London 2012: The 42-in HD Olympics
For all the hype surrounding the nascent Olympic 3D efforts, the BBC’s director of London 2012, Roger Mosey, sees the main technological interest lying elsewhere; either with the equipment that the majority of viewers will be using to watch the events unfurl, which he characterises as 42-in HD sets, or via the second screen or Super Hi-Vision. Andy Stout finds out more.
Roger Mosey is a man with a rather busy year ahead. As the BBC’s director of London 2012, he’s in charge of bringing not only the 17 days of games coverage to the nation’s viewers, but also 80-days of the parallel Cultural Olympiad, and 70-days worth of Olympic torch relay to the nation’s screens. It’s a high profile and hectic schedule that, on top of the Diamond Jubilee, Wimbledon and the British Open, means that the BBC will be in the spotlight more than ever.
As will the technology. In terms of innovation, he sees 2012 as bringing two new things to the Olympic table, and his choices are not necessarily the ones you’d assume. “The first one is that there will be more choice than ever before,” he says. “The fact that people will have the choice – at peak – of 24 streams of live HD sport, means that they will have more choice than ever before and we can show the action from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. The other is Super Hi-Vision. We’ll have test screens in London, Glasgow and Bradford and that’s the biggest single thing to grab hold of in terms of innovation.”
In much the same way that there’s plenty of debate over filming the Opening Ceremony in 3D, with the feeling growing it might not be the best showcase for the format, so SHV will only be used where it’s a good fit. “NHK R&D and BBC R&D have been working on SHV for a long time and OBS came in to help facilitate the capture,” Mosey says. “We won’t necessarily capture the most obvious things. SHV doesn’t have a one billion audience playout like HD, so we’re hoping that what you’ll get in a typical one hour showreel is a bit of pre-games content, a little bit of the opening ceremony we hope, some events from the opening days, then hopefully some live shots at the end. It won’t be a case of sitting and watching four hours of swimming, it will be more of a tech showcase.”
Mosey charts a brief history of broadcast innovation at the Olympics, from HD capture at Los Angeles in 1984, and 3D capture at Barcelona in 1992, the point being that such efforts are a long way ahead of the mass market curve. But then, it’s easy to get carried away with new tech. Everyone in the industry tends to refer to Beijing 2008 as the HD Olympics but, as he points out: “We forget that at Beijing less than 5% of the audience had HD, and in 2012 that figure will be multiples greater.”
The question is where does this leave BBC and 3D? In the same place as before is the answer, with caution uppermost in the broadcaster’s collective conscious and an awareness that it only has two HD channels to play with.
“We’ve always said that we think there should be some 3D captures and we’re very pleased that OBS are doing that,” Mosey says. “We’re hoping to carry some 3D, something along the lines of the Wimbledon experiment. That’s what we’re working towards. But we have to look at making sure it TXes when it’s not running against anything else that might well be in HD.”
And, in 2012 anyway, the Corporation does not fancy playing fast and loose with its central remit, which can be roughly summarised as being to serve the majority of viewers the majority of the time. “The jury’s still out on 3D, and if you look at the market – Canal+ has shut down its operation in France – the consumer demand in mass numbers is not there,” Mosey says. “We’ve always said quite openly that we have a dilemma of doing more 3D if it will eat into our HD output, and we think in 2012 HD is what audiences want more. So, if push comes to shove, we’ll prioritise HD.
“You can get carried away by something on the far edge of technology, but the TV operation remains absolutely central. Proud though we are of all our innovation, the biggest impact is being on BBC One at nine-o’-clock in the evening.”
Meanwhile, up North…
While viewers watching BBC One in primetime will likely see content routed via the massive Corporation operation at the Olympic IBC, those watching the mammoth amount of online content will be coming at the games via Salford.
“Editing can occur both at the IBC and at Salford,” says Mosey. “A lot of the core sport editing will be done at the IBC, but the 24 streams and a lot of the digital playout will come from Salford. So it will be a case of using the two of them together.”
The BBC is, of course, the victim of timing here, already having decided to move its BBC Sport operation up to the Manchester district before the Games was awarded to London. Like anyone else you talk to in the Corporation, however, Mosey is hard pushed to regret that decision.
“Having the main sport production hub in Salford and having the London planning team in London works at the moment,” he says. “The fact is that Television Centre had an incredibly creaky infrastructure – we couldn’t edit HD, there were lots of inhibitions on what we could do – so having a state of the art digital production centre is massively better. Where it is? There’s connectivity between everywhere nowadays. So we’re relaxed about that.”
Perhaps he should really say ‘relaxed now’, because in the end timescales were tight. “The dog that hasn’t barked is that if Salford had been late then that would have been pretty terrible for us. Sport had to be up and running by the end of 2011 to be ready for us in 2012, and the fact that it is has been a big plus.”
For someone with such a heavy responsibility on his shoulders, Mosey is a calm and relaxed interviewee, even professing to a newfound appreciation of the sport of handball following the Olympic test events. “I wouldn’t necessarily want to put it on BBC One for two hours at primetime, but as an event to go to it’s fantastic: really fast, athletic and high scoring,” he enthuses.
He’s also taking the very pragmatic and sensible approach that you can’t plan for every single occurrence in every single event. “In any event this scale there will be things that go wrong,” he says. “As of today, though, we’re in as good a shape as I could have hoped we will be. But you know that when there’s a torrential downpour on day three of the torch relay and the truck gets flooded out, that’s the kind of thing that will happen. But we’ll face every challenge with enthusiasm and joy.”