ORF takes to the slopes

Austrian public broadcaster ORF is in the midst of another busy winter sports season and high ratings have made the hard work of more than 100 production staff worth the effort. Manfred Lielacher, Head of TV Production for the network, says the network and the nation are already looking forward to next February when the Alpine World Championships are held in Schladming.

Between now and then Lielacher and the team will finish up the 2012 season and also begin looking at next-generation technologies.

ORF handles both the production of the domestic and international feeds for those events held in Austria mostly with the use of three OB trucks. All three trucks are outfitted with EVS servers, Ikegami cameras, and Canon lenses, with two wired for eight cameras and one that can handle up to 14 cameras. Antelope super-high speed cameras are also on hand to record video as fast as 1500 frames per second although ORF shoots up to 150 frames per second, depending on the lighting conditions.

“Director Fritz Melchert puts the cameras in positions where you can really see the expressions of the skiers,” adds Lielacher. “And the Antelope cameras really catch the amount of force [exerted on a skier] in the race.”

Melchert, who is now in his 40th year of coverage for ORF, says that this year the audio was improved as microphones were able to be located closer to the skiers.

“The scraping of the edges and the sounds of the skiers themselves are almost never heard,” he said of an audio enhancement that made a real difference.

During the week of 13-15 January, 22 cameras and two OB vans were on hand for the Ski Jumping World Cup in Bad Mitterndorf, Austria. Coverage also featured commentator and ski expert Andi Goldberger wearing a helmet camera and taking a jump to give viewers a sense of what it is like to take part in the event.

The next weekend featured 12 hours of skiing coverage at the FIS Alpine World Cup event, including the Super G, downhill, and slalom in Kitzbühel.

“The downhill race is the most popular among viewers with slalom second,” explained Lielacher. A total of 30 HD cameras were on hand, for that weekend’s events, including three super slow motion cameras, two crane cameras, four wireless cameras and a camera mounted on a fixed wing aircraft.

Lielacher says signal transport down the mountains is done via fibre and Kitzbühel offers the advantage of having cable already built into the mountain.

“There are hotspots for the OB vans and camera positions located near the slope so we just need a few meters of cabling for each camera,” he explains. Overall, about 50 kilometers of fibre cabling is used, with much of it located underground.

One of the unique events during the season is the World Cup Men’s Night Slalom, held in Schladming on 24 January. More than 50,000 spectators turn out for the event.

“We are just responsible for the camera people and audio but we work in close cooperation with the [event organisers] who bring in the world’s best lighting equipment,” says Lielacher. The event this year was also a good trial for next year’s World Championship event.

The world championship schedule for Austria has the Final Alpine Skiing Event at Schladming (14 – 18 March) for the rest of the season so most of the network’s coverage will be done with smaller crews that enhance the world feed with stories on Austrian skiers and other feature packages.

“We have a very small team of people that will go to those events and most of the equipment will be rented and the operators will be [freelancers],” adds Lielacher.

Up next for Lielacher is more investigation into a complete move to tapeless operations.

“During the live event we record on EVS servers but at the moment our archive is on HDCAM tapes,” he explains. “And because our OB vans also do cultural events like concerts and other big shows we need to find out what is the best combination to fit all our needs.”

And the hard work is paying off as viewers are tuning in to this year’s coverage. At least part of the coverage of the Alpine World Cup event was watched by 46.1% of Austrian TV viewers over the age of 12, topping 3.3m.



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