Live from Rugby World Cup: ITV, IMG and contractors deliver Host Broadcast operation
Rugby Union is the quintessential team sport, requiring the ball-presentation grunt work of the forward pack up front and the running, kicking and defensive skills of the backs out wide to work in harmony at all times during the match. When a top rugby team works together in unison in attack and defence, with good coaching and a clear game plan, then they can become something more than the sum of their parts and achieve greatness on the field of play.
ITV is the Host Broadcaster for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The International Broadcast Centre for the tournament is provided by IMG at its Stockley Park facility in West London – which also houses translation booths for press conferences, rights holder bookings office, citing commissioner suites, French-language graphics through Alston Elliott and Production Quality Control working with ITV Sport. At the 13 England 2015 match venues, IMG is providing unilateral services such as commentary positions and studios.
ITV and IMG further rely on the specialised expertise of a range of contractors to deliver each Match Day world feed (with up to four matches per day during Pool stages) and unilateral services for the over 200 rights holding organisations across the globe. The operation has taken years of planning overcoming many challenges – not least the fact that nine of the 13 venues are football rather than rugby grounds (the exceptions being Twickenham, Millennium Stadium Cardiff, Kingsholm Gloucester and Sandy Park Exeter).
By far the biggest game of the tournament so far was England v Wales at Twickenham on Saturday September 26. SVG Europe was on-site for a tour around the compound and stadium in the company of Max Heddy, IMG, Head of Broadcast Operations Rugby World Cup; Neil Papworth, ITV Sport, Venue Technical Operations Manager; Roger Pearce, ITV Sport, Technical Director; and David Shield, IMG Media, SVP Global Head of Engineering & Technology.
The most significant aspect for ITV Sport, said Neil Papworth, “has been the number of subcontractors. For an event of this size, it’s just not possible to get one person to cover it all – not with their other commitments. So, from a management perspective, we’re dealing with many specialist people.
“Where, 20-30 years ago you’d have gone to the BBC or ITV and everything would have come from one person, now you have specialist slo-mo cameras, radio cameras, audio, and so on. Plus we’ve got three main companies doing all the [Host Broadcast] OBs – CTV, NEP Visions and Telegenic”. [Arena provides OBs for ITV’s domestic UK coverage].
“Telegenic has a background at Twickenham so they are doing the games here, and we’re very lucky in that we’re leaving everything in place. At most of the venues it’s a re-build job on a daily basis,” said Papworth.
“It has been a three-year plan to get all the infrastructure in place to support the Host facilities: in many of these stadiums there was nothing. We put fibre in where we could; still struggled, in my opinion, to get enough in, in places. ‘Battle’ is the wrong word … but people don’t engage until they see it in front of them. So you make a plan, and you get it all agreed, and then someone says, ‘oh don’t we need five of these?’
“Every time we do a project, no matter how much cable we put in, we need more! The internal fibre has been done by a company called TTL, for most of the venues. They specialise in venue-type cabling, and it has been invaluable.”
David Shield: “We have four levels of match coverage: A-star, A, B and C. The ‘star’ gives us the Rail Cam. ‘A’ coverage involves two seeded countries [the top eight sides], and involves Rail Cam, Spider Cam, Line-out Cam, Corner Cam and Ref Cam. B means a seeded side versus a non-seeded side; and C is two non-seeded sides. A-star only takes place here at Twickenham and at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.”
Max Heddy: “The Rail Cam, a bespoke solution from Camera Corps, has really evolved. From the
first time we saw a mock-up to the first dummy version, it has continued to shrink down in size. This is great, because there was a lot of concern that it was going to impede the view of the photographers. And it also had to be back far enough to not be a safety issue, so a minimum of four meters from the dead ball line. We’ve only got Rail Cam here in Twickenham. Spider Cam is used on all 10 matches at Twickenham, and then two matches at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff – a total of 12 matches.”
