2018 FIFA World Cup: Tournament kicks off with new workflows, VAR at the forefront

It’s the first day of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and the International Broadcast Centre in Moscow is all systems go and fully functional for both the host broadcast and the 78 media-rights holders that will call it home for the next month.

“The last touches at the 12 stadiums have been done, and we are all good to go,” says Florin Mitu, head of broadcast services, FIFA. “Our warm-up match successfully tested the technical platform, including the UHD/HDR and multiformat single production processes at the venues.”

The IBC is once again a massive place, with 54,000 sq. metres of raw indoor space, 8,613 sq. metres of multilateral areas, and 9,054 sq. metres for the unilateral production teams. The production centre measures 3,329 sq. metres and houses seven studios, the largest of which is 300 sq. metres. The seven studios are for Fox U.S., Fox Brazil, Telemundo, Televisa, Caracol TV, TYC Sports Argentina and CCTV.

For Mitu the appreciation for the work done to date is clear. “After four years of meticulous planning, we cannot wait for tonight’s kick-off,” said Mitu. “Host nation Russia is facing Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. Everyone involved has put in a great effort and enormous passion. Thanks to all for working so hard on the organisation of the production as coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup is now ready to reach every screen on Earth.”

Once again, many of the rights holders’ production efforts will focus on not only the live matches but also the content available in the IBC and stored on the FIFA Max Server. The server will handle content ranging from highlights to profiles of Russian cities, interviews with athletes and coaches, team arrivals, press conferences, and much more.

“We have a new user-friendly interface for the FIFA Max Server that has been introduced to the [media-rights licensees], and they have been highly positive in their response to the functionality,” says Mitu. “And the centralized infotainment– and clips-compilation–production system has also successfully been tested.”

The seven studios at the IBC will be complemented by 11 studios located at the most iconic site in all of Russia: Red Square. Eleven rights holders have presentation studios there: SBS Australia, Globo and GloboSat from Brazil, TV Azteca from Mexico, DirecTV Latin America, the BBC and ITV from the UK, Telemundo from the U.S., beIN from the Middle East, Fox U.S., and CCTV.

One of the issues from the early days was how to get everything up and running when the Moscow Victory Day Parade took place on May 9. But the team managed to get it done.

“[The presentation studios] were built in record time,” says Mitu.

The production team in Moscow at the IBC is complemented by 40 ENG crews (comprising 120 people) covering each team and gathering footage from practices, interviews, location beauty shots, and more. And, of course, there are the Host Broadcast Services (HBS) technical and production teams at each of the 12 venues. Once again, they will operate out of Equipment Room Containers instead of traditional remote-production trucks. The advantages of the ERCs are clear: they provide more room for the production team and obviate numerous onsite trucks.

For the group stage of the event, 38 cameras will be deployed in the typical plan, with two additional cameras beginning at the round of 16. Each production team will create 11 standard feeds and 10 iso feeds for each match. Each match will also make use of two crane cameras and a cablecam system.

The biggest story this year (and one that SVG will explore in the coming weeks) is that the HBS team at each match will create a UHD, UHD HDR, and HD feed out of a single production rather than operating in side-by-side mode.

In addition, this marks the first time that a World Cup will use video assistant referee (VAR). The team consists of the VAR and three assistants (AVAR1, AVAR2, and AVAR3) and supports the referee at each stadium from a centralized video-operation room (VOR), located in the IBC. All relevant camera feeds from the 12 stadiums are provided to the VOR through a fibre-optic network, and the referee on the field at each stadium talks to the VAR team via a sophisticated fibre-linked radio system.

Watching the main camera on the upper monitor and checking or reviewing incidents on the quad-split monitor, the VAR is responsible for leading the VAR team and communicating with the referee on the field of play. Meanwhile, the AVAR1 concentrates on the main camera and keeps the VAR informed about live play if an incident is being checked or reviewed. Located at the offside station, the AVAR2 anticipates and checks any potential offside situations to speed the VAR check-and-review process. The AVAR3 focuses on the TV-program feed, assisting the VAR in evaluating incidents and ensuring good communication between the VAR and AVAR2.

The VAR team has access to 33 broadcast cameras, eight of which are super-slow-motion and four are ultra-slo-mo cameras. In addition, the team has access to two offside cameras available only to the VAR team. For the knockout phase, two additional ultra-slo-mo cameras will be installed: one behind each goal. Slow-motion replays are used mainly for factual situations: for example, to identify the point of contact of a physical offence or the position of an offence. Normal speed is used for subjective judgments: for example, the intensity of an offence or to determine whether a handball was deliberate.

The VAR team has access to all FIFA host-broadcast camera feeds, with the exception of a few cameras that do not cover the game: the helicopter camera, for example. Neither are the feeds from cameras installed by media-rights licensees available to the VAR team; such cameras generally focus on the team that the MRLs represent and are not part of the official host broadcaster’s camera plan. Hawk-Eye Innovations is providing the video-related technical support; Crescent Comms is supporting audio needs.

The VAR will also make use of virtual offside lines, computer-generated lines projected onto the broadcast image of the field of play to help the VAR determine whether an offside offense has occurred. The offside lines used are the best possible and the most accurate that can be generated with existing technology, thanks to calibration using multiple synchronized camera angles.

Angle of view, lens distortion, field curvature, and many other factors are considered in calculating the true position of the lines. Calibrations will be done before each match by the technology provider to take into account the exact pitch dimensions and conditions on the day. For determining offside positions, the VAR team will have access to various tools, which have been validated in a number of tests across different venues by an independent third party using survey-grade equipment.

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