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Amsterdam ArenA ups game with Blackmagic smart distribution

The Amsterdam ArenA is enhancing its match day experience with a variety of video content produced from a central control room, distributed by a Blackmagic Design solution.

The 53,395-capacity venue is home to Eredivisie football club AFC Ajax, and also hosts around 450 corporate events per year in its hospitality areas, as well as a dozen major annual music concerts. The ArenA’s production facilities are primarily used, however, by Ajax Media, the club’s content division.

“The sophistication of production at the ArenA is increasing,” commented Tim Oosterop, the ArenA’s production manager. “The media has progressed from playing out some basic commercials to producing a live program with highlights, graphics, presenters and slow motion replays. The aim with the technology and workflow is always to have the highest quality possible for our narrowcasting system.”

On match day, fans are treated to a program of video content via a stadium-wide IPTV system beginning two hours before kick-off and finishing with the post-match press conferences around 30 minutes after the final whistle has gone.

Ajax Media produces three in-house television channels during live games, including a live feed of the match action taken from the league’s host broadcaster, mixed with bespoke sponsor logos and public transport information. Ajax Media itself operates three pitch-side cameras, a PTZ camera in the press room and two fixed cameras in the players’ tunnel to produce a second channel.

These channels are narrowcast to 650 HD/UHD screens around the ArenA and two giant pitch-side LED displays. Additionally, Ajax Media produces content for the club’s web page, for AjaxTV, and the Ajax mobile app.

A third in-house channel is used for specialist content during the ArenA’s host of UEFA matches for distribution to VIP zones.

Signals from all the Ajax Media cameras are routed through a Blackmagic Design MultiView 16 and to a Blackmagic Design Smart Videohub 40 x 40 matrix before onward connection to a video switcher. The ArenA’s Smart Videohub is mirrored by a second identical unit at Ajax Media’s facility where all post production is carried out.

The outputs include four to the giant video screens, three for the in-house channels, four for slow-motion, one to Ajax Media, three to the OB van area and one each to the narrowcasting system and recording devices.

Oosterop explained: “What’s great about the MultiView 16 is that we have control over the outputs of the system. Since we usually require more than 15 outputs at any one point during a match, we need the ability to switch some of them to the Videohub. With both the MultiView and Videohub we are always sure that the right signal goes to the right output.

“This is especially important for concerts and other live events where we are not necessarily working with regular partners and we are unsure what format we will receive signals in.”

The video is distributed over coax in the stadia, which was built 20 years ago, and over a mix of coax and triax from outside broadcast vans.

The next big modernising infrastructure project will see the ArenA switch over to a video over IP network. “One of the problems with managing and distributing video around such a large facility is that cable lengths, and therefore latency of the video, becomes a real issue,” said Oosterop. “We have an IP network covering every room in the stadium, so it would be great if we could use that to distribute high quality video signals. We are looking for a product that will convert AV signals from HD-SDI to a UTP stream and back.”

Blackmagic Design signal distribution