Neil Papworth: “Sixteen cameras are generic and appear at every venue. That gives us our core match coverage. The rest give us colour, basically.
“We have remote pan tilt zoom cameras for the coaches boxes and the changing rooms [a first for a Rugby World Cup]. There are very strict protocols around what we can show and what we can’t show. But from my perspective, the sheer quality of the pan tilt zoom cameras is staggering these days. Some of the shots, if well lit, are beautiful. We’re incredibly happy; and having it managed by a subcontractor [Camera Corps] means we get the best of both worlds. The kit is so neat now, we don’t have lots of boxes everywhere: I would argue [the coaches and teams] just forget the cameras are there.
“What we’ve really worked on is that facilities-wise, everyone gets the same thing at every venue. So as the production team turns around, even their talkback is the same with the same alphanumeric characters. If a rights holder comes here to collect something from what we call the Signal Distribution Point, they ask for exactly the same feed and wherever they go among the venues they’ll get that feed. We’ve tried to keep a consistent approach across the entire tournament.
“Sound Credit are providing the commentary tribune, working for IMG. They are doing the TV and radio rights holders commentary and monitors, and the press conferences. Everything that’s part of the core programme comes directly to the Telegenic truck; everything else goes via the Signal Distribution Point (SDP). That means that all the rights holders get personal service and a face they know at every venue: from our side it also means the core programme concentrates on Host Broadcast. All the external things that are not part of covering the match have been pushed to one side – taken away from Host Broadcast.”
David Shield: “BSI does our Ref Cam. This is the vest the ref wears [holding it up], with a microphone and a camera. This is the first RWC where there are Ref Cams at every game. The referee mics are done by VME, who are contracted by Rugby World Cup to do all the comms for the officials. We get two radio feeds from them. BSI also does the Line-out Cam, a pan tilt zoom camera that sits on top of a very large pole, so it ends up about ten foot high. The operator stands behind the hooker as he throws into the line-out, and you get a view down the line.”
Neil Papworth: “The Corner Cams use the same technology as the Ref Cams. It’s all RF, so no cabling to worry about. That’s how we got past concerns about them being on the pitch. And they have given us some quite remarkable pictures – most notably, in the England v Fiji game for Fiji’s disallowed try. The conclusive angle [that the player had actually dropped the ball over the line] came from the Corner Cam.
“We have nine racks engineers here for an A-star game. Every camera is manually racked. On our outputs we specified some ident machines. We were really concerned that — because we have dirty main, dirty main spare, dirty backup, dirty backup spare, tertiary, tertiary spare, and clean and clean spare — with all those feeds going out, it was a recipe for disaster if we didn’t identify it properly.
“Each of these also carries 20 audio channels, so we had bespoke idents made for everything and it tells you where you are, what match you’re doing and what feed it is. When we’ve got three matches happening in a day, the IBC is going to get swamped with a multitude of signals. We wanted to be absolutely certain of what we were sending at all times. So we have a very prescriptive line-up procedure that everybody goes through, to make sure we’ve got the right thing on the right line. It’s called Equinox, manufactured by Eclipse.
“We have an agreed plan for camera matrix, so the cameras all look the same. We have agreed nomenclature for all the lines, so everybody calls lines the same thing. And talkback – it’s all exactly the same here as it would be in Sandy Park or Kingsholm and the same people are allowed to talk on it. We have production teams moving from game to game to game, and they can step into a CTV van or a Visions van and to a large degree they’re going to get the same thing.”
From Technical Operations Centre to Signal Distribution Point
Neil Papworth: “This is the Signal Distribution Point. We have two dedicated engineers here, audio and video, to run it. This is planned by us, and agreed with IMG what facilities would be available.”
David Shield: “It’s the ‘demarc’ line for rights holders. They don’t get to touch the Telegenic van. They come here to pick up their signals. SDP is a new term for Rugby World Cup; it’s normally the TOC (Technical Operations Centre].”
