France Télévisions prepares production set-up for Six Nations kick off in Paris

As France gears up to host the first game of the RBS 6 Nations rugby tournament versus Italy at le Stade de France in Saint-Denis on Saturday February 6, France Télévisions is getting ready to install a camera set-up designed to get those rugged close ups of the game on the ground. «Since last year, we’ve been using a Ref Cam to get as close to the action as possible, and the scrums in particular,» said Frédéric Gaillard, production manager of the event for France Télévisions.

Frédéric Gaillard, production manager of the event for France Télévisions

Frédéric Gaillard, production manager of the event for France Télévisions

The camera, «a lightweight GoPro type», is fixed on the referee’s chest and helps viewers feel as if they are on the ground with the players. Immersion is a way to get wider audiences to watch the tournament and has become a key requirement for the broadcasters involved. In addition to the Ref Cam, France Télévisions will also install a 3D camera, but will cautiously place it 30 metres from the ground. «We had a problem several years ago. 3D cameras are very fragile and the one we installed was damaged during a free kick. After that, we stopped using the technology and only reverted to it three years ago but decided to be very careful with the kit,» he explained.

The cabled aerial camera is controlled remotely, in drone-like fashion, and can get shots of the whole ground. «It can also shoot at ground level, but we will only capture those type of shots during game stoppage time,» he added.

GPS and heart rate monitoring systems are also used and are fixed behind the players’ necks, initially to help team managers decide when and which players to replace. «We have been using these systems for a number of years. They help us create technical fact sheets, which provide a lot of information for our viewers, statistics such as the number of passes and tackles per player,» he said.

In addition to the first game between France and Italy which kicks off the tournament on February 6, France Télévisions is the host broadcaster of the Ireland-France game on February 13 and against England on March 16, meaning it produces the coverage of these games for the international signal. The games are watched in the six countries involved but also in most of the rugby playing nations, from South Africa to Argentina and New Zealand. «We install an average of 25 cameras on each game, and up to 27 on the France-England game. All the cameras are HD, of course,» Gaillard said.

Each visiting broadcaster installs its own cameras, the BBC, for instance sets up around eight to get its own angles and shots on the France-England game, in addition to France Télévisions’ set-up. It also has its own OB truck and production crew. «We work hand in hand with the BBC and have got to know their production people very well,» Gaillard said.

He started off as a rugby international before moving to producing the event more than 20 years ago. «I am very lucky to be working as a producer on the sport I love. Rugby is such a great lab to experiment with new technology and I particularly enjoy taking part in pushing the technology boundaries and making the sport itself evolve,» he enthused.

He has witnessed a number of changes over the years, not least the introduction of super loupe cameras in 2000, which help referees check whether a try has been scored. «We install four super loupes, which are fixed on tripods near the goals and the touch line on each side of the ground. They are really close to the players at around 3,5 metres from the game, so they have be kitted out with extra strong protection gear,» Gaillard said.

Most of the other cameras are portable, including a Steadicam and a 9 metre camera crane to capture the best images of the goal kicks. «Our cameramen are used to running along the side of the ground to follow the action,» Gaillard said.

New French coach says No to dressing room cams

One of the changes this year is that there will be no paluche cameras inside the changing rooms, because the new French manager Guy Novès is not keen for the technology to be used. During the Rugby World Cup last year, the previous manager Philippe Saint-André was seen shouting at his team players during the interval, an attitude that was much criticised by the French media – a situation the new manager is understandably keen to avoid.

4K cameras are not on the cards either, for both financial and technical reasons. «We conducted a trial last year, but it was not conclusive because most of the 4K images had to be converted to HD for production and transmission. We broadcast in 9Mhz MEPG-4, and you would require 18 MHz MPEG-4 for 4K, which means a whole satellite would have to be booked for the tournament and that is unrealistic at this stage. It costs too much for the Six Nations tournament ; the size of the TV audiences is not big enough to justify it,» he said.

France Télévisions will have two OB trucks on site, the main one used to send the international signal and also edit and package the event and another one for the super loupe installation, which requires its own set-up. «We have nine slow-mos planned during the game and the main truck can only handle four so we need an extra truck, that we call «loupe truck,» he said.

In addition to the BBC, RTE also has its own truck on site for the France-Ireland game. France Télévisions’ budget devoted to the tournament has increased over the years, as the number of games covered by the production team has increased from four to five. «In addition to the three games on French soil, we also cover the France/ Wales game in Cardiff and the France/ Scotland game in Edinburgh. We have our own OB truck at both events and we set up nine of our own cameras to personalise the international signal for our viewers back in France,» he explained.

One of the features of the French coverage is an audio description set-up which enables blind or partially blind people to follow the game. «Audio description is a bit like radio broadcasting. Two commentators are required ; the first one, a typical sports commentator, who provides entertainement value and another who gives a more specific description what is going on on the ground. We see it as one of our missions as a public broadcaster to help the widest audience possible gain access to the games,» he concluded.

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