Observe OB supporting RTE for Gaelic games coverage

The roar of the 80,000 people rises like a war cry around the iconic north Dublin Croke Park stadium on an All-Ireland Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Final weekend, writes Monica Heck.

The Gaelic Games are the heartbeat of Ireland’s sports culture, among the most ancient and rapid field games in existence.

The finals of the football and hurling championships, played to professional levels by what remain amateur players, are also one of the biggest sports broadcasting fixtures in Ireland.

“We have a crew of around 60 people and 22 Sony cameras assigned to an All-Ireland Final,” said Alan Burns, managing director at Observe, the Irish OB company that supports RTÉ’s coverage of the Gaelic games.

RTÉ awarded the contract to Observe in line with the awarding of the GAA coverage rights themselves. “Once we know what rights we have secured next September, we’ll tender for the OB coverage again as we don’t hold our own OBs anymore,” said Dave Matthews, Broadcast Engineering Manager for RTÉ.

This summer, RTÉ broadcast 31 live GAA championship games including 15 matches in HD on RTÉ Two HD. The broadcaster also produced its long-running The Sunday Game highlights show, which gets up to 1 million viewers.

“I’d say GAA broadcast hasn’t changed at all in 2013,” commented Matthews, who sees more HD expansion as the main evolution. “We’re at the end of a three year cycle of rights and we’ve already done a lot of the HD work.”

Observe has delivered the finals in HD for the last three years, according to Burns. “We handled the first Irish HD test transmission for RTÉ at the Ryder Cup in 2006. After that, the economic environment affected RTÉ’s roll out of HD but it’s there now.”


Matthews doesn’t see a future for broadcasting Gaelic games in 4K just yet. “We’re still dealing with HD, so it’s off the horizon for RTÉ. There’s no money to be made from it yet anyway, from a broadcaster’s point of view.”

He’s taken note of some interesting uses of 4k cameras in the US by the likes of Fox and CBS. “Zooming from a wide angle shot to a HD window within that 4k picture enhances replay coverage,” he said. “This could be very powerful for us.”

Observe are actually planning to test the additional image details provided by 4k next season to support replay. “The idea of using 4k as a tool to produce a higher resolution image of something is an amazing achievement. But there’s no outlet to film the game in 4k and broadcasters wouldn’t have the appetite to pay for that until the delivery comes along.”

Broadcasting GAA

The speed of the sliotar (ball) in hurling, the on-pitch action which stays away from the corners and the high number of points and goals per match have led Observe to install a custom-made version of the Vizrt graphics package and to work the cameras differently.

“You don’t use as many handheld ground-based cameras. Instead, you make use of elevated camera angles to see the various areas around the goalmouth. The best cameramen would have played the game and must anticipate where the ball is going to land.”

This year, Observe started using a niche Super Loop high-speed camera by a French manufacturer*, shooting at 450 fps. “Especially in hurling because everything goes so fast, the human eye cannot see what the player or the ball are doing.”

2013 was also the year the GAA rolled out Hawkeye points detection technology, to provide real-time imagery on the stadium’s big screen, with a feed to broadcasters.

And while second screen solutions may be fashionable, Gaelic games are best consumed on a large screen in homes and pubs, with second screens reserved for statistics and additional data. “Are you really going to start playing with a second screen when everyone is riveted to the main screen? In hurling, if you blink you’d miss a point.”

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