Neil Papworth: “A TOC can grow like topsy, becoming an MCR in itself. We wanted to limit what was available here. A TOC is normally the tailboard, but we separated it as we didn’t want people hanging off the back of the truck. It’s quite prescriptive, and all the rights holders are aware of what’s available.
“We have eight main video feeds coming out of an A-star game, which all come here, into DAs and sophisticated monitoring. The guys can check exactly what’s coming in and then distribute it out to up to ten rights holders at each venue if necessary. And up to 16 ISO cameras – all agreed with the rights holders. Everyone knows what they can get. Originally we thought it would only be one person per game, but we found the audio side was bigger than we imagined and we now have a dedicated audio guy in here as well. We were well aware that this, to a large degree, was going to be our shop front. We wanted to make sure people felt confident when they came here.
“Alston Elliott are our graphics experts. There are two feeds from them, a main and a backup (key and a fill). You’re aware of how the tournament services network operates?”
David Shield: “The organising committee of England 2015 have put a data network around all the venues, including the IBC at Stockley Park and headquarters at Webb Ellis House across the road here in Twickenham. Its original use was Tournament Information Service, which is the data that Opta collect both here and in their main headquarters in Leeds. It means that all the statistical data, all the graphics data and all the text data is in a central repository. That means everybody gets the same thing – whether it’s press getting a pdf of match stats, or the web site, or the commentary information system.
“But as well as doing the data, it’s carrying talkback between here and the IBC; it’s carrying the TMO Hawkeye here and at the IBC; and simultaneous translations of media conferences. There are duplicate machines to this at the IBC; and as they change the English graphics here, it triggers the French and the Italian and Japanese graphics at the IBC. It’s a backup to the cap gen here. So suppose this cabin burned down, we could still do the English graphics at the IBC because we have the data feed and we could use a cap gen there to make a world feed at the IBC.”
Neil Papworth: “The network is Tournament Information Network; and then Tournament Information Service is that stats-data service. And then the Video Replay network is where Hawkeye video is available: it’s all carried on different levels of that network, all carefully partitioned off. I think it’s the core of what we’re doing, on the graphics and data side certainly.”
Inside the dedicated TMO truck with Hawkeye
For the first time at a Rugby World Cup, the Television Match Official (TMO) is isolated in a separate truck to the main production truck. Also for the first time, Hawkeye – contracted directly by Rugby World Cup — is integrated into the TMO process with all cameras and the ability to offer an instant Video Replay service with zoom facility and split screen for try-scoring decisions, where for example the viewer can now see the player touching the ball down and whether his foot was in touch, simultaneously on the same screen.
Dan Clark from Hawkeye, in the TMO truck, told us “we basically take all of the camera feeds that are pitch-facing from ITV. Here, it’s 28 cameras that are relevant for the match. All those cameras are on that screen, everything is synchronised and we do a thorough sync test before kick off with ITV’s team. We frame step and apply offset so that everything is in sync. From what we’ve seen, it’s pretty consistent. The chronology is everything: you have to make sure everything is right. If we had any doubts, we wouldn’t use a split screen [for TMO decisions].
“We can zoom in and move around within the frame [another first for Rugby World Cup]. It’s also quite good for things like citing. The Spider Cam gives a great perspective to see if there are hands where there shouldn’t be and so on. The citing commissioners based at the IBC in Stockley Park have access to exactly the same system feeds. And the medical people here as well, for possible concussions: it’s distributed to lots of different users who have different priorities. But the interface is nice and easy to change so we can tailor the look and the usage to each individual client,” said Clark.
“We have different pre-sets for each corner, which allows us to quickly build a split screen for a try in the corner if we need to. We also have a pre-set for all the wide angles, so if something happens off the ball we can immediately take Camera 1 or 2 or Spider Cam to give us the best possible chance of spotting it.
“We’ve got to work within the rules laid down,” said Clark. “We have to keep in mind that the overall thing is — don’t make any wrong decisions. The quicker we can do that, the better. But ultimately we’ve got to make sure it’s the right decision.”
Neil Papworth: “From our perspective in broadcast, I think one of the greatest powers of this thing is that all that additional citing that used to be on our backs is now taken away. Having all these additional video feeds available on a server means that all the stakeholders who want to view it can do so in their own time, in high quality, without it impacting on the Host Broadcast. The match is better for it; the coverage is better for it; and also the decisions are better for it.”
Connectivity, EVS and an IP audio innovation
Neil Papworth: “This is our main Host Broadcast uplink [from SIS Live]. Our main feed is fibre, and that is monitored in here and then straight out – a main and a spare. There’s a backup on satellite, which goes out direct from here. And then for these matches there’s a tertiary feed that goes out on microwave. So everything is backed up to the nines. We have six generators in here, all backing each other up. We’re covering every base on our disaster recovery.
“We have 15 people working in the EVS truck. These are guys who do rugby on a regular basis; they really know the game. One thing I would say is there’s 15 pairs of eyes on anything that happens in the match. There’s a co-ord who decides which of the replays go to air. One of the operators will see something and say ‘I’ve got that shot’. The co-ord then calls it through to the director and they play that. There’s a well-oiled machine for how all that happens.
“In addition our media manager records 16 angles on H.264 for citing. We have another 17 copies of individual cameras or TX that are made for the teams. So there’s a real production facility happening behind the scenes. We put out at least 17 different feeds plus another 16 different ISOs that are available within an hour of the end of the match.
“This is our sound area, the centrepiece being a Calrec Apollo console. A remarkable amount of feeds come out of here. Again, we have a generic way of doing it; our Audio Supervisor David Hill has created a microphone plan that’s used everywhere, with very few variations. So the matches should all sound the same. On the back of it, because we’re feeding radio and international sound, we’re doing everything in 5.1: there are multiple levels of sound output coming out of here.”
David Shield: “One of the innovations for Rugby World Cup has been the use of talkback to IBC on the IP network. A company called BMC – Tim Horsfield – has given us a thing called an IPX-8 and a router. Basically you can put eight analogue four-wires in, and out the back comes a Cat-5 that you then send on the network. So we have five talkback channels to IBC, all on the network, and it has provided beautiful quality and been very effective.”
Ensuring consistency across the Host Broadcast operation
Neil Papworth: “The guys from Telegenic have done a lot of the development work, because they do so much rugby. They had a real underlying knowledge of how rugby is covered. They know their stuff, and they know Twickenham. They’ve been very, very helpful with the core plan.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to do is make people aware that although they may have approached things in a certain way before, there is a particular way that Host must approach things, and it’s quite different. It’s a good 10% different, and it’s about making everyone aware that as a Host Broadcaster you have a different set of criteria to when you’re doing it for a domestic broadcast. I’m really proud that it looks like it’s all being done by the same company.”
David Shield: “When you’re doing a domestic broadcast, your producer is king of everything. Here, he’s following orders issued to him from on-high. And then there’s people like us in the way, plus 205 rights holders! There have been lots of meetings to get to a level where everyone is happy.”
Roger Pearce: “It’s not that it’s technically ground-breaking really, it’s just complex. Especially with the data side of it – you’ve got this massive build-up of data. The complexity of getting everyone around 48 games in 13 venues, that’s the hard bit.
“This is the only venue where equipment stays put. A lot of the venues are football grounds and that has been challenging – getting camera positions, getting coach box positions … they don’t understand. The first survey we did was two and a half years ago: it’s taken all that time to get it up and running. And even here in Twickenham, for a top game we have 40 cameras — which is more than they have for Six Nations.
“It has been quite hard to ensure consistency: we’ve worked hard on that, spending a lot of time doing workshops and presentations. I’ve done [Rugby World Cup] since 1991; but this is now a big event. It’s massive.”