Inside the game: ITV & ESPN combine to showcase FA Cup from Wembley Stadium

UK: With ITV operating as host broadcaster and ESPN providing a mammoth 29-camera add-on and 3D coverage as well, Saturday’s FA Cup final between Man City and Stoke City was a broadcast classic highlighting the benefits of collaborative working, even if the game didn’t quite live up to expectations.

In the end, Manchester City won a tepid final 1-0, making it a double celebration for the city as Manchester United chose the same day to clinch their nineteenth league title. But while the game was hardly the dramatic crescendo that the Cup deserved, it was well served by ITV’s adept host broadcast, and ESPN’s Brobdingnagian 12 hour broadcast, which also pulled off the bravura opening helicopter shot of anchorman Ray Stubbs standing on the roof off Wembley Stadium. It was originally going to be halfway across the arc that sweeps across high above the stadium, but health and safety intervened…

ITV deployed 32 match cameras and 11 pres. “We also used a variety of special cameras including 2x iMovix Ultra Hi framerate, 6x Super Slomo, Skycam, Helicopter, and a number of Polecams around the goal and on the goal line,” says Roger Pearce, Technical Director – Sport, ITV.

“We had four major OB teams at the game, ESPN 2D and 3D, Input Media [world feed] and ourselves,” he continues. “SIS Live did a great job with the core facilities for ESPN and ITV which was a good starting point. We know the ESPN Technical and Production teams very well and we have an excellent working relationship with them. Like most big events, the planning stage is crucial but you also need very good technical crews to put it all together on the day. It is a tribute to them and the care SIS Live took in putting the facilities together that we did not have any major issues and the production teams could concentrate on creating some superb coverage.”

For ESPN UK the Cup has been a great success and, along with Aviva Premiership rugby, helped the fledgling channel reach record figures in the early part of the year. Thus the mammoth add on, which contributed greatly to the 30 OB trucks parked in Wembley Stadium’s concrete bowels, and added eight match cameras, eight presentation cameras, and eight 3D cameras amongst others to ITV’s already impressive roster of camera channels.

ESPN facilities were provided by SIS Live again (HD) and Telegenic (3D). HD camera channels were Sony HDC-3300s, while the 3D shoot was also accomplished by Sony camcorders mounted on a mix of mirror and side-by-side 3Ality rigs (with additional upconverting via the ubiquitous Sony MPE-200 3D Box.

As Pearce says, key to the broadcast’s success was close cooperation and liaison between the two broadcasters, which stemmed back to the start of their rights sharing of the tournament and saw the two broadcasters share highlights footage, commentators for the highlights and so on. For the Final itself this manifested itself in liaison over pretty much everything, from truck parking, to sharing talkback (“The add-on director has to be able to listen in to the host to make sure he avoids things like double cuts,” says Paul Ryan, Head of Event Operations for ESPN), share of camera feeds, share of the HeleTele (which switched on an hourly basis), and even down to close cooperation between the two Steadicam operators – HD for ITV and 3D for ESPN shooting over 2D’s shoulder – panning along the teams for the pre-match presentations. “If you don’t cooperate properly the broadcast would be poorer – and it would also cost more,” says ESPN Exec Producer, Andrew Hornett.

The 3D, which was directed by Sky’s Steve Smith, inevitably caused some issues. “Everyone wants to have cameras in the same place, and with the 3D in particular there are bottlenecks,” says Ryan, though their eventual position on the lower of Wembley’s two gantries suggests most of the issues were solved. ESPN also had to recreate all their Cup graphics for the format, but on the whole the team was pleased with the performance. The question now is how to judge success. ITV’s coverage peaked at 8.27m across ITV1 and ITV1 HD, the biggest audience in three years, but 3DTV viewing figures are still considered too low to be reliable indicators, and while many people watch broadcasts in pubs, there are no reliable metrics to measure them. In the end, according to Jeroen Oerlemans, Head of Channels at ESPN EMEA, it comes down to technical feedback and fan response.

“We’ll see how today goes and take it from there,” he commented just before kick-off. “If it goes well then we may, we may, consider broadcasting the double-header opening of the Aviva Premiership rugby from Twickenham in 3D in September,” he says.

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