Kicking cloud goals: Preserving AFL history for future generations of adoring fans

7 Oct 2021

An Australian sporting national treasure, the game of “football” was started in 1858 as a way to “keep cricketers fit during winter”. It has since gone on to be widely played and watched with the highest spectator attendance and television viewership of all sports in Australia and is broadcast around the globe. Founded in 1896, originally as the Victorian Football League, the Australian Football League (AFL) is the professional competition and national body for Australian Rules Football.

“The AFL’s purpose is to progress the game so everyone can share in its heritage and possibilities, and there was a real risk to that the visual history of the game could be irretrievably lost,” said Monica Forlano, Head of Production, AFL. “The only way to preserve it, to monetise it, to share it, was to digitise it.”

Ageing tapes and a rapidly expanding video catalogue

With ever-evolving business demands and as part of its digital transformation strategy, the AFL recognised the need to digitise one of the most entertaining and largest sports video archive collections and footages in the world, including videos dating back to the 1909 Grand Final.

Traditionally, the AFL has been storing its video archive on physical tapes and film canisters locked in temperature-controlled vaults. The physical nature of the ageing, delicate and fragile tapes and films, and the manual content retrieval process was a significant risk to these national treasures.

  • Managing the archive was inefficient and relied on skilled technicians to access the vision. Short life of the physical tapes meant the AFL could eventually end up losing footage forever.
  • Distribution and reproduction of tape footage as short clips and stories was challenging as it was not scalable for digital consumption in multiple video formats.

With each match taking up around 120GB of storage (up to nine matches are played every week) plus additional non-match content, AFL’s ever-expanding catalogue is an issue that grows bigger day by day.

“Without digitisation of our archive, there was a potential risk to the AFL that the visual history of the game to be lost if the archive was exposed to any potential damage such as a fire or flood by being solely located at AFL House. Historical vision of our game is such a precious asset, one that celebrates our proud history and ultimately helps bring fans closer to the game,” Monica stated.

Digitising and migrating the physical tapes

Having a longstanding relationship with Telstra Enterprise, the AFL engaged Telstra Broadcast Services and Telstra Purple to help with this Tape-to-Cloud project. The objective was to digitise the on-premises videotapes and film and migrate them to AWS cloud so that the archives can be searched and retrieved easily, on-demand.

The first phase of the project began with digitising the tapes (performed by one of AFL’s partners, DAMsmart who specialise in audio-visual digitisation). The tapes were securely transported and prepared for AV extraction and saved as high-quality digital files.

Using AWS Snowball (a petabyte-scale data transport service), around 500 TB of extracted digital video footage was uploaded and stored using Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service.

Telstra Purple configured the AWS data servers and data centres for AFL to manage their digital video archive. It also implemented a media asset management (MAM) platform, Dalet Flex, so that AFL could meet its on-demand and multi-platform distribution requirements. Telstra Purple ensured that modern DevOps practices were followed, to guarantee reliability and repeatability of all infrastructure and application code. This included using Infrastructure as Code (IaC) to provision resources, and using Continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines for build and deployment of application code.

Telstra Broadcast Services provided an end-to-end Platform-as-a-Service solution to AFL, bringing together all aspects of the Digitisation, and the connectivity to support the MAM platform hosted on AWS.

“Telstra, as a long-term trusted partner of the AFL, could and would provide excellent service to deliver on this project,” Monica said.

Safeguarding AFL’s history

Telstra has been a strong partner of AFL for decades and has helped them to identify and implement appropriate technologies and solutions to meet their growing business demands—digitisation, migration, management, and future monetisation of their video archive is one such project.

This solution helps AFL to address the risk of losing their assets due to ageing and physical damages to tapes, frees up infrastructure which was used as vaults for storing these tapes, and automates the content search and retrieval process.

Reaching a new global audience

With on-demand archive clip request workflow and metadata, AFL can reproduce and redistribute some of the best moments in the sport’s history for richer digital and social engagement. It also enables AFL to grow the sport by bringing the rich history of the game to a global audience.

“The possibilities of content creation from our digitised archive gives us the opportunity to immerse fans in the untold stories and history of the game. An opportunity to relive unforgettable games, the big moments and rediscover the heroes from decades past,” concluded Monica.

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