Live From Lee Valley Velopark: an NEP family affair for 2016 World Track Cycling
For the riders, the five-day UCI 2016 Track Cycling World Championships at Lee Valley Velopark in London was a final chance to qualify and make a medal-chasing statement ahead of the Rio Olympics. For the on-site broadcast production team, this heightened profile brought increased pressure to deliver accurate and innovative coverage across the many different track cycling disciplines on the schedule including Individual Pursuit, Team Sprint, Madison, Keirin and Time Trials.
Covering track cycling is a specialist affair. Unlike Grand Tour road races — where the director and production team can take a breather every so often thanks to those lingering helicopter-mounted beauty shots — championship track races come thick and fast in a variety of short, fast and intense formats.
Host Broadcast production company for the World Championships was Vsquared TV. Managing Director Carolyn Viccari told SVG Europe during our day-two visit, “We’ve been working on track cycling for a long time. I think we did our first World Championships in 1996, in Manchester. We have worked here before, both at the London Olympic test event and at the World Cup in 2014.
“But a World Championships is always a complete step up from anything else as it’s so much bigger. We’re commissioned by British Cycling for the Host Broadcast coverage. Then we work closely with the UCI to provide rate card facilities for their international clients but also if anybody like NHK wants to organise an OB they can come to us and we’ll deal with that as part of the overall broadcast deal,” said Viccari.
“For this event, in terms of technical facilities, we’re looking after the Host, Japan, BBC and France Televisions – actually that’s not quite true as France TV went direct to OBS as they have an ongoing relationship with them. But we’ve still done quite a lot for France TV, things like commentary position and stand-up position. We manage international rate card requests as well, for Mixed Zone positions in Track Centre – for people like Sky, TV Globo, NOS and BeIN Sports. We don’t get involved in BBC’s production, they do that themselves.
“For the first time we have a Hi Mo camera on a radio link at trackside,” said Viccari. “What’s really nice is he can get some fantastic shots as he’s just wandering around looking for really good shots, not restricted by a cable. He can really get in close. It’s the first time we’ve done that.
“So far everything has been fine,” she said. “The signal is leaving here on fibre: I would have been much more concerned if it was being uplinked out as it was as windy as hell yesterday afternoon! All the clients were happy, and it was a good transmission yesterday.
“Swiss Timing/Tissot does all of the timing and graphics. We don’t actually have a graphics operation here per se as we’re doing the Host; we don’t need lower thirds. It’s up to broadcasters to do their own thing in that regard,” said Viccari.
Four companies from the NEP Worldwide Network
“It’s a fantastic event,” said Alan Burns, Managing Director of OBS TV and Observe Outside Broadcasting. “To do Host with Vsquared, and then provide all the other facilities for the visiting broadcasters, is excellent. We’re also working with the different elements of the NEP Worldwide Network. There are four companies here from NEP: Dutchview [NEP Netherlands], Observe, OBS and Visions.
“Observe HD1 (our first HD truck) is doing the Host. OBS TV 1 is doing the BBC’s coverage. DV9 from
Dutchview is doing France Televisions, who have the French rights – that’s their newest truck. And then there’s a smaller OBS TV combined uplink three-camera production truck for Japan. They’re live as well this week. OBS TV is the lead for the NEP team. The reason Dutchview [NEP Netherlands] are here is because we lost a truck in the Bracknell fire – and so we have to hire in from time to time until the replacement comes on line.”
Steve Docherty: “If you come to it blind, you are blind”
Host Broadcast Director Steve Docherty kindly gave SVG Europe a few minutes of his time in Observe HD1 in between live transmissions. “Track cycling is specialist,” he said, “because there are so many different disciplines. When you see it for the first time, you wonder what is going on.
“In traditional athletics events, first across the line is the winner. Here, the first across the line isn’t necessarily the winner: on some occasions, the one at the back is the winner.
“On this track there are three start lines and three finishing lines, so every race takes on some different perspectives. It’s like doing football plus rugby plus cricket plus volleyball – as the night goes on, each one changes. You can have a semi-standard camera set up, but the handhelds provide the flexibility to fill in with the different start lines and finishing lines.
