BBC’s Paul Davies on the Six Nations: part two

In the concluding part of an SVG special feature, Andy Stout talks to BBC exec producer Paul Davies about the speciality cameras that the BBC uses at the Six Nations rugby tournament and his plans for the future.

OB services for BBC’s Six Nations coverage are provided by SIS LIVE, and the production also takes a SIS scanner out to Dublin, Paris or Rome as part of an add-on operation.

“It’s a well-resourced series,” says Davies. “It’s a very important product for the BBC and it gets invested in accordingly. It gets the full treatment. In terms of match cameras, we’re up to around 20 depending on the nature of the game. For the higher profile matches at Twickenham I’ve been using a Spidercam. We use railcams and steadicams, and this year we’re using the Hi-Mo II for the first time, and that’s working very successfully.”

The Spidercam has been used for a few years now, though it proved divisive amongst viewers when first introduced (the Daily Mail, always happy to put the boot into the BBC, gleefully ran an article about viewer complaints of nausea). Nevertheless, Davies sees it as an invaluable tool if used properly within the limits of the sport.

“If you’re talking rugby specifically, pretty much it’s almost impossible to use live in-game (I’m putting kicks outside of that). It’s almost impossible to cut to when the ball is in play due to the unpredictably of the angles of attack.

“There are plenty of examples of cables and cameras being hit, and in Paris they’ve been told they can’t bring the camera down below a certain height, which doesn’t render it pointless, but does mean they can’t get down to ground level even for kicks. At Twickenham we’ve been fortunate and there haven’t been any incidents yet and we’re able to push it a bit and get some terrific low angle stuff.

“You can use it very impressively around the ceremonial bits – teams coming out, anthems etc – and for kicks it beats any other camera. You can get the angle you want, get behind the kicker and travel with the ball between the posts, or behind the post you get the angle right and drop down with the ball. Any camera that moves can be impressive and if you can heighten the interest for the viewer and the information they can get from the kick, that can only be beneficial.

“I used it in live play when we first got it, we’d spent a lot of money on it and I wanted to get it in, but it can distract you from your core business of quality television directing. I tend to leave it alone now during live play and save it for the kicks, the ceremonial stuff, and of course it’s recording all the time and can be a great tool for the replays.”

Davies adds that he always likes to get a jib in behind the goals if space allows, and has also used an RF camera mounted on a Segway before. “You need a pretty accurate controller with all the different infrastructure at the side of the pitch, but it was interesting what we got.”

The biggest match of the final weekend of the tournament sees Wales take on England at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. “We’ve got a Railcam for that match and I’m currently trying to decide whether to go for a 50m track or the whole run of the pitch. You do lose a bit of intimacy if you don’t have the handheld cameras on the touchline because you replace it entirely with the Railcam, and you can’t have both.”

Back in 2008, the Six Nations played host to the first ever live stereo 3D broadcast, with the Scotland vs England match of that year captured in the format and beamed to an invited audience at a London cinema. Given the way that things have gone since, it’s not unsurprising to find that Davies has no plans for further 3D activity now, but he is most definitely looking at 4k.

“4k is being discussed in a lot of detail, both by us and by our resource providers,” he says (news that SIS LIVE had been undertaking 4k tests at premiership football broke a few days after he spoke to SVG Europe). “Perhaps not specifically for the Six Nations, but at the BBC we’re looking at it for a number of our sports, including Wimbledon potentially for this year.”

“I would like to have more Hi Motion cameras at the matches, not only to have them at every match but also have more than one a game,” he continues. “I love that ramping technique where you play at full speed and then cut to the Hi-Mo; that’s quite stunning in rugby as it really captures the skills of the players.”

He also points out that the use of graphic overlays for analysis will probably grow too, and there may also be increasing use of tools such as Piero that allow the director to move in and out of the real and virtual worlds to aid analysis of the games. Increased care is also now being taken over the scheduling of matches to allow time for a proper build-up before that reflects the sense of occasion when such long-standing national rivalries come into play, and decent analysis of what happened afterwards.

“We’re able to put on a good show and have standardised that across all the matches,” says Davies. “Whenever you’re watching a Six Nations match on the BBC you feel like you’re getting the full treatment.”

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