SPN India's Kingshuk Bhattacharya talks about sports production

Kingshuk Bhattacharya, head - Broadcast Operations & Network Engineering, Sony Pictures Networks India, on sports production and more
Kingshuk Bhattacharya, head - Broadcast Operations & Network Engineering,
Sony Pictures Networks India
Kingshuk Bhattacharya, head - Broadcast Operations & Network Engineering, Sony Pictures Networks India

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Since 2010, Kingshuk Bhattacharya, head - Broadcast Operations & Network Engineering, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN India), has cast his shadow well on the broadcast industry of India, owing to his unfathomable knowledge of the digital broadcast domain. Along with being a visionary, he has spearheaded the setting up of a state-of-the-art live sports production facility at SPN India, which measures up to any world class facility in the sports production world.
“The boundless possibilities of trying out different things, along with the understand- ing of the outcome that stimulates one for further growth and attainment of target is what I find most appealing. This approach adds to the already immense growth that exists in the field of TV production,” said Bhattacharya. His work has enabled him to travel across the globe, helping him analyse the matured production markets and up- grade the current infrastructure required for content production and broadcast. His managerial acumen, abilities in leading cross-functional teams, eagerness to work in collaborative projects, and a rich experience in developing procedures and standards, has made him a game-changer amongst his likes.

Kingshuk Bhattacharya, head - Broadcast Operations & Network Engineering, Sony Pictures Networks India

Kingshuk Bhattacharya, head - Broadcast Operations & Network Engineering, Sony Pictures Networks India

“I am forward-looking and believe in achieving. I have the ability to perceive and assess the changing trends which influ- ence effectiveness of the organisation, and to capitalise on them for growth. Over the years, I have developed an acute sense of understanding and assessing the needs and requirements of the organisation,” affirmed Bhattacharya.

THE ADVENT
Over a span of nine years, he has helped reorganise the technical and creative post- production teams into a broadcast opera- tions and network engineering team, at SPN India. His work mainly involves delving into the use of futuristic technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) for content creation. He has also successfully led the remote production for live international cricket tournaments.

I AM FORWARD-LOOKING AND BELIEVE IN ACHIEVING. I HAVE THE ABILITY TO PERCEIVE AND ASSESS THE CHANGING TRENDS WHICH INFLUENCE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE ORGANISATION, AND TO CAPITALISE ON THEM FOR GROWTH.

Prior to being made head of broadcast operations, he was senior VP of the post- production facilities department at SPN India. Transition to HD being his primary responsibility back then, he was responsible for implementing 5.1 audio workflow for HDTV production with purpose built 5.1 studios. He also facilitated the production and broadcast design of live sports over fibre circuits. To say the least, he has pioneered 4K live broadcast in India, a country where people worship sports. He also technically designed and launched around 24 channels in the recent past, with a record turnaround time and process-driven workflows.

TAKE ON TECHNOLOGY
According to Bhattacharya, there are certain terms in the technology domain that have created a lot of buzz and have become hot trends in the M&E space, lately. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) being the most coveted concepts, they are still in their nascent stages. AI/ML is being used by media organisations to pull relevant information from big data providers, in order to improve the accuracy of targeted ad- vertising and content consumption, or to assist media companies in assigning resources. “I personally find AI to be a double-edged sword, which could potentially disrupt the human side of content creation, if not used responsibly. Still in its experimental stage, media companies will use AI to take over tasks now performed by humans, such as creating and packaging promotional trailers with tags and tune-ins, generating text for closed captioning, content quality checks,” explained Bhattacharya.

The studio at Sony Pictures Networks India

The studio at Sony Pictures Networks India

Bhattacharya also emphasised on AR and VR being the next big thing after 3D. “This can actually be a very powerful tool to bridge the gap between content creation and consumption. While the subject is quite vast and still in the emerging phase, it is com- pletely dependent on human capability and sensibility to make it a compelling reality,” explained Bhattacharya.

On the other hand, he explained that satellite bandwidth usage for contribution is fading away, while terrestrial connectivity is enabling remote production. The way live events are being produced and distributed, is currently undergoing a lot of changes, due to the boon of connectivity. “You no longer need to transport a bus full of professionals to every venue where the event is being held, thus saving huge TLB (travel lodging and boarding) costs and rig/derig Outside Broadcast (OB) kits,” said Bhattacharya.

From a technology standpoint, adoption and usage of voice-enabled digital assistants is rapidly advancing, indicating that voice could be the next big thing after touch, in human-computer interactions. “In countries where literacy levels are low, this feature could boost the use of smartphones, which is the most favoured voice-assistant platform, followed by voice-enabled digital home assistants,” he added.
With technology, it is now possible for the audience to not merely consume content but also interact with it. The audience seeks an immersive experience. “Today there is technology available to bridge the gap between the linear TV viewers with OTT services, where the primary content playing on the linear services could be used as a trigger to initiate multiple ancillary actionable events on other platforms, which in turn helps the primary content viewership. This is made possible with the convergence of the telecom and satellite industry,” he said.

LEVERAGING SCIENCE
Along with the knowledge and adoption of augmentations, a media organisation should be aware of how to integrate these technologies seamlessly, into their existing infrastructure. Technology should be an enabler and provide an increased value to the product that one creates. According to Bhattacharya, various innovations in tech- nology offer a plethora of tools which could be leveraged to either ease the process of content creation, or better the product.
“Today, companies need not shoulder the risk and cost of buying complex technologies and acquiring expensive expertise. Instead, they should leverage the investments and expertise of the world’s biggest technology companies and savviest start-ups. Nowhere does this trend appear to be more apparent than in AI, since large software companies are integrating AI capabilities into cloud- based enterprise software and bringing those to the mass market. Enterprise implementations will likely continue to increase in the coming year,” suggested Bhattacharya.

Today, companies need not shoulder the risk and cost of buying complex technolo- gies and acquiring expensive expertise. Instead, they should leverage the investments and expertise of the world’s biggest tech- nology companies and savviest start-ups. Nowhere does this trend appear to be more apparent than in AI, since large software companies are integrating AI capabilities into cloud-based enterprise software and bringing those to the mass market. Enter- prise implementations will likely continue to increase in the coming year.

AI-powered machines are also adept at identifying unwanted content, according to Bhattacharya. Google reports that AI, and not humans, detected about 80% of the 8.28 million videos removed from YouTube in the last quarter of 2017 (source: Techcrunch.com). Facebook acted against 1.9 million pieces of content on its platform in the first quarter of 2018, detected as fake accounts and fake news by AI (source: The New York Times).“Another emerging category, blockchain, is being explored by technologists around the globe. As connectivity between people and devices is increasing, identity/privacy protection has become a prime concern. Blockchain provides a robust, incorruptible and encrypted method of record-keeping that is easily verifiable,” added Bhattacharya.

Technology at the forefront, at SPN India's studios

Technology at the forefront at SPN India's studios

Remote production (an area of expertise for Bhattacharya), gives broadcasters the ability to produce live broadcasts remotely, by sending raw camera feeds, audio and equip- ment control, over a telecom infrastructure to a central studio facility. It helps generate high volume of sports content, thereby improving productivity and cost-efficiency.


Bhattacharya echoed, “Today, for any live event, about 30-40 people travel to each location with kits and other equipment to produce the broadcast feed at the venue. This is not only expensive, but also a logisti- cal nightmare. By producing feeds remotely at a central location, only a handful of camera crew would have to travel while the technical director, commentator and other key crew members can finalise production at a central location. The cost savings offered by remote production workflows can be used to deliver more content from the venue. Instead of sending large technical crews on site for OB production, a broadcaster can send more journalists and editorial staff to capture more quality content.”


Bhattacharya stressed on the fact that know-how specific to information technology, is increasingly being used in the broadcast industry. This includes server virtualisation, data storage, and IP networking, amongst others. At the same time, new workflows based on standard IT practices are being embraced. “On traditional platforms such as radio and television, standard distribution for- mats are in place. In the context of broad- casting to the Internet, this standardisation does not exist. In addition to changing web standards, broadcasting to mobile plat-forms (smartphones and tablets) requires multiple file formats. In addition, to ensure the successful spreading of on-demand and live content to the Internet, the bandwidth required is considerable. This is especially true if the image quality is high and the number of listeners is large,” he added.

Today, companies need not shoulder the risk and cost of buying complex technolo- gies and acquiring expensive expertise. Instead, they should leverage the investments and expertise of the world’s biggest tech- nology companies and savviest start-ups. Nowhere does this trend appear to be more apparent than in AI, since large software companies are integrating AI capabilities into cloud-based enterprise software and bringing those to the mass market. Enter- prise implementations will likely continue to increase in the coming year.


Workflow transformation was another subject Bhattacharya tapped on. A decade ago, the standard method for sharing and archiving audio-video content was by means of tapes. “Within a company, be- tween workstations and enterprises them- selves, files were exchanged and ingested via a proprietary format tape media. With the advent of more efficient networks and the lower cost of file storage systems, it is now possible to consider tapeless work- flows,” he added.

FEATHERS IN THE CAP
His journey at SPN India, led Bhattacharya to implement many successful projects. For the India – Australia series 2018/19, SPN India used remote production, first of its kind to have been covered using this technology. The sports production facility is in Mumbai, with the facility boasting of several technology-assisted innovations to help the quality of the production.

Another instance was Tata Communications providing last-mile connectivity on either side (venue and studio), using the Nimbra J2K solution to process and transport the signals. The solution was designed to transport multiple camera feeds along with bi-directional communications and embedded audio. Each feed would add up to 120 mbps. Feeds were picked from all the Australian venues and brought to the studios in Mumbai, including the data feed for hawk-eye.

Technology doesn’t come cheap. It takes a lot of effort, investment, resource, and time, for large companies to develop it. We are headed towards a highly-connected world, where commonly used things in our daily lives are all going to work using some sort of connectivity.


SPN India’s sports facilities were designed keeping in mind AR and VR production. While the entire facility is AR friendly, (thanks to the company’s selection of track- ing devices), the team can produce con- tent in a virtual environment in one of its studios. It is a green-screen facility, where one could mix and match virtual and real elements, to enhance the viewer experience. SPN India relied on Viz Rt as its AR/VR tool, with tracking devices from Shotoku and Stype. The company’s designed workflow can be deployed even off site, which helped it deliver augmented reality for Kaun Banega Crorepati last season; a first in any entertainment show.

LAST WORD
“Technology doesn’t come cheap. It takes a lot of effort, investment, resource, and time, for large companies to develop it. We are headed towards a highly-connected world, where commonly used things in our daily lives are all going to work using some sort of connectivity. The devices that are available in the markets are quite ready with the latest trends. Companies involved in producing content need to ensure that they consider the costs that should be ideally incurred on technology while chalking their business plans,” explained Bhattacharya.

According to him, consumers are going to be the king. With the advent in technology and connectivity, costs going southwards, consumers will be consuming what they want, when they want and how they want!

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