“As well as me knowing it,” said Docherty, “the camera ops need to know it as well; if I stick somebody on there and tell them it’s a points race I expect them to know where the points are collected, who’s at the back and who’s at the front. You put someone new on and they think ‘oh it’s just a race’. And then suddenly all hell breaks loose.
“The pursuit races are the trickiest ones because you’re dealing with split screens, and the speed of the racing; ten seconds a lap, and within that ten seconds there are probably ten cuts. There’s a fair pace to it – as well as them going fast we’re going pretty fast as well,” he said.
“For EVS and VT the same thing applies; they need to have knowledge of the sport as well. If you come to it blind, you are blind. I have a regular crew of guys; I’d hate to start off again with new people.”
Docherty then talked us through the camera set-up for the five-day event. “There are typically 14 cameras, nine of which are manned. One and two are high finishing lines; three and four are head-on on the back straight; five and six are handheld; then we’re moving into specialist with two super slo mos seven and eight; radio linked hi mo on nine; a locked-off beauty shot ten; then two very specialist on-board cameras. Last year was the first time these were used: this is the first time in the UK. Thirteen is on the Derny motorbike for the Keirin race, an RF camera. And fourteen is a UCI interview camera. Then there’s a couple of cameras locked-off to provide the split screen. And finally a photo finish camera – so actually 17 in total, of which 14 are in a lot of use.
“Today we’re trying for the first time to put some reality graphics on the track,” Docherty continued, “some distance markers and other cherries on the cake, to bring it into the new century. It’s a test, not officially being used, working with ChyronHego.”
Alan Burns added, “Camera nine is a radio link hi motion coming back in, which works really well as we’re able to rack control it. That comes into the EVS guys and they replay it when Steve calls it in.
“This really is specialist,” said Burns. “You have to concentrate on the Host. If you were doing Pres on top of this it would just be too much. The speed of the laps, and the number of cuts per lap, it really is concentrated. It’s not like a football match or rugby match, when you can lean back on Camera One for a while.
Steve Docherty: “No. When the race is happening you just don’t want to be disturbed. If you lose the thread of where people are on the track or who is leading, you’re gone. It could be anyone – just a bunch of colours and bikes on the track. And they start lapping each other.
“The cat and mouse races have only two people on the track so it’s relatively easy. It’s the bigger ones where they overtake, they re-join the race, there’s multiple groups – it becomes tricky,” said Docherty.
Alan Burns: “Regarding audio we’ve got a lot of GPIs. As Steve cuts the cameras up it’s auto-triggering some auto fades on the faders, because again you just humanly cannot track. The two of them are not linked, they don’t have a cable between them. So you have to do selects when you’re taking in those elements and those effects at that moment in time. It’s different. If you were doing a Formula One race it’s quite a big track and it’s easy to do. But the cuts are so fast here,” he said.
Lee Valley Velodrome: Challenges of the venue
The Technical Project Manager for the event – linking the production team in the Velodrome with the OB team in the Compound – was Mike McGaw from NEP Visions. McGaw showed SVG Europe around the Velodrome. “I’ve done an event here in the past. I know the challenges of the venue, and that has really helped in planning. This one is particularly important as it’s the last event before the Olympics. So it’s key for a lot of the riders.
“From a TV point of view it has many challenges. The lighting, once it gets going, means you’ve an awful lot to battle with. As you can see here, the BBC pres platform has to battle with the lighting, which comes right down on top of us [due to the dipping curved roof of the velodrome]
“The in-house AV sports presentation is a big part of the World Championships. They want to enhance the experience for the crowd, and try to involve them as much as we can. We provide a couple of camera feeds to them, as they provide coverage onto the big screen, and a separate radio camera for them. We prefer it that way: while the Velodrome presentation is separate to us, it means we can manage all the frequencies and everything. Both of us are better off from that point of view.
“In terms of RF cameras we’ve got the two handhelds for the Host; one for Speed Channel Japan; one for the sports pres people (with an ENG camera); and then we’ve got the radio camera we use for the Derny bike, that little pace-setter motorbike with the two-stroke engine for certain races. We put a camera on the rider there,” said McGaw.
