Ruck, maul, Twickenham: ITV Sport on bringing its host broadcast coverage of the 2023 Six Nations to viewers
The 2023 Six Nations has kicked off, with England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales rugby union teams competing to win the tournament over the next five weeks.
ITV Sport is the host broadcaster for matches played at the legendary Twickenham stadium in London. At Twickenham the broadcaster has presentation positions pitch-side in the studio, with 130 technical and production crew on site, and is producing a world feed and ITV presentation from two separate OB units.
It is bringing all the excitement of the tournament to fans with the help of a hefty 41 cameras, including six super slomo’s, two high motion cameras, a Spidercam, Batcam, corner post cameras, goal post cameras, plus dressing room and coach cameras.
In addition, ITV Sport is also covering the away games, with rights for coverage from Paris, Italy, and Ireland. For each overseas location the broadcaster is using small remote units, which will then be relayed back to the hub gallery in Ealing, London, where the tournament will be broadcast from a brand new virtual reality (VR) studio hosted by Timeline TV and Moov.
Speaking to SVG Europe in an EMG truck outside of Twickenham Stadium, chief technical officer at ITV Sport, Tony Cahalane, explains: “In Twickenham we act as a host broadcaster; we deal with all of the visiting broadcasters in terms of what facilities they require, what trucks they might be bringing, power, commentary positions, camera positions, other needs. We plot that out within the stadium and then present it to the stadium to make sure they’re happy with it, and work with their side of things as well, which is press, photographers, social media outlets and any positions they might want.
“My role really is to produce all of the technical information for both the match and the ITV presentation side of things for our suppliers and the stadium operations team, the schematics, the diagrams, the camera plans, any commentary facilities we have to provide for visiting broadcasters.”
Cahalane began working with ITV Sport on the 2022 Six Nations coverage from Twickenham as a freelancer, before he took on the CTO role late last year. He comments: “I’ve decided to carry on [in my] staff role and [continue working on the Six Nations broadcast] because I feel it’s better to be out and amongst the suppliers and the technical teams because you gather much better feedback about what they require, in terms of information and how it genuinely goes, and you’re not doing it from a report on a computer at the end of the game.”
ITV Sport is working with EMG as its technical services supplier for the Six Nations. The entire host broadcast production for Twickenham is all on site, with remote services being utilised for coverage of matches played in Italy, France and Ireland.
Cahalane comments: “On site here we have two big EMG trucks, one of which does Six Nations match host coverage, taking care of any unilateral needs, so that’s visiting broadcasters, stand-ups, and the like. The other truck is the ITV presentation truck.
“Then outside of that, there are any number of specialists with smaller trucks, such as ACS who are providing remote pan tilt heads, and there are a couple of graphic trucks from AE Live, who are also bringing us augmented reality (AR) graphics over the Spidercam in the stadium.
“We’ve obviously got Spidercam in the stadium for all the matches as it’s grown in its usefulness for within field coverage as the team of pilots and camera ops in the industry have gained more and more experience; it’s a great tool! And on top of all that, we have some on-site edit presence.
“So in total onsite we’ve probably got a total of about 27 trucks, with several big ones and then lots of auxiliary ones. In terms of a crew presence, I would guess it’s probably about 130 all in between the talent teams, the production teams, all the tech teams and the visiting broadcasters as well.”
Remote production VR
For its away matches, ITV Sport launched its smart new VR studio on Sunday 5 February. The VR studio has evolved from an initial idea to create a studio for the FIFA World Cup coverage last year.
However, the idea expanded, says Cahalane: “We decided that actually what we really needed was a sports hub, something that gave us an identity, something that gave us a ‘look’ for lots of the different sports that we have, where we present darts or snooker or the Six Nations remotely. Therefore [the plan] changed as we started to talk about it, into more of a generic sports hub, which could be grown for larger competitions if we required. So this is very much a VR sports hub for our general output, and our Six Nations, and possibly other group stages of large events in the future.
“We launched it last weekend for the Six Nations, on 5 February for the Italian game,” he states, adding: “It’s got its challenges because the access provided to set up remote side was very short, due to the fact that [the game was] played in the Stadio Olimpico and there are two other football teams in there [sharing the stadium]. There was a very short set up period on the day, but we were confident that we’ve tested and refined the VR studio well and so the remote connectivity was the only variable.”
For the Six Nations away games, ITV Sport is using small vans on site that are capable of feeding back cameras remotely, Cahalane notes. “So they feed three cameras back individually and we take some match feeds, some ISO’s, from the host. They’re all fed back over fibre connectivity with a satellite backup.
“All comes back to Ealing, where we have the studio hub and then we operate that as a remote production, which reduces our green footprint; it means we have far less people travelling.”
On the production goals of ITV Sport for the Six Nations, Cahalane comments: “ITV’s overall goal for Six Nations is to showcase what is a great competition. It’s an amazing competition and [ITV Sport wants to] absolutely use the large talent base that they have of presenters, pundits, guests and commentators to tell the story; it’s a very strong feature of ITV’s output currently, driven by the likes of Mark Demuth and Paul McNamara, and is a subject of much jealousy amongst other broadcasters.”
Cahalane states: “I think it’s going excellently and it’s mainly down to the fact that we’ve got a good communication chain between our supplier and ourselves. We’ve got a suppliers who we trust and that have done it many times for us before, and we have a great familiarity and relationship with the ops team at the stadium, which is very important.
“Equally, the relationship with the stadium between ITV and our supplier is good, it’s excellent; that’s paramount to being able to get things over the line quickly, so we’ve got plenty of time to test and we’re not fighting the system all the time. I think at the moment we’re completely confident that this season of Six Nations will go very well,” he concludes.
ITV Sport’s live coverage of the 2023 Men’s Championship kicked off with the Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday 4 February. The channel will show ten live matches throughout the six weeks of the Six Nations, led by presenters Jill Douglas and Mark Pougatch.
This year’s tournament marks the latest in a deal between ITV and the BBC that sees Six Nations matches shared between both broadcasters on television and online with ITV’s matches aired on ITV1, ITVX, STV and STV Player.
The tournament will run until 18 March 2023.