SVG Europe Sport Production Summit draws record crowd, spotlights UEFA EURO 2016
By: Jason Dachman, Managing Editor
Thursday, September 8, 2016 - 10:01 pm

The sixth-annual SVG Europe Sport Production Summit attracted a record crowd in Amsterdam on Thursday, with more than 320 production and technology professionals attending a day of informational sessions, including an inside look at UEFA EURO 2016 with UEFA Head of TV Production Bernard Ross.

The event kicked off with a passing of the torch. Peter Angell, SVP, media production, Lagardere Sports & Entertainment, officially stepped down after five years as SVG Europe Advisory Board Chairman and announced that another industry leader will take over: Dave Shield, global director, engineering and technology, IMG Media.

The Summit then showcased one of 2016’s highest-profile sports events: UEFA EURO 2016. In a session moderated by SVG Europe Executive Editor Fergal Ringrose, Ross detailed how, from June 10 to July 10, UEFA host broadcaster and suppliers — totaling 1,100 onsite crew — delivered more tournament content than ever, across all platforms, to 130 international broadcast partners and their audiences in more than 200 territories.

Inside the 2012 EURO Host Broadcast
In terms of match coverage, Ross and his team took the 42-camera deployment for the 2012 EURO Final and made it standard for all matches for 2016. That complement included a behind-the-goal railcam beginning in the Quarterfinals, which required a massive amount of work on the operations team but became a hit with fans. The Final featured 52 cameras, which will become standard for matches heading into the 2020 tournament. With 43 ENG teams onsite at stadiums throughout France, the scale of EURO 2016 rivals the largest sports events in history.

UEFA’s Bernard Ