22 June 2021 – During all Bundesliga matches the DFL produces a live signal with English-language live commentary for its international media partners. The commentators are well-known reporters who normally travel to the relevant stadiums or the centralized production offices at the Cologne Broadcasting Center to provide their live coverage. To be able to rely on those proven and familiar voices in live productions despite the travel and contact restrictions, a “remote commentary” concept was implemented successfully during the 2020-21 season.
Since Matchday 13 of the 2020-21 season, an average of five fixtures per Bundesliga matchday were covered live by English-speaking commentators from their own homes for the DFL’s International Product Portfolio (IPP). Unable to travel to their usual destinations in Germany because of the social contact restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, they simply provided the coverage from their home offices.
This was made possible by a newly-developed “remote commentary” concept custom-developed jointly by the DFL subsidiary Sportcast and DFL Digital Sports. The concept utilises special ‘Mobile Commentator Units’ made by Prodys, a Spanish developer and manufacturer in the broadcast sector. This technology enabled the DFL to maintain its production flexibility and continue working with the established pool of commentators without having to make any major compromises.
A pool of commentators
The pool of 14 commentators contributing to the IPP productions is managed by DFL Digital Sports. Eight of them are located in the UK, five in Germany and one in USA. The new concept not only provides a comprehensive technical infrastructure but also the logistics required to transport the Mobile Commentator Units from one commentator to the next. Four of Prodys’ mobile devices are available for Remote Commentary. While one of them remained permanently with commentator Derek Rae in USA, the other three were shared by the UK commentators and handed over after each live production to make sure the next scheduled commentator would always have a unit available in time for the subsequent Matchday. Six of the commentators covering the Bundesliga productions live in the Greater London area, which made it relatively easy to transfer the units personally from commentator to commentator.
Remote Commentary workflow
The new Prodys units can transmit video, audio and data signals to the commentators’ home offices. In addition to the mobile unit, the commentator uses two computer screens to receive the international programme signal he needs to follow the match and provide his live coverage.
The match video and audio signals are transmitted to the mobile commentator units via the Internet. Each of the mobile units comes with an LTE adapter card which backs up the Internet connection at the commentator’s home office. As an additional backup, a software-based solution ensures the commentator can continue covering the match in case one of the Prodys units fails.
This technology solution enabled me to continue covering Bundesliga matches for global broadcasting during the pandemic. Everything works smoothly in real time with the customary high audio quality as if we were physically present in Munich or Dortmund, rather than over 5,000 kilometres away. This is a trailblazing concept. While as a commentator you would generally prefer to be on site at the stadium, this solution provides a certain flexibility for all parties involved.Derek Rae
Before the match and the live transmission begins, the mobile commentator units are checked and configured remotely from the Cologne Broadcasting Center (CBC). This involves activities such as a sound engineer setting the right volume, or a technician adjusting the required bandwidth for the video signal.
A videoconferencing tool is used to establish an additional connection between the commentators, any additional co-commentators, a sound engineer and the editor in charge to make sure all parties involved in the broadcast can seamlessly communicate with each other.
On scheduled Matchdays, co-commentators are used in six of the fixtures. These experts are located at the international production offices at the CBC in Cologne and connected to the commentator home offices via the new software application. This allows everybody to provide joint live commentary on the Bundesliga match.
Coronavirus pandemic or not, there is a long-term perspective for the continued use of the remote commentary concept which provides added flexibility for all IPP productions at the same high transmission quality. The mobile commentator units – an additional unit will be provided for the season 2021-22 – will be used as a permanent element of the production process next season. By now, the remote commentary concept is so well established that there are plans to cover several matches per Matchday using the mobile commentator units at the commentators’ home offices in future, as well. The commentators located in Germany will continue to provide coverage from the CBC offices in Cologne.