Crouch, touch, pause, engage: ITV prepares for Rugby World Cup

The Rugby World Cup starts on Friday morning as tournament favourites and hosts New Zealand take on Tonga at Auckland’s Eden Park. The tournament probably features more battle scenes than NZ’s most recent famous production of The Lord of the Rings, and ITV is one of the five broadcasters that have made the long journey out to the Land of the Long White Cloud to operate add-ons to Sky NZ’s host coverage.

“We have three commentary teams and two roving SNGs with reporters,” explains Roger Pearce, Technical Director at ITV Sport. “We have a ‘Domestic’ Ku Band Satellite lease in NZ to allow live injects from anywhere in NZ. The two ITV Sport ENG crews can feed via the SNG or file transfer. ITV News regions and ITV Wales also have VJ reporters “in theatre” and we share material and resources to ensure widest coverage of the event via all ITV’s channels and platforms. We also have a small team at the IBC to coordinate commentary, comms and feeds to/from the UK.”

While Peter Jackson might have helped ensure that New Zealand has a thriving film industry, the broadcast facilities market is much smaller. Local staff and facilities have been used where possible, but core staff and kit have flown out from the UK. ITV’s IBC facilities have been provided by Gearhouse and include a MCR and VTR/EVS area. Fibre and satellite facilities are provided by Globecast, which includes SNG facilities (from Globecast Australia – not all the way from Europe, Pearce points out). The fibre connection is backed up by a diversely routed path and C-band Satellite for transmissions.

“Technical quality is most important to us and always involves a lot of work with suppliers and the ITV Technology group to ensure the viewer experience is first rate,” says Pearce. “We look to minimise concatination artefacts throughout the very long contribution paths and choose bitrates and compression codecs carefully. For example, on the fibre paths we have a finite bandwidth available so we have to choose the bitrate of each feed to get the the appropriate quality and latency. A monitoring feed can be assigned a much lower bandwidth than a match contribution feed. The other main factor in specifying the feeds is the latency which must be kept to a minimum for any live two way operations. We are using MPEG-4 widely for the Rugby World Cup using fibre and satellite, all managed by Globecast.”

The first pool phase of the tournament will be presented from The London Studios back in the UK using world feeds and commentary from the venue. From the Quarter Finals onwards presentation moves to a pitchside studio in Eden Park, with OB facilities being provided by OSB. All editing is also being undertaken back in the UK.

”The main problems are encountered at the planning stages, which for major tournaments are normally three or four years,” says Pearce. “The normal UK survey and planning process is just not financially possible, so when you do go out you have to cover a huge area and make decisions quickly to get the best choice from often very limited resources. For example there are not many hotels in venues like Dunedin, even fewer SNGs and OBs.

“It’s a bit like an iceberg where the bit below the water is the pre-planning and above the water you have the 20% of the adrenaline rush of the actual tournament,” he concludes.

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