Gearhouse Broadcast on World Cup innovations and challenges

With World Cup fever well and truly upon us, it is easy to forget the planning that has gone into making broadcast facilities work so smoothly. Gearhouse Broadcast is one of the companies that has worked closely with its clients for over a year to make dreams into realities, working to make sure everything is ready for this geographically diverse event. One of those realities has been negotiating the normally simple task of getting kit from the border to its end location. Here we talk to Ed Tischler, managing director at Gearhouse Broadcast UK, about the challenges and innovations it has been dealing with for this event.

Gearhouse’s Ed Tischler

How have you prepared for the World Cup?

We’ve got five separate projects running for the World Cup this time. These include full studio builds in Moscow’s Red Square, providing production control rooms and edit suites inside the IBC and installing hundreds of kilometres of SMPTE fibre cabling within the stadiums.

Because of the scale and prestige of the event, the logistical challenges thrown up, and the creative ambition of some of the projects, the planning has had to be meticulous. We’ve been involved with some jobs for over a year already, and have worked closely with our clients to make sure that there are no surprises once on site.

What clients are you working with in Russia, and how are you working with each of them?

For ITV, it’s a similar brief to what we did for them four years ago in Brazil. This includes providing them with all the facilities needed for production offices, a master control room and a transmission gallery to ensure they can make the most of their allocated space within the IBC. We’ve also built their studio in Red Square and provided and full talkback capability between the two sites. We’re now on-site providing support for the duration of the competition.

Similar to the ITV studio, TV Globo’s studio in Red Square has also been a long time in planning to ensure that the aesthetic is right. The set includes several special LCD screens with a 1.2mm pitch that deliver a very fine resolution. We’ve worked very closely with TV Globo’s creative team, as well as Avid to develop a virtual reality (VR) solution to present the analysis in a visually appealing way to viewers back in Brazil. There’s also a remote production aspect to this project, with TV Globo cutting together its World Cup programming remotely from its production base in Rio de Janeiro.

Argentinian Broadcaster Torneos y Competancias (TyC) is another regular client of ours that we’re working with again at a World Cup. This time we’re providing them with facilities inside the IBC including two production control rooms and two Avid edit suites.

We’ve also built a three-camera studio on a Moscow rooftop for Aldea TV and installed 850 lengths of SMPTE camera fibres (around 230km in total) at the 12 venues for HBS.

You have created an augmented reality (AR) and VR studio environment at the World Cup. What are the challenges there, and how is it being utilised during the event?

We’re working on an interesting project for TV Globo, and its studio in Red Square will feature some fairly complex VR elements. This has been a real team effort, with manufacturers like Avid going out of their way to help our bid, and we’ve assumed the role of technical partner, rather than box or solution seller to the client on this. Stype is providing all of the lens and position data from the set, which along with the output of the cameras gets fed into the Avid Maestro Graphics solution which creates the VR/AR environment onto the specialist high resolution LED screens that have a 1.2mm pitch.

Making VR look convincing can be challenging. If done well, it’s great and can really enhance a production, but if done badly, it can come across as dated. Designers will always look to push the boundaries, and it’s our job to find a solution that brings their vision to life in the best possible way to enhance the overall viewing experience.

What future do you see for AR and VR going forward in sporting events, based on your work to date with these technologies?

With such interest for stats and in-depth analysis on sports, use of AR and VR to present them visually will continue to grow. It’s a great creative tool to get complex analysis across to mainstream audiences in an aesthetically-pleasing and creative way. The biggest challenge, however, is making AR and VR look convincing. This is why it’s important to bring in the right people to help bring a creative vision to life within a VR space.

What are the biggest challenges for Gearhouse while working with clients at the World Cup? How are you overcoming these issues?

Logistics is an issue with this World Cup. There’s a lot of sensitivity about the security of equipment from the border into Moscow, so we hired an escort to ensure it arrived in time. We started shipping a lot earlier, factoring in ten days for what would normally take three days in case anything got held up and there’s been a lot of work getting carnets produced to make sure stuff gets in and out without delay.

Normally this part of a project gets taken for granted, but we’ve had to provide all sorts of new insurance terms and explain what we would do if equipment didn’t turn up and increase levels of spares and diversify the shipments. There was real diversity in the logistics plan that you wouldn’t normally have.

In this business, you live and die by logistics, not just in terms of getting kit out in time for your clients, but you also need to sweat your assets as much as you can, which means getting them onto the next project with as little transit time as possible. Our logistics team is well versed in getting large shipments through customs. They know who to call when they need someone local that can get things moving, which is essential when you’re sending kit all over the place.

We then have operations personnel on the ground who ensure that the kit is correctly distributed once it arrives and that it comes in and out on the right carnets to cut potential delays. We’ve got all sorts of support engineers on site so there’s no downtime, all the redundancy is kept intact. Nothing is left to chance at an event like this, you’ve got to be on top of your game.

Gearhouse has a lot of scale in its range of services; I hear you’re not only covering the World Cup with clients, but also working simultaneously on the tennis, plus preparing for the US Open and Asian Games. How do you manage so many huge, globally diverse events at the same time?

Success is based on having the right people, access to a large freelance database of skilled engineers, a deep resource of kit that’s reliable and well maintained and being prepared for any eventuality. In this business, if you get it wrong, word gets out very quickly and you won’t get asked back.

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