Live from the Commonwealth Games: S+V’s Jeff Foulser delivers report
It’s halfway through the XX Commonwealth Games and SVG Europe finds Sunset +Vine chairman Jeff Foulser in a calm and happy, but still cautious mood.
A Royal visit is expected to the central Games’ SECC Precinct and security is tight, but inside the IBC the continuing sunny weather and warm reception for the broadcast coverage is certainly keeping everyone’s spirits up.
“We’ve had an office in Glasgow for almost two years now, and everyone’s grown to love the city,” says Foulser. “It’s almost weird when everything comes together after all that planning. Suddenly it’s an operational thing and everyone’s in.”
“We had one or two really minor issues, but we’re really pleased at how the coverage has been received by the all the rightsholding broadcasters,” he continues. “I had a lovely note from the BBC yesterday saying how impressed they’d been. They don’t have to do that, and they wouldn’t if they weren’t happy.”
“But there’s still long way to go,” he adds guardedly. “We’re only getting up to halfway – still a lot of time for things to go wrong, as we always say in television. I’ll be more definite about it on Sunday night when the final credits roll on the closing ceremony. If it all goes well up until then we can say we’ve done a decent job.”
Yes, Glasgow 2014 is in full flow. So far the biggest hurdle has not been the threatened BBC news strike (called off) or the thankfully short-lived norovirus in the athletes’ village, nor even the weather (largely splendid so far). “The whole infrastructure of the games is a challenge,” Foulser reveals. “We’re used to covering big events, but normally we just turn up and there’s a bit of health and safety and a bit of policing and whatever, then it all just happens. This is a much more complex structure, with the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, the city council and the Scottish Government all putting money in. I think the biggest challenge is making sure you’re talking to the right people to get things done. But it’s been great. There are a lot of good people on the organising committee and it’s been done in a nice way. I think by and large, apart from the odd niggle here and there, it’s been a very happy ship.”
Foulser also displays a lot of satisfaction with the joint venture with Global TV. “It’s been great,” he says. “They’re a facilities business; this IBC we’re sitting in, it’s all down to them. Then we come in on the creative side, put nice pictures on the air. It’s worked really well.”
“We’ve also got a games channel; I think that it’s the first time it’s been done,” Foulser adds. “We’re editorialising what’s the best story of the day, what the best sport is for that particular time, with commentary and graphics. Quite a number of broadcasters are just sitting on that. It’s a properly structured games channel that shows the best sport available. It comes on air at 9am, and apart from bringing in highlights packages, it moves from live sport to live sport. It’s quite a nice way of doing it.”
Seamless and inventive
Above us, on the IBC screens showing live footage of the Games, a medal ceremony in Hampden Park is featuring a 360-degree pan around a piper playing a tributary air. As he finishes, the camera tracks smoothly round to capture the entry of the athletes. It’s a seamless move that’s become typical of the coverage of these Games. “That’s the way it should be,” says Foulser. “Pictures get seen, but not the camera crews. We tell our directors to be as inventive as they can, within the structure we have to adhere to for delivering a neutral signal to broadcasters around the world. That shouldn’t stop them being creative. Sometimes in these events it’s just too formulaic. It’s all ‘we’ve always done it this way and that’s what we do’. I don’t like that. It’s not the way to improve the coverage; by just doing what has been done before, you never change anything.
“The ultra slow motion cameras have been brilliant,” he continues. “It’s not an Olympics or World Cup-sized budget, so we’ve had to be sparing. We’re trying to get a bang for our buck and so rather than stick it in just one sport, we’re moving an ultra slow motion camera around. That’s worked really well. It’s been at the swimming over the past few days, and it’s provided some spectacular footage.”
“I also think some of the underwater cameras we’ve had on the swimming coverage has been sensational,” he adds. “We’ve got a terrific team on the athletics, it’s very solid. That only started yesterday and so far it’s been great. And also, by and large, we’ve had some very good weather. Today it’s 21/22 degrees, with a bit of sun, and that always makes the pieces look better.”
Overall, Foulser says the production hasn’t had any real complaints. “Some of the halls aren’t particularly suited to filming sports,” he concedes. “The judo and wrestling have very low ceilings, the same with the table tennis. But it is what it is. It’s been quite tricky getting the lighting right in some venues, but these things happen. I suspect Delhi, fours years ago, was even more challenging.”
There has been a lot of praise from the athletes for the enthusiasm of the Glasgow 2014 spectators. “You need to reflect the crowds and the atmosphere, of course,” acknowledges Foulser. “We just said to the directors, You’re talented people, you just do it the way you think is best, create atmosphere through your pictures. I’m a great believer that if you get good people, you end up with good product. Certainly with all our directors and production and technical crew, we gone for the best people available, and hopefully it shows.”
As for challenges to come, Foulser is probably most concerned about the cycling road races on Saturday. The Road Race course features a 14km circuit taking riders through Glasgow city centre, the west end of the city and two of the city’s more substantial parks. For the men’s race, competitors will complete 168km and lap the course 12 times. Female riders will complete 7 laps and 98km.
“The road races are dependent of a lot of things coming together,” says Foulser. “Two helicopters overhead and an aeroplane flying at 20,000 feet to do all the radio links. That’s a big game. If it’s low cloud and horrible weather, wind and rain, then the helicopters can’t go up, but we’re covered by the aeroplane, so there is backup. They’ve done a fantastic job on the marathon and the triathlons – that’s worked really well. All the radio cameras have been rock solid. So we’ll just have to see. We just need to get Saturday out of the way. The closing ceremony too – it’s not as structured as the Opening Ceremony. It’s more of a party.”
“We [Sunset+Vine] have never done a multi-sport event,” says Foulser. “We always said if the coverage can be compared absolutely favourably with an Olympic Games, or an event of that stature, then we’d think we’ve done well. For now I’d say it’s right up there.”