London 2012 Paralympics Are a Big Success for Channel 4

The London 2012 Paralympics are nearing their climax, with the host nation doing well in the medal stakes and bringing in enthusiastic viewing audiences for broadcaster Channel 4, which has exclusive UK television rights to the event. Coverage of the Games is in HD, with SD also available, and offers Paralympians more TV exposure than they’ve had before.

C4’s broadcasts are coordinated by production companies IMG and Sunset+Vine (S+V). According to David Shield, SVP of global director of engineering and technology at IMG, there was originally to have been a division of responsibilities between the two, with IMG handling the technical facilities and logistics and serving as liaison with Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS) and London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), and S+V dealing with production. In reality, there has been more of a cross-over.

The co-production involves 11 days of coverage, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day on C4, 4HD, and More4. Also, three interactive red button services are offered by Sky and Virgin Media, and a special “Live Site” feed can be accessed across the country.

All this is coordinated at the C4 studios facility within the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) in Olympic Park. Taking up approximately 16,000 square feet, this space was used by the Canadian Olympic Media consortium (the joint venture between Bell Media, formerly CTVglobemedia, and Rogers Media, also known as CTV Olympics) and has been repurposed by IMG and S+V for the Paralympics.

“We looked at studio areas used by four or five different broadcasters during the Olympics,” Shield explains, “but the CTV setup had a suitable amount of space, and we already had a relationship with some of the Canadian guys.”

Presteinge Charter had worked with CTV during its time in London, and IMG-S+V also contracted the hire company for the Paralympics, using some kit that had been supplied to the Australian broadcasting consortium for the Summer Games. Shield explains that this was based on practicality because there was only a “small window” between the two events in which to move items in and out of the IBC.

The CTV area contained two studios with corresponding galleries, one each for the English and French broadcasts. These were reused by IMG-S+V, along with what Shield describes as a “huge IT infrastructure” based on Cat 5 wiring. The on-air studios were each equipped with four Sony HDC-1500 cameras.

CTV did not have an editing area so one had to be built in office space. This now houses six Avid Media Composer suites connected to an ISIS 7000 online storage system. Ten EVS XT2 servers are used for ingest and studio playout, running in conjunction with 40 IPD positions for logging and browsing clips. This is connected to host broadcaster OBS’s EVS network, with material sent to the ISIS from the IMG-S+V system. Shield says that, for safety reasons, footage is moved to the EVS workstations in the gallery from where it is played out. The EVS servers and ISIS also feed into a 72-TB near-line NAS (network-attached storage) so that the online systems are not filled up.

The IMG-S+V master-control room receives 11 live multilateral and four “beauty” camera feeds from OBS, along with five live C4 unilaterals of the athletics, Aquatics Centre, Velodrome/Basketball Arena, the Excel Centre, and North Greenwich Arena. Some of these are doubled up to carry different sports at different times, Shield explains. Most of it comes in on fibre circuits supplied by OBS, Atos, and BT.

There are also non-live feeds of the rowing from Eton Dorney, sailing from Weymouth, and the cycling road race at Brands Hatch. Each is covered by SNG van with two RF cameras and an EVS XT2 server. Shield observes that coverage of these sports is not as comprehensive as it was for the Olympics, with only parts of the course, including the finish, having cameras on them.

SNG vehicles and flyaways are used at venues with no fibre connectivity. This also includes Greenwich for the equestrian events, which are covered by a four-camera SNG and uplink vehicle provided by Arqiva. Five ENG camera operators with XDCAM HD gear are also part of the production, with additional news footage supplied by LOCOG.

At the venues, C4 is using “unequipped” commentary positions, which have power and event information only. IMG-S+V has installed Prospect Electronics CMU21 units into these, providing facilities for two commentators and an interviewee. A comcam has also been supplied for in-vision shots, and general communications are over RTS intercom.

LOCOG provides a data feed used to populate sport-graphics templates supplied by MSL. Graphics for web coverage are handled by deltatre.

IMG-S+V has 500 personnel at the Paralympics, 400 of them working in shifts at the IBC. Broadcasts are sent from there to Atos’s headquarters and then on to BBC TV Centre in west London, from where they are relayed to the nearby facilities of Red Bee Media, which handles C4’s transmissions. A reserve feed goes to BT Tower and then on to Red Bee. Three ancillary streams are transmitted for the red button services.

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