Fox Sports taps fibre upgrade for competitive edge

Will help it meet service delivery standards and facilitate live online streaming

Fox Sports will tap its high-speed fibre network to deliver more sports events online and in 3D next year as the content producer pushes its credentials at the time when the major sports codes are deciding their broadcast futures.

Last year Fox Sports owner Premier Media Group signed a multi-million dollar deal with Nextgen Networks to install 1Gbps fibre links to 16 major stadiums in Australian cities and rural areas, from the Melbourne cricket ground to Perth's Subiaco Oval.

Several months ago this fibre network was reinforced with 24 Juniper network switches and two routers.

The investment has been the foundation for Fox Sports to meet contractual agreements to reliably deliver high definition broadcasts of sporting events, according to Premier Media Group chief operating officer, John Marquard.

However, he said it has also been used to dabble in areas such as live online streaming of an untelevised rugby union international on the Fox Sports website and Australia's first 3D broadcast of the Socceroos vs All Whites game in Melbourne earlier this year.

Marquard said there are similar projects planned for next year, but was tight-lipped about specifics.

“It certainly has justified itself on the amount of stuff we do right now, but we've found other ways of using it,” Marquard said.

“Earlier this year we did a one off trial on an event that wasn't televised, it was a rugby union match between England and the Australian barbarians and we used the Nextgen network to deliver coverage, which we encoded and streamed on our website.

“Obviously there are other opportunities to use two way transmission paths to enhance our product and we'll roll those out next year, as we announce a few of those.”

He admitted it was crucial to demonstrate this type of innovation, as sporting bodies such as the Australian Football League and National Rugby League are looking to new technologies as key revenue drivers in the next round of negotiations for sport broadcasting rights.

“We've done whole lot of other innovation, like virtual graphic lines on offside rules and we continually try and up the ante on our productions.

“The professional attitude we bring to bear is obviously an important consideration for any sports body because they know what they're going to get with us.”

The return on investment (ROI) on the network infrastructure has already paid off in terms of meeting its existing weekly broadcast commitments of four AFL games, five NRL games and five A-League games, as well as other sports.

Overall Fox Sports will do over 600 outside broadcasts this year, he said, and the majority is AFL, NRL and A-League games.

Most HD broadcasts to date have registered 600 Mbps but the 3D broadcast of the Socceroos vs the All Whites clash at the Melbourne Cricket Ground reached 800 Mbps, with four terabytes of data sent over the link.

“Our ROI was looking at what it would cost, what our traditional way of delivering those costs were as opposed to the investment decision about making over a particular lifecycle and it made the business case pretty simple.”

Nextgen Networks managing director, Phil Sykes said the Fox Sports previously struggled to deliver high definition content.

“They were really struggling with previous arrangement to go above 32mbits a second and now they're doing video streams of 250 megabits per second.”

The free-to-air channels have their own infrastructure to deliver high-definition broadcasts from Australia's major stadiums, however Marquard said he would be open to the idea of wholesaling the Fox Sports fibre links in the future.

“We're open to all sorts of discussions around those things, because it's a permanent system. it's obviously been put there for our purpose, but we would obviously look at other opportunities as they arise.”