Football Production Summit: Close up look at 2018 World Cup Russia

FIFA’s largest event is approaching rapidly – the 2018 World Cup Russia – and at SVG Europe’s Football Production Summit in Paris last week, attendees got an exclusive look at how FIFA and HBS are approaching the logistical challenges of this football bonanza.

Paul Calder, senior manager of TV operations at FIFA, and Dan Miodownik, deputy CEO and chief content officer at HBS, spoke at length about how this event compares to previous World Cups, and how they are set to approach it.

SVG’s Paul Gallo opens the Paris event at Stade De France

Calder commented that the World Cup is FIFA’s largest event and is where the majority of its commercial revenues come from. As such, the organisation charges a premium for those media rights sales; there are over 260 media rights licensees and broadcast rights placed for over 200 countries and territories. The event attracts a huge global audience, with the average reach per match over 200 million viewers (watching for 20 minutes-plus). The reach for the Final is over one billion viewers (watching for 20 minutes-plus).

However, getting that audience what they want comes at a price. There are 64 matches held over 25 match days in a 32 day period. Seven new stadia have been built in Russia for this event, and a further four have been remodelled or are pre-existing. There are also 32 team base camps, and more than 30 venue training sites.

On the stadia, there is an average distance from the host cities to the main HQ of 886km. This compares to an average of 1432km in Brazil and 471km in South Africa. The hub city is Moscow, with two stadiums – Luzhniki and Spartak plus the IBC with a capacity of 5,000. While Luzhniki has been remodelled to a new capacity of 72,385, Spartak only has a capacity of 41,262. Calder said: “This really is a challenge for us, to be in a 40,000-seater stadium,” as he noted the logistical issues for broadcasting in limited space, and even catering.  Other stadiums being used are: Ekaterinburg; Kaliningrad; Kazan; Nizhny Novgorod; Rostov-on-Don; St Petersburg; Sochi; Samara; Saransk; and Volgograd.

“A lot of heavy lifting has been done by the local organising committee, which is providing 1,500 employees,” said Calder. There is also a TV department with over 30 staff for host broadcast and broadcaster relations, a dedicated power department, and 17,000 volunteers.

Miodownik then went on to speak about the production plan for the broadcast of the World Cup, which of course includes UHD HDR. He said: “In terms of challenges in what we would be doing in UHD HDR, if we could make those decisions on that now, they would be different; but we had to make those decisions two years ago and predict the move from 1080i to UHD HDR. We had no production standard for HDR at that time.”

He continued: “2018 will be the first time ever that an event of this scale is covered as a single production (ie, one set of cameras, one editorial cut). It will be the first time ever that multiple formats will be delivered at the same time, out of a single production.

“So, the entire content of [the World Cup] 2018 will be covered in 1080p / 50, and that includes live production at venues, the production at the IBC (EBIF, Highlights), but also the entire ENG based coverage (FIFA team crews, story crews), and therefore ultimately the entire content available on the FIFA MAX server. No need to say, all content is available in 1080i for distribution. In addition, a dedicated ESF will be made available, produced and transported in 4x 1080p / 2 SI / Slog 3.”

All cameras (Sony studio cameras, but also special cams, RF steadycam, Spidercam) will operate in 1080p / 50, all equipped with CMOS sensor technology, said Miodownik. “That alone guarantees an even better picture quality,” he added.

He also said HBS operates in SDR and REC 709 colour space, so that is no change to current standard HD production. Also, HBS’ shading reference is SDR, so there is no need to be concerned on that front.

In detail within the UHD HDR production there is: a dedicated Camera 1, with a slightly wider framing than the regular HD Camera 1, as such taking into account the benefits of the larger screen size for UHD TV sets; an additional seven cameras are simultaneously processed in UHD HDR; all other single speed cameras operate in 1080p, but still BT 2020 colour space and HDR, so these cameras will have an up-conversion of the spatial resolution to UHD; all remaining cameras (including triple speed, RF, and also all replays) are to be captured in 1080p, but with REC 709 color space and SDR; these cameras will then be up-scaled to UHD, but also colour space (REC 709 to BT 2020) and dynamic range (SDR to HDR Slog 3)  will be converted, automatically through a high quality converter.

“It sounds complicated – and trust me it is – but not only did we go through quite some testing programme, we have successfully implemented this workflow already for the four matches in St Petersburg in June, which was a full success from both a technical and also editorial side.”

Miodownik added: “We have got around 15 UHD HDR customers, which is probably double what we were expecting, and they are actually broadcasting it, themselves or through partners, not testing. This is a significantly higher number than we would have thought one year ago, and many more than we would have said two years ago.”

Continuing, he noted that there are to be less editorial staff set to be on site than in previous years as remote production steps up a gear: “We are seeing less editorial staff at the IBCs as broadcasters are doing a lot more work from home. We’re not seeing the demise of the IBC – people want to be on-site – but it definitely is the trend.”

So it seems everyone is set; all we need to do now is wait for kick off.

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