“We used to put it on the bike, but it suffered greatly from vibration. We’re now using Ref Cam technology from rugby, and actually putting it on backwards so it faces behind the Derny rider so you can see the [cycle] riders in shot. It’s the first time we’ve done that. We tried various other methods … but the Ref Cam the wrong way round [seems to be best].
“Broadcast RF has developed its own [VeloVue] system, in association with the UCI. Again it works well for us as they’re providing our radio cameras so we have a single supplier for RF and the frequencies can be managed. It’s the first time we’ve worked with the VeloVue system. It seems very simple from my point of view, and works well. I’m sure for those guys it’s not! I know it’s a developing technology.
“Thanks to the collaboration [among NEP companies] we’ve been able to add value along the way, just little things like networking all the EVSs together so that clips can be moved around more easily,” said McGaw. “And we can be more efficient in the cable infrastructure, sharing of resources – even though each production is very much stand-alone. There are obvious advantages in having essentially four productions on site at the same time.”
VeloVue UK debut and more from Broadcast RF
Mark Houghton, Broadcast RF Technical Director, explained in more detail the RF operation at Lee Valley – including a UK first-use for its new bike-mounted camera technology. “We developed a system called VeloVue, which we used for the first time in Paris last year on the back of a cyclist, live. This year we’ve got it again, slightly improved with remote telemetry and various other features. We’re rigging it on athletes for various different disciplines,” said Houghton.
“The main challenge is dealing with the athletes. Some of them want to wear it, some of them are cautious – and it’s being run this year on a voluntary basis. Obviously they’re here to win gold, they’ve been training all their life to get here – and then we come along and want to stick a camera on their bike! But generally they’re keen to promote their sport. The federation [UCI] are very involved, they’re pushing it. But the athletes have the final say.
“And we use dummy systems, where required, to have everyone rigged for weight purposes. It weighs about 200 grams. And all the mounts are specially designed to fit the different profiles of the saddles. It’s for non-timed events, anything that doesn’t have a clock on it, like the Keirin.
“We’ve got two handhelds here,” said Houghton, “with HDC1500 camera heads. There’s an F5 working in slo mo high speed mode. There’s another camera specifically for the Derny bike for the Keirin race. And one for NHK, and one more for sports presentation – so we’ve quite a lot of kit here. A busy event, RF-wise. We’ve got two people here looking after the handhelds, and then we’ve got two dedicated guys for the VeloVue and then a couple of people like myself and [Sales Director] Chris Brandrick floating around!” said Houghton.
Live to Japan every day…with no talkback
Adam Scarff, from Dublin’s Observe Outside Broadcast team, was assigned by OBS TV to look after the Japanese production team at the event. “We are down the back of the compound … but we’re actually here so we can see the satellite clearly. It’s not an indication of status!
“This is a combined uplink and small production vehicle,” said Scarff. “Speed Channel in Japan has come through NHK to us. They are a cable channel.
“They have two cameras, a BRF radio camera and a normal fixed camera on one of the turns; a commentary team; and a reporter who floats around in the Mixed Zone. We’ve an EVS taking footage from the Host. We’re all on the same EVS network – as is everyone in the compound.
“And they’ve brought their own cap gen to put on Japanese graphics. They’re taking clean and dirty
from the Host; for the highlight show they use the Host dirty for scores and timings, and then put Japanese graphics on top, generated here,” he said. “Obviously they’re most interested in Japanese riders, so they do highlights of the morning sessions and then edit those into the evening session, which is live on air for about three and a half hours. We go on air about three AM Japanese time.
“For signal routing we go via the BBC and then fibre across, so we get to Japan in two and a half seconds – which is incredible when you think about it. That works very well,” said Scarff.
“The really interesting thing is they don’t have talkback to Japan. They go on air at six o clock and they come off air at half nine … and that’s it, there’s no talkback. They know exactly what time they have to be on at and they go, and they roll the two and a half seconds earlier. On air every day, for five days. I would be a bit nervous … but it’s working really well. Fair play to them!”