On the right track

Wild Track Productions has successfully established itself.
Independent production companies, Wild Track Productions, Analysis, Content production

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Wild Track Productions has successfully established itself as one of the few independent production companies covering live broadcast of major international cricket competitions. Digital Studio hears from managing partner Azhar Habib.

ive sports and sports programming production specialist, Wild Track Productions, was founded in 2004 in New Delhi by managing partner Azhar Habib. Since then the company has expanded into further offices in Dubai and Bangalore, and its customer list has grown to include major international names like ESPN-Star Sports, OSN, Ten Sports and the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Habib adds that in just over eight years since he founded the company, it has undertaken live production of well over 100 cricket matches, become one of only a few independent companies to have produced top level international cricket and even produced software for some of the world’s leading cricket broadcasters.

He adds: “We are a boutique sports production company known for extremely high production values. Our production quality has been our biggest trademark over the years. We work with some of the best crew in the industry and are committed to producing innovative content. Not known to compromise on quality, I would proudly say that we are one of the most well respected small production companies in the region.”

Wild Track’s latest project is the ICC World Cricket League 2013. The company is producing 18 matches this year for the ICC in locations as diverse as Namibia, Netherlands, Toronto, Scotland, Ireland and the UAE.

So far it has produced four of the 18 games, and Habib says: “Due to the diverse nature of the venues I would say this is one of the most challenging productions we have ever taken up. The feedback so far has been brilliant and we are hoping to cap off a successful season.”

Habib is well qualified to comment – he’s worked in TV since 1997, he says, and in Sports TV since 1999. His career so far has taken him from Zee News to IMG Media, the world’s biggest sports producer, and then to a role on the team that set up Ten Sports’ Dubai operations in 2002, from where he moved onto his own company in 2004.

Although his role now is largely supervisory, Habib is not afraid of still taking part in the nitty gritty of production: “I am involved in all production aspects from concept to delivery, but mainly at a supervisory level,” he explains.

“From the point a production is commissioned to the final live production, I oversee all the various aspects from budgeting to pre-production to final live production. I am no longer actively involved in directing and producing television shows but I still do direct/produce one off shows or sports events.”

The scale of Wild Track’s productions varies from match to match. Its current ICC World League coverage, for example, is screened online only via Limelight Networks. For an online production, Habib says Wild Track will normally work with a five or six camera set up.

For regular TV coverage, he adds that this usually expands to a 16-camera set up, while for the really big international matches it’s not unusual to go to as many as 26 cameras including Super Slow Motion cameras, stump cameras and technologies like Hawk Eye, Snickometer and so on.

Wild Track uses full-size professional Sony XD Cams for all the manned cameras on its productions, usually fitted with Canon or Fujinon 2/3rd inch 20x lenses with extenders on these cameras. For the fixed unmanned cameras it uses Sony EX1 XD Cameras.

It also makes use of Go Pro Cameras for beauty shots of the ground. The company produces content exclusively in HD.

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Another key element of Wild Track’s OB workflow is its NewTek equipment. It currently uses the NewTek Tricaster 855, NewTek 3Play 420 and Live Text for its live and studio productions.

Habib adds: “We have a multi camera portable OB setup used mainly for sports productions, primarily small cricket matches. We work with six cameras on this setup and we intend to use it beyond sports as well including fashion, music and studio programming.

“We were looking for a portable, lightweight and an easy to install multi camera setup. The traditional setups that we normally work with are extremely heavy and require a lot more engineering support, so they were out of question.

Basically we needed a multi-camera setup with the capability to ISO record all cameras internally, offer basic multi channel replays, basic live graphics and ability to stream the output direct from the system and do all that in full HD.

We did a fair amount of research and looked around at various options and then decided that TriCaster offers all that we needed (and maybe slightly more) and in a price bracket that was reasonable for what it offered.

“The biggest advantage of the Tricaster 855 in my opinion is that it’s a totally integrated and mobile production setup. It’s extremely lightweight, very easy to setup and records internally and streams the output as well.

You do not need external recorders or to encode output and then stream it. Tricaster 855 does all this with a single machine and the quality is absolutely fantastic.”

Moving onto the practicalities of the set up, Habib explains: “Since the TriCaster productions are full HD, the cameras are connected with optical fibre cable. Since almost all our productions are sports-centric, we require long cabling – up to 350 meters – and with no quality loss in fibre cables, this is the best solution plus these cables are lighter.

The connectors are delicate but we are careful with them. From the camera, we take SDI output till Blackmagic camera convertors and then run fiber cables till the control room where it connects to a Blackmagic Studio Converter.

From Studio Converter we get SDI output. The SDI output from the cameras then goes to a router – one output of all the cameras goes to the TriCaster 855 and one output goes to the replay machine. “

Habib relies on NewTek for reply capability too, and he seems pleased with the results from the 3Play: “3Play 425 gives us basic replay capability at the fraction of a cost of what another similar system would cost,” he says.

“This is basically a six-channel replay machine with four input and two output channels. So we are able to give replays of sporting action from 4 different angles and can mix between angles. You can create playlists of clips which is helpful in creating instant highlights.”

Habib has already noted that the Tricaster may offer slightly more than he needs for his productions, and this is evidenced by the fact that currently Wild Track does not use either the virtual sets or the live recording functions on the 855, though this may not remain the case for long: “In our current projects we are only recording the master output from the TriCaster 855 but the ability to record 8 ISO channels is a great feature. This is essential for post-produced shows and programs and it’s a feature we would be using a lot in the near future.”

For the time being, the work for the ICC is keeping Wild Track pleasingly busy, but the company has no plans to sit still, and both new equipment and branching out into new areas are something Habib is considering: “We are looking at acquiring more HD cameras and longer lenses in the near future.

We are continually upgrading our kits and make sure we keep pace with the changing technology as well. Till now we have essentially been a specialist sports production company but we are now looking at doing more work in other genres of television as well.”

Kit List
- Sony XDCam for all manned camera positions.
- Sony XD Cams are usually fitted with Canon/Fujinon 2/3 inch 20x lenses and extenderslenses.
- Sony EX1 XD Cameras for unmanned camera positions.
- GoPro cameras for beauty shots of the grounds.
- NewTek Tricaster 855
- NewTek 3Play 420
- NewTek Live Text.
- Blackmagic converters

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