Level 3 Geared Up To Deliver Super Bowl To A TV Near You

Jon Alexander

On Super Bowl Sunday, it's not just the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks that are going to be counted on to perform in front of millions of people.

With an estimated 120 million viewers ready to tune into the telecast on TV, smartphones and tablets, and 30-second TV spots selling for $4.5 million, the stakes could not be higher for telecom and Internet service provider Level 3 Communications' Vyvx and VenueNet+ fiber optic network.

"When you get to the Super Bowl, it's a different order of magnitude of the pressure and complexity and how we think about this, how we plan for it, how we plan for redundancy and resiliency of all those services," said Jon Alexander, director of product management at Level 3, which is providing the broadcast video services for the Super Bowl for the 26th year. "There really are some elevated stakes here. The truth for this and all sporting events is that you don't get a second chance. There is only one go, and if you mess up, it's a big impact. That really does elevate the requirement around making sure that things work."

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In addition to providing the fiber optic broadcast services for every NFL game over the entire course of the season, the Broomfield, Colo.-based Level 3 provides the fiber optic backbone for other major sporting events around the world, including the Australian Open, European soccer matches, Formula One racing and more. That being said, the company is quick to point out that when it comes to the NFL's marquee event, the stakes are higher.

Year after year, the Super Bowl is the most watched sporting event in the United States. Last year, the television broadcast drew more than 111.5 million viewers, the largest audience in television history. This year's game is setting up to surpass that number by a large margin. NBC said it expects to garner up to 120 million viewers on its television broadcast for the game, in addition to viewers who will be watching digitally.

Level 3's products and services for the big game reach far beyond the television broadcast, given how millions of football fans are now consuming the broadcast on their mobile devices.

"It's not just the broadcast of the Super Bowl," said Level 3 Chief Marketing Officer Anthony Christie. "It's the content distribution with our CDN offer that we have in place. It is the second, and sometimes third, screen, while watching the game, while streaming it on an iPad, and Level 3 providing the underlying Internet transport for that to the various ISPs that are actually broadcasting that. Level 3 is doing so much more than this high-profile broadcast. It's allowing customers of all sorts to consume this in multiple ways."

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The University of Phoenix stadium is directly connected to the Fortune 500 company's fiber optic network. Specifically for this year's Super Bowl, Level 3 has set up a temporary production center where engineers and operation staff will be coordinating the event. They'll be on-site throughout Super Bowl weekend to facilitate everything. The company has a similar setup in downtown Phoenix, as well, to support broadcasts for NBC in addition to the game, such as MSNBC's "Morning Joe." The company performed the same service last year in New York's Times Square for the Super Bowl held in MetLife stadium in New Jersey.

Level 3 said that when providing this type of service for an event of this scale, security is priority No. 1. There is no room for error for a live broadcast such as this, said Level 3 executives, especially in an age where data breaches and digital hacks are turning into a recurring theme. Level 3 said it takes every precaution to make sure there are no breaches.

"Security is absolutely critical," said Alexander. "I mean, it's a huge part of this. It's the No. 1 item that gets looked at. When we go over the detail review of the end-to-end service and how we're going to deliver that service, security comes at every single level. This is one of, if not the most watched sporting events in the world, so the ability to secure that content and ensure the integrity of that content, prevent unauthorized access to that content, is paramount. We are talking about a huge audience watching this and hugely valuable content as there is a lot of money associated with this. Any disruption to that service will have a huge consequential impact."

In addition to its seasoned and experienced security and operations teams, it's Level 3's track record behind its Vyvx fiber optic networks that garners the trust of some of the largest leagues and major networks.

"The Super Bowl really is the marquee event that we carry on the Vyvx network," Alexander said. "When this business was started back in the late 80s, it was born out of the question, 'How do we support services like the Super Bowl over a fiber optic network?' Up until that point, the primary mechanism for delivering television signals from this type of event was satellite. With fiber network, that gives you some interesting capabilities in terms of being able to support more bandwidth to the stadium in the remote locations and carry more feeds at higher quality, so as we've evolved over the intervening 25 years through HD and 3-D, we've just started to see 4K. The fiber optic network is the only real way to support those increasing quality levels."