Commonwealth Games 2014: BBC Sport ups the production ante

London 2012 was the biggest OB event ever undertaken by BBC Sport, but Glasgow 2014 isn’t exactly going to be a small operation. With 1,300 hours of live video coverage planned from up to 17 live HD video streams for this home-based, multi-sport event, the BBC production is on a truly Olympian scale.

“It’s a big increase from the six live streams at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, and the widest range of choice for any BBC event since London 2012,” says BBC Sport’s executive producer for major events, Jonny Bramley. “There are up to six additional Red Button streams depending on the platform. BBC3, like London 2012, will have additional hours before 7pm, so we will be broadcasting the Commonwealth Games on BBC1 and BBC2 during the main news bulletins from 9am to midnight and BBC3 from 9am to 10pm. This equates to over 300 hours of network TV coverage.”

Bramley says the goal for BBC Sport to show “every moment of every sport live” is continued online: a dedicated Commonwealth Games live page will provide coverage of every live sport with up to 17 digital streams available daily from 8am to midnight. Alongside live video and radio streams, rolling highlights, text commentary, live polls and a live medal table, comments and opinions from across social media, email and SMS will be collated with those from BBC Sport’s reporters and pundits.  One of the innovations for Glasgow 2014 is ‘medal alert’, where audiences can use the BBC Sport mobile and tablet apps to select automatic notifications for all the medals, or just the golds, won by every country or nation they want to follow. A ‘Today at the Games’ daily guide will also allow audiences to plan their event schedule around the day’s action.

The technology needed for such an undertaking has been extensive, but there’s been some benefits to being on home ground. “The Games will be unique for BBC Sport in that the main production centre will be in BBC Scotland’s Pacific Quay (PQ) building rather than in the IBC, as would normally be the case,” says Bramley. “This is because the IBC is literally just across the River Clyde, as part of the SECC Precinct.”

Busy on the north bank

This area on the Clyde’s north bank will form the largest venue precinct of the XX Commonwealth Games. As well as the SVGTV-hosted IBC and the main press centre, it will host the competitions for six sports: gymnastics, boxing, judo, netball, wrestling and weightlifting/powerlifting.

“It made financial sense to utilise existing BBC floor space facilities and extend all of the venue video and audio feeds, rather than build a bespoke facility in the IBC,” explains Bramley. “However, that has increased the complexity of the technical infrastructure, given the need to integrate with an existing setup rather than create a bespoke facility from scratch. This has involved connecting the IBC and Pacific Quay to carry approximately 40 HD video feeds and 192 audio circuits. There will still be a small BBC engineering presence in the IBC to maintain the host circuits to Pacific Quay.”

BBC Sport will utilise existing galleries in Pacific Quay, including the facility’s main gallery ‘A’, which will be modified and used for BBC1, capable of 16 outside source lines plus cameras, post lines and graphics. Pacific Quay’s Gallery B, capable of 12 outside source lines, has been fitted out to service BBC3 and a late-evening ‘Today at The Games’ highlights show on BBC1.

“A technical operations centre is being installed to handle incoming and outgoing feeds, and manage media across BBC Sport, News and Nations & Regions,” says Bramley. “Packaged routing will be used extensively, linking communication circuits, video circuits, remote switches with distributed routers, both existing and temporary. Four 128 x128 communications routers will be linked together under the system control with the video routers, to optimise operations.”

An additional studio complex has been constructed for the Games at Mavisbank Quay, 500m along the Clyde from Pacific Quay. “It comprises a main TV studio for BBC1 presentation and a News and Nations & Regions block with six separate broadcast studios,” says Bramley. “BBC3 will be presented ‘on the move’, using a Steadicam roving around the Pacific Quay/SECC area, with the option of a static covered position overlooking the BBC@TheQuay festival [which runs adjacent to BBC Scotland for the duration].”

Pacific heights

The BBC’s digital operation will be run from Quay House in Salford, utilising the existing Red Button and Web streaming galleries. Network post-production and sports news will also be based in Quay House, with all events being ingested, logged and edited there, and content replayed directly to the Pacific Quay galleries.

“[Dedicated] radio and news control rooms will also be established at Pacific Quay,” says Bramley.  “TV sport features will be edited in six suites, with the completed content pushed to the Salford server for replay back to the Pacific Quay galleries.”

Bramley continues:“The BBC will record its principal sports content in Pacific Quay in DNXHD120, matching the existing systems in BBC Scotland. News ingest will be in DVCPro HD, matching the existing BBC News systems around the country. The Salford systems will continue to ingest with their ProRes120 codec. The systems for BBC Sport in Scotland and Salford will be linked to allow search and file transfer across the sites and similarly within the temporary systems installed in Pacific Quay for BBC News operations.”

Bramley said 3D will not feature in either the BBC or the Host Broadcaster operations, but there was to be a limited 4K collaborative trial with the Games Organising Committee and Host Broadcaster, SVGTV.

Away from the Clyde, BBC Sport has an OB unit with separate post-production truck based at Hampden Park, providing BBC unilateral coverage and presentation of athletics and the closing ceremony.

“Key sports such as swimming, track cycling and gymnastics have their own presentation positions as well as interview mixed zones and multiple video and audio circuits back to Pacific Quay,” says Bramley. “Three SNG units will provide live capability from other venues, including the Opening Ceremony at Celtic Park. The intention is to provide live interviews with all home nations’ Gold Medal winners, if possible.”

The games coverage will make use a variety of asset management systems, dependent on the location and the existing systems present. “In Scotland, the temporary Sport system will ingest into a DVS Venice system that allows checking directly into the Avid Interplay system,” Bramley explains. “Meanwhile the News, Nations and Regions server system will use EVS IP director, as will the Sport principle server system in Salford.”

SVGTV will provide standard broadcast graphics for live event coverage, while BBC Sport has a graphic design and operational team based in Pacific Quay to provide BBC-specific graphics for menus, results, statistics, trails and other in-programme requirements.

“The experience from London 2012 was that investment in analysis tools at multi-sport events is harder to justify, as there is no built-in ‘dead time’, such as for a single sport event like the World Cup,” says Bramley. “More focus will be put on design of augmented reality graphics for the studio.”

Trialled in an outside broadcast studio location at Wimbledon last year and used at the World Cup this year, the AR system in the main BBC1 studio will enable graphics of athletes, facts and figures, and social media content to be displayed ‘as real’ in the studio, to enhance discussion and presenter pieces to camera.

In a final innovation, as part of BBC@TheQuay festival, BBC R&D will show elements of the Games live in Ultra High Definition at a public showcase in the Glasgow Science Centre. The UHD broadcast will be the first major live event to be produced and distributed entirely over IP networks.

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