Live from the World Cup: Germans Settled in for Semi-Final

It’s “Match Day Minus One” for the big semi-final match between Brazil and Germany in Belo Horizonte and German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF continue to deliver for viewers back home from both the IBC, a studio location on Copacabana Beach, and via ENG vans that are keeping up with the team as it looks to take the final step to making the World Cup Final on July 13.

ZDF's Vito Zoiro,  technical manager, special projects, inside the German production control room at the World Cup IBC.

ZDF’s Vito Zoiro, technical manager, special projects, inside the German production control room at the World Cup IBC.

Vito Zoiro, ZDF technical manager, special projects, took some time out of his schedule to give me a tour of the technical facilities within the IBC. The Germans have the largest media rights holder area within the IBC as a team of about 200 people make sure that German viewers in Germany get a comprehensive and high-quality World Cup experience. Oh…and they are tuning in.

“For the last game 85% of Germans watched the game and in absolute viewers that is about 29 million people,” says Zoiro.

The relationship between ARD and ZDF is well established for big-time sporting events as they have similar workflows for the Olympics, the World Skiing Championships, the Euro Football Championships, and more.

“There is a team spirit in this kind of operation as it is the same people working together so it is like a family,” he says. “And when you are here for 10 weeks you really need people who want to be here, otherwise it is nearly impossible. So working together with the ARD guys is perfect.”

The two channels split up the German matches and every World Cup the channel that has the opening game and the final alternates and this year ZDF had the opener and ARD the final.  ZDF has the German semi-final from Belo Horizonte.

One of 13 Avid edit suites in use by ARD and ZDF for the World Cup.

One of 13 Avid edit suites in use by ARD and ZDF for the World Cup.

The massive IBC presence includes 13 Avid edit suites tied to an Avid ISIS 7000 server system as well as EVS XT3 servers, a master control room, a production control room, an audio control room, a machine control room, and then a small studio that is used by a channel for news updates if the other one is on air with a match. A tape room is also on hand to allow for file exchange to and from anywhere in the world and to also ingest archival tapes and to also record all content on tape.

Equipment on site includes the Avid and EVS servers, Evertz routing, a Lawo audio desk, Riedel intercom systems, Snell frame-rate converters and Nimbra and Tandberg encoders and decoders.

The EBU is providing transmission services to Germany and there are five paths: a main transmission line, a backup satellite, and then some additional paths for playout of parallel matches and news shows. There also a return path and downlink for things like shots of fan fests in Europe.

“We have one set of equipment and one technical crew working from both channels and for both channels,” says Zoiro. “Only the faces in front of the camera change as it would be too expensive to not work together behind the camera.”

In terms of technical achievements, the most impressive the use of a new virtual set technology that uses Vizrt virtual set graphics processing and an ncam system to send tacking data from the Steadicam unit on set.

The Vizrt virtual set in action at the Copacabana studio for ZDF.

The Vizrt virtual set in action at the Copacabana studio for ZDF.

“It’s the first time the technology has been done with a remote production as all we have there is the studio platform and the cameras,” says Zoiro. Camera shading is done at the studio but the seven cameras, including two wireless cameras, and the audio is all controlled remotely from the IBC in Barra via two fiber paths.

“The tracking data from the Steadicam allows the camera to walk by a virtual graphic,” adds Zoiro. “So far we have had no problems.”

In terms of field operations, there are about 10 ENG crews using Sony XDCAM for ARD and Panasonic P2 for ZDF reporting from around the country and typically relying on the technical operations centers at stadiums to do file transfers or live playout. There are also two SNG vans are travelling with the team and there is also a presence at the team’s base camp in Campo Bahia which has not been without its challenges.

For example, the connectivity to the camp involved 30 kilometers of radio links via towers and the towers were not fully online until May 28.

But it was a situation involving power generators at the camp that exemplifies some of the frustration international broadcasters have experienced in Brazil. The German broadcast team flew to the camp and called the power generator rental company as the generators were not on site.

“They told us they changed their mind and that they would make us an offer after two weeks but then they said they just don’t want the contract,” explains Zoiro. “So we shipped our own generators in from Germany.”

All commercial integration is done back in Germany and another interesting aspect of the German match broadcasts is that if halftime occurs after 8 pm commercials are not allowed during the break.

The German master control area within the IBC.

The German master control area within the IBC.

“In that case we have more time for analysis,” adds Zoiro. Liberovision systems are on hand at the IBC for creating halftime and post-game analysis of important plays.

“So far things are working perfect and HBS has done a great job,” says Zoiro.

A week after the World Cup another German technical team will be in Brazil for the Olympic World Broadcaster Meetings. In another two years some of the equipment here will return but not before much of it spans the globe for events like the 2015 World Skiing Championships in Vail, CO and the 2015 Women’s FIFA World Cup in Canada, the Euro Cup in France in 2016 and then Rio for the Summer Olympics in 2016.

But that is then. For now all eyes are on Belo Horizonte for tomorrow’s big showdown with Brazil.

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