Launching Call of Duty Black Ops

Kieron Seth#

Author: Kieron Seth#

Published 1st January 2011

So, how do you get the feed from 8 full HD camera's, games console screen captures, and a remote camera feed from 6 miles away to over 180,000 live game junkies all waiting to see the release of what is likely to be the world’s fastest selling and most anticipated Console/PC Game to date?
That was the question posed to us at Mediakinetic by the digital and social media gurus at Headstream and Five by Five Digital when we talked over the UK launch of Activision's Call of Duty: Black Ops
The Games industry is rapidly rivalling the production values of the film industry and launches are becoming akin to Leicester Square film premieres. With huge fan-bases whom are digital savvy and content hungry, broadcasting of events such as this, in a live format, have become a large part of viewing culture. Viewers are turning to their computers, iPads and phones to be able to view the latest up to date video content. With Call of Duty Modern Warfare selling 4.7 million copies of the game within the first 24hours, the launch of Black Ops was billed as one of the biggest entertainment launches of the year.
We were told the prestigious event was to be held at the iconic Battersea Power Station, with over 500 guests and VIPs including Gail Porter, Wayne Bridge, Goldie, Sophie Ellis Bextor and Jason Bradbury from the gadget show to name a few. Battersea Power Station would be transformed using architectural projections, a state of the art video game arena erected by NJ Live, with a James Bond style tournament table housing game stations courtesy of event sponsors X-Box, as well as evening events to include an inside look at the game from the developers Treyarch, multi-player tournaments with other European territories, celebrity tournaments and a set form artist Tinnie Tempah.
This was going to be a BIG and Exciting project. We needed to go see the venue. What exactly were we taking on here? Isn’t Battersea Power Station a shell of a former building? After one visit to the building, the answer became clear, errr yes!! How were they going to turn this into and amazing events venue? And how on earth do we get Hi-Def camera feeds to one central point for mixing? We came back with a stack load of questions we need to answer and quickly. We only had about 3 weeks before the event.
We knew that NJ Live would do a great job of turning the old power station into an amazing looking event venue, we just needed to make sure we could portray the excitement and sheer scale of the event to the thousands of online viewers. First we looked at cameras and calculated that we would need a total of 8 cameras for the Battersea event. Two of these would be HD minicams to capture high quality video from the multi-player tournament table and main entrance. These could also act as our safety goto cameras if we needed to at any point. We needed another two static cams to cover the main stage, where artists like Tinnie Tempah were to perform and four roaming Camera crews, paired with someone on sound and presenters from X-Box Live to cover the black carpet and interview action. Cinewessex in Winchester assisted with supplying our choice of Sony HD XDCAM camera’s for the 6 main cameras and two Sony MC1Ps for the mini cam positions.
Of course the roaming camera’s could not be wired to our OB truck, so these were all linked via microwave with the mini cams and two fixed XDCAM’s being hardwired. At that point we were asked to provide a live link up with an Oxford Street Game store, to be broadcast as part of the live event. It was late notice, and we needed to work out how to get an acceptable quality video and audio link from Oxford Street to Battersea. Satellite was not an option, so we looked at methods to send audio and video over the internet. The answer, Skype! yes that’s right, Skype. The live link up was only for those watching online. Due to the bandwidth we had in Oxford Street and Battersea we achieved a high enough quality feed to send back.
So here we are with a nice mixed feed from our OB truck, a Skype feed on an iMac, and a load of pre-recorded material, all of which needed to be streamed and switched live to the internet. Ustream ( was chosen as the hosting provider for the feed.
Activision already had a channel with them and you can pay a small fee to have the ads removed. They also convert on the fly your stream to work with html5 devices like the iPhone and iPad.
We now needed a way to get these feeds encoded as well as have the ability to switch between the OB truck, Skype and pre-recorded material, much the same as a full production switcher does with camera’s. The answer was Telestream Wirecast live webcasting software. This is an amazing piece of software. We took a high quality program out feed from our OB truck via a canapus firewire converter and this appears as a channel in the wirecast software. All the pre-recorded video footage can be added in to the software ready to be played out with just a single click of the mouse. They also have a free plugin called desktop presenter. What you do is install this onto any Mac or PC on the network and when activated, the screen becomes a channel within wirecast. It’s like wizardry! All of a sudden there was our skype machine as a selectable channel we could switch to at will. Note the desktop presenter only sends the screen image (at full 25fps) but not the audio, so we have to take a feed out of the skype iMac and into the wirecast Mac via cable. Here comes another piece of wirecast wizardry. You would expect the audio and video from the Skype feed to be out of synch, as picture and sound are taking two different routes, but no! Wirecast seems to work out how much to delay the audio by and everything is spot on. I duly unplugged my audio delay unit and put it back in its case.
So here we were, setup and ready to go. We had a crew in Oxford Street, again with a Microwave link, connected to a Mac Mini via another Canapus firewire converter. An active Skype call between Oxford Street and Battersea running full screen on the imac, OB truck feed and pre-recorded media all loaded on. 6:30pm came and we went live!
This was to be a 5 hour plus live stream. Most of the switching for the first three hours was handled by the folks in the OB truck. They did a fantastic job keeping track of what was going on in an ever changing live environment. Black carpet interviews were being conducted brilliantly by Graeme Boyd and Dan Maher from X-Box Live and all of the 8 camera’s at the event were being used to really give the viewers a sense or what was going down at what was truly an amazing looking Battersea Power Station. As you would expect with a live, late night launch event of this kind, the language can get rather, shall we say “fruity” at times, but this was handled by a profanity filter superbly controlled by the guys at Time Delay TV.
Every camera recorded ISO for post-event press pack editing purposes. These disks were handed over to a small team of onsite editors, who quickly edited together interviews and other footage that had not gone out live, ready to load into Wirecast and switch to at any moment. I don’t want to harp on to much about Wirecast, but this is a $999 piece of software that was running on a Macbook Pro, allowing us to load on XDCAM footage on the fly while still streaming live to the internet, without even a hint that it was struggling, amazing!
With more than 400 retail outlets around the UK opening their doors for special midnight sales of the game, a live link-up with the retail outlets was essential to show the game going on sale. Between 11pm and 12am we switched regularly over to our live link up with Oxford Street to get interviews with the fans queuing and staff at the Game store. The Skype connection was solid as a rock and in fact stayed up for the entire 5 plus hours of live transmission.
12:15am came and the event closed. 5 hours 15 mins of nonstop live video of one of the most eagerly anticipate console games in history had finished without a hitch. A mixture of high end broadcast camera’s and consumer Skype connections had worked perfectly.
In addition to over 182,000 web viewers, the event was followed by 1.2 million Facebook friends. In anticipation of this major launch, the Black Ops game trailer was viewed more than seven million times.
Creating 5 hours of compelling broadcast quality content is quite a challenge. The amazing thing about live streaming events of this nature, with such a massive online following, is that you can monitor the feedback from viewers and tailor the content accordingly. Headstream and Five by Five were able to assess the online chat from viewers and feed that back to us, so that we could adapt the output according to viewer likes and dislikes. Questions for VIP guests were also user-generated. That’s the exciting part of live video streaming – it’s giving viewers the opportunity to interact with and control the programme content. It’s undoubtedly the future of live events and online video communications.
A full blog about the event and a behind the scenes video can be viewed via Mediakinetic’s website
To find out more about the Wirecast software we used have a look at
Jon Pratchett (Streaming Manager) and Lindsay Barker (Managing Director) of Mediakinetic Ltd can be contacted at the following: (@jpratchett - twitter)

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