatchESPN and the Bassmaster website live (and ESPN2 later on) - isn’t just a competition though. It’s a festival that represents the entire sport of professional fishing, with over 100,000 people in attendance and millions tuning in online and on cable TV.
As broadcasting geeks though, we have to wonder how a sport like bass fishing can be adequately televised considering its circumstances. Action in mainstream sports enjoys the luxury of static locations (basketball court, football field, etc.), so capturing video is easy. But what about fishing, where all of the action is out on the water? Not only do broadcasters need to capture video, but broadcast it live too!
The masters at B.A.S.S. and JM Productions make it happen every single year. B.A.S.S. is a media, membership & tournament company with more than 500k members worldwide. JM, one of ESPN’s first partners when the network was founded in the 1980s, captures and streams some of ESPN’s most prolific outdoor athletic TV programs, including the Bassmaster Classic, Reno Air Races, STIHL Timbersports, Superboat Challenge, and much more. In March, they were at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina to produce the Bassmaster Classic competition.
Howard Downs is live video engineer for B.A.S.S. and JM Productions:
“A little-known fact is that our show The Fishin’ Hole was the second longest-running show on ESPN, right behind SportsCenter,” said Howard. “We work directly with ESPN - along with other national TV networks - to capture and deliver niche sports programming.
Broadcasting on Water
The competition has multiple anglers out on the waters at any given time, each on a different boat. From each boat, a camera has to send a signal all the way to the team’s production studio so they can switch and edit for the live broadcast. But obviously, it’s impossible to run cables through the water, making it 100 times harder to transport a signal. How do they get their feeds to the studio?
“In the past before the takeoff of live streaming, we would send out 15-man camera crews to tournaments and have them capture all of the footage over 2-3 days. This would be edited in our studio after the event and broadcast the next week on cable TV,” Howard explained. “But when live streaming became relevant, we realized we didn’t need to wait anymore. It could all be broadcasted live.”
2018 Bassmaster setup:
- 6x JVC GY-HM850 camcorders
- 2x Sony FS7 cameras
- 2x Teradek Cube encoders
- 8x Teradek Cube decoders
- 8x 4G LTE USB modems (T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon)
The leading anglers had their own camera op on board, who captured (and recorded) everything from casts to strikes and close-ups of the bass that’s caught. Native to the JVC cameras are IP-based video transport via MPEG2-TS, which used 4G LTE USB2.0 modems to send video over IP directly to Cube decoders all the way at their production facilities in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Similarly, because the Sonys don’t have built-in video over IP transport, they’re connected to Cube encoders that do it for them using 4G modems. These also go directly to Cube decoders at the studio, which are all imported into the Ross Vision QMD switcher. This elaborate process only creates a 1-second delay.
On the studio side, live editors switch between cameras, add graphics/texts and publish the feeds live to WatchESPN and Bassmaster.com.
The Only Way to Broadcast Niche Sports
Handling broadcasts for major sports programs across several global networks, B.A.S.S. is constantly adapting to new media trends and strategies, and relies upon rock-solid technology to get the job done. Whether they’re shooting from boats, helicopters, drones or any remote locations, having IP-based video transport is critical to their workflow.
“Niche sports with outdoor activities have a whole different approach towards broadcasting, and with Bassmaster Classic where we’re out on boats in remote locations, the only way to broadcast is through the Internet,” said Howard. “Technology’s at a level now where we can achieve professional TV broadcasts using wireless gear. And the best part is it can all be broadcasted live.”
The Cubes are an integral part to the process. With an Internet connection, Cubes can stream h.264/h.265 video from any location to any destination quickly and reliably. Using a workflow that incorporates several Cube encoder/decoder pairs, B.A.S.S. is able to create a robust infrastructure to broadcast an exciting show for ESPN and fans of niche sports. And in the end, being able to consistently deliver these shows to fans is what the masterful broadcasters at B.A.S.S. are all about.
“On Sunday (at a previous event), we were being pounded with rain for 8 whole hours. That entire time, the Cubes held up flawlessly just like they always have. We’re always out in very remote locations with extremely adverse conditions, so our gear has to perform and endure well. Since the start of our wireless broadcasting adventures, the Cubes have been the backbone of our system.”