“I had a little tear in my eye when the cricket started” – How CTV prepared for the return of live Test matches
CTV Outside Broadcasts is providing the COVID-safe OB facilities for Sky Sports during the Test series between England and West Indies, both at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton and Old Trafford in Manchester.
Speaking to SVG Europe mid-way through Day 2 of the first Test (Thursday, 9 July), CTV commercial manager Angela Gibbons described the experience of the last few months, and helping to get cricket back on the air, as a ”rollercoaster ride”, going rapidly from thinking there might not be any cricket played this summer to finally going live on Wednesday.
“We’ve had quite a COVID journey with this,” she says. “But Sky Cricket presented us with a fantastic opportunity. With so many events being cancelled, at one point, we were quite convinced that an international cricket season wouldn’t happen at all.”
“We had to work out how we would fit all the required people inside OB11, while social distancing. Two-metre social distancing is at the core of everything that Sky is doing right now and is central to the overall safety principals.”
One of the big challenges for CTV was how to get all the members of the production team and the engineers inside OB11, the preferred truck for Sky Sports’ cricket coverage, but ensure people could work within the health and safety parameters.
“OB11 is a triple expander,” says Gibbons. “It’s a very large vehicle which was specifically designed for the International cricket specification. It’s just about as big as you can get in the UK and across Europe. But we still had to work out how we would then fit all the required people inside, while social distancing. Two-metre social distancing is at the core of everything that Sky is doing right now and is central to the overall safety principals.
“So, for the Test match coverage we are now using a VT truck alongside OB 11 and we have a portacabin too. This gives everybody the social distancing space that is required.
“There were lots of ideas and Sky were fantastic at looking at those ideas and working together with us to establish a really redundant plan that has allowed them to utilise their most loved cricket truck for the majority of matches.”
A lot of work also went into deciding who needed to be on-site and what functions could be undertaken remotely. The statisticians, for example, are working remotely from home using comms links provided by CTV.
“The important thing has not been taking anything for granted or thinking ‘oh that’s always how it happens so it has to happen that way now,” continues Gibbons. “So, we’ve really looked closely at what remote working we can do, how we rig and how we deploy people.”
The rig time has increased with the need to clean down working areas. And the usual prep time has tripled.
“Normally for the cricket, we spend a dedicated week getting the trucks ready and doing the technical preparation. Because of COVID, and how we’ve had to social distance at our base operation, that became nearly three weeks. We tried to ensure that departments weren’t crossing each other too much and we tried to keep our numbers down and use the time to make things more efficient and safer.
“We actually had an ECB testing centre at CTV last week for the first tranche of guys. Some of the freelancers came down too,” she reveals.
“There are perspex screens but it looks almost like a normal OB. If you’ve never seen an OB before you’d just think that’s how people worked in there all the time.”
Inside the trucks, perspex screens have been added, there are ionisers in each area and the units are given an overnight ozone generator deep cleanse. Masks are not essential, however, because the crew are kept in their bio-secure bubbles, staying at the stadium in one of the two hotels that are on site. On other OBs, CTV crew will likely need to wear masks.
Another addition to the inside of OB11 is an Aerial Camera Systems mini-cam which is providing the director with a shot of the gallery. During a rain delay on the first day’s play, TV viewers were given a rare glimpse of a cricket production from ‘behind the camera’.
“You could see everyone was really adhering to the social distancing rules,” says Gibbons proudly. “There are perspex screens but it looks almost like a normal OB. If you’ve never seen an OB before you’d just think that’s how people worked in there all the time.”
There is no significant change to camera positions for match coverage. The overall Test match spec has been maintained, although there are no touchscreens for presentation and analysis.
Despite so many unknowns and variables, the team have been able to pull everything together quickly and efficiently.
“We got the initial schedule late May,” says Gibbons. “So, we’ve effectively turned around an international cricket season in five to six weeks. It would have been intensive and exhausting in normal circumstances but the five weeks have flown by. Sky have been very supportive. It has been a very solid partnership. Nobody felt like they were walking back into an environment that wasn’t as good as we could possibly make it.”
Is it a strange experience for the crew? New, yes, Strange, no.
“Our guys who do the cricket are just really pleased to be back. They’ve really missed it. We have had months and months of uncertainty as a nation and as a business. They went back in on that first day and I think there’s a quite a big sense of relief. That camaraderie that OBs have. It is still there. It’s just changed.”
Gibbons herself is pretty happy too. “I think everyone is just pleased to be back. I even had a little tear in my eye when the cricket started.”
England vs West Indies continues today (Friday 10 July) live on Sky Sports.