Right On Cue: Preparing for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2017

Last year’s winner, tennis player Andy Murray, is presented with his award by former boxing champion Lennox Lewis

Now in its 64th year, BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) is a key date in the sporting calendar, even if it’s not actually a sports event.

A celebration of sporting achievements from the past year, it fuses award show and light entertainment programme, juxtaposing inspirational films and interviews with live music performances and, of course, the handing out of awards.

This year’s SPOTY takes place at the Echo Arena in Liverpool on Sunday 17 December. Presented by Gary Lineker, Clare Balding and Gabby Logan, it will include turns by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Rag ‘n’ Bone Man.

The main Sports Personality Of The Year award will be decided by a public vote on the night while awards will also be handed out in the Team, Coach, Unsung Hero, Young Sports Personality and Overseas categories. The winners of the Helen Rollason and Lifetime Achievement awards will also be announced.

As potential winners of the main award, it is likely that boxer Anthony Joshua and motor racing driver Lewis Hamilton will be the stars of the show, but one of the key protagonists behind-the-scenes will be the show’s director John L Spencer.

A hugely experienced multi-camera director, with credits that include The National TV Awards, Children in Need, The British Comedy Awards and The Last Leg, Spencer has been prepping for SPOTY since the spring.

Having relocated (temporarily) from London to Salford ahead of the show, he is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to being ready for the big night.

Which is no surprise when you consider that the main coverage will include 17 cameras, a 50 piece orchestra, potentially three live outside broadcasts and performances from some of the biggest names in pop music.

“SPOTY is a huge event with a lot of history so you feel incredibly protective towards it,” Spencer tells SVG Europe. “Every year the hope and expectation is to make it bigger and more exciting than before. So, no matter how well the previous year went, the hope isn’t to match that, it’s to beat it and to continue to make it a must-see show.

“We have more live music in this year’s show with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds performing twice plus Rag N’ Bone Man and Rebecca Ferguson,” he continues. “The set is similar to last year but we have added extra staging to bring the orchestra more in vision than last year. Technically we have added some new cameras to the rig that will help me bring something new to the look of the show and the music.”

To ensure everything goes smoothly, Spencer will camera script every item “so everyone knows the look and the shots that are being planned.” Then, the day before the show, they will “rehearse with everyone all day, item by item, and then on the day itself do two full dress rehearsals so we are fully ready for the live transmission.”

Picture Shows: Clare Balding, Gary Lineker, Gabby Logan – (C) BBC

The person in charge of ensuring that the technology and facilities work is technical manager Jon Sweeney. He will be working with outside broadcast services provider CTV and RF camera company Broadcast RF on what is a fairly sizable HD production (see below).

With a string of major live TV events under his belt, and currently working on the huge set-up for the Winter Olympics, Sweeney has no major worries about SPOTY, although bad weather would cause problems, he admits, as it did in 2010 when snow prevented both sports stars and the audience from getting to the venue.

For Spencer, however, the big challenge is what he describes as the “huge variables” involved.

He says: “Although we have a fixed duration for the show, a lot of the major elements are incredibly flexible. It is impossible to know how long each award winner will talk for and they rarely speak for the exact amount of time we have allocated for them. If they talk for too long we have to look to drop something and similarly if they don’t talk for long enough time we are looking to add something. To get this huge show off air on time is a huge juggling act.”

The three OBs, should they be needed, will be single-camera, facilitated by local crew, accompanied by a BBC producer. Even though the votes will be cast on the night, the locations of the OBs are being kept secret ahead of the event so as not to give anything away.

With such supreme planning, assuming the weather is kind and the speeches don’t go on too long, when the cameras roll on Sunday it should be all about the award winners.

And the last thing that Spencer will tell the crew before they go live? “Enjoy it! It’s a huge show so if you don’t enjoy this one, we are in the wrong job.”

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2017 will be live on BBC1 and BBC1 HD from 6.45pm to 9pm Sunday 17 December.

Sports Personality of the Year – the nitty gritty

  • The list of cameras being made available to the production team is extensive and includes a Technocrane, a Furio dolly with a 9m track, a front-of-stage hot head, a 44ft Moviebird crane, two Steadicams and three handhelds (all using Vislink L1700 transmitters) and a 24 ft Jimmy Jib. For good measure, there will also be two Aerial Camera Systems Rail Cams, an inverted tower cam and four pedestal cameras.
  • CTV’s OB11 will provide the main TV output with OB10 tasked with covering the red carpet and post-show goings on and handling the satellite feeds. Sound Alliance will handle the music mix for the live performances.
  • SIS will supply uplink facilities for the live OBs while BT will send signals to BT Tower via fibre.
  • As well as the main BBC1 show, there will also be output across online, local radio and local TV and other parts of the BBC. BBC News will have access to an uplink truck and an edit van while Blue Peter and BBC North West Tonight will have their own ENG cameras available for unilateral coverage. BBC News will do live hits throughout Sunday with BBC Entertainment and BBC Breakfast producing post-show interviews. Also present in the arena will be BBC local radio and BBC Radio 5 Live.

Sports Personality of the Year – VTs and pre-show preview

  • Timeline North is responsible for post-production on the live show VTs and the 60-minute presenter-led preview show, Sports Personality of the Year 2017 – The Contenders.
  • Using a specifically set up Media Shuttle connection between the BBC Sport archive system and Timeline in MediaCityUK, clips are pushed via EVS at the Farm North into a drop folder on Timeline’s Avid Nexus. These are managed by assistant Ross McAdam. Across the four-week stint, the team will have pushed 20 terabytes of media, all at AVC Intra 100. The workload has been split between up to six edit suites at any one time, with the preview show and the VTs edited simultaneously.
  • Avid Media Composer version 8.5.1 and Avid Pro Tools version 11 are being used for the picture and sound editing. Having delivered AS-11 files, the final VTs will be played out live via EVS.
  • The editing team includes Nathan Carpenter, Nicholas Perry, James Lynch, Dominic Robson-Smith, Ricky Wild, Chris Blood, Jon Wright and Adam Mulcahy. Dan Piggot is mixing the audio for the live show VTs and the contender documentary.


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