Bexel, a unit of the Vitec Group's Services Division and a leading worldwide provider of broadcast services and solutions, provided the conduit for the live broadcast of the 86th Academy Awards(r), as well as all of the ancillary global productions from the site, with a logistics-defying fiber infrastructure constructed exclusively for the event. Working with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), Bexel implemented a comprehensive fiber optic network. The customized solution connects multiple production locations beyond the Dolby Theatre, including the Hollywood & Highland Center, the Red Carpet on Hollywood Blvd., Loews Hollywood Hotel, and the domestic and international television compounds located more than a block away behind the El Capitan Theatre.
When AMPAS moved the Oscars to the Dolby Theatre (then the Kodak Theatre) in 2001, they turned to Bexel to help solve the logistical challenges inherent in the new location. Knowing that traditional copper cable would not work, Bexel installed a permanent fiber network that included four miles of multi-strand cables from the Hollywood & Highland and Dolby Theatre complexes, as well as under Hollywood Blvd. That underlying backbone is enhanced each year by Bexel to meet the show's specific and unique complexities, as the number of feeds changes every year, in addition to the fact that the industry has moved from standard definition to high def over the last decade. The required infrastructure has effectively tripled in size.
For the 86th Academy Awards, more than 17 miles of temporary fiber was also deployed to successfully transport massive amounts of HD/SD video, audio, data and communications signals.
"The structure we put in place has to support so much more than the Oscar broadcast itself," said Bexel's Craig Schiller, vice president of engineering and operations. "We're tasked with enabling point-to-point connections for more than 50 different entities, to ensure live, simultaneous broadcasts of all of the Red Carpet pre-shows, the backstage media and photo rooms, the pre- and post-show programs, Oscar.com, and the official Governors Ball, in addition to the Academy Awards(r) telecast itself."
The venue does not have one large parking lot to accommodate all of the satellite and production trucks, so the physical footprint of the production areas are spread out into nearby available parking lots, onto Hollywood Blvd, and the Orange Motor Court adjacent to the Dolby Theater. "Our fiber network is really the conduit for the entire production, and it gets larger every year," Schiller adds.
In addition to the fiber optic infrastructure, Bexel contributed key elements to coverage of the Red Carpet arrivals. The company deployed its RF-Over-Fiber antenna system, which has become a staple of the official pre-show broadcast, to provide unprecedented wireless communications coverage not previously available with a conventional wireless system. Bexel's RF base camp was located at the 90-degree turn of the Red Carpet, and was used as the head-end position. Multiple RF fiber-site boxes enabled connections for dozens of antennas to ensure there was no loss of signal, as the production staff required a seamless communication system.
The often tight turnaround between the pre-show and the official broadcast is also supported by the system, enabling communication signals to transition from the Red Carpet up into the theatre for the show opening. Bexel also supplied three Sony HDC-2500 cameras, which were used by AMPAS as pool cameras for arrivals, fashion and the main press room. The feeds were then provided by Bexel to domestic and international broadcasters for enhanced show coverage around the world.
To support a live event of this scale, Bexel had a credentialed staff of more than 40 fiber engineers and support technicians onsite. Senior teams arrived two weeks before the show to begin set-up for the main broadcast and to clean and test the permanent fiber network. The majority of the staff arrived the Tuesday before the awards to prepare for the hundreds of domestic and international broadcasters who arrived on Friday.
Live broadcasts from the Red Carpet started as early as Friday morning, and ran continuously until late Sunday night, with Bexel engineers onsite around the clock. The team enabled the transport of 200 video signals, 125 audio signals, and 100 intercom signals over fiber for the Academy's broadcast partners.
"Our incredible team of professionals really delivers for the Oscars," says Schiller. "Over the past 13 years, we've had a number of the same talented people on the project, and the guys have really gotten to know the location and understand the complexities of this event. We're able to do so much more in advance now. Most of the fiber demarc racks are preconfigured in our shop and delivered already tested, which increases our efficiency every year. We've also upgraded the permanent installations every two to three years, allowing us to minimize what we need to layer on top of the existing infrastructure. It's a tough few weeks, but our team's focus and passion for this event enables us to service all of our customers effectively. And in the end, our customer's successful productions are the only award we need."
Bexel is the pre-eminent worldwide provider of broadcast services including video and audio equipment rentals, fiber services, new audio sales, used equipment sales, and repairs/maintenance. Bexel provides brilliantly designed and flawlessly executed systems and solutions to all customers - including producers of the biggest and most important televised events in the world. For more information, visit www.bexel.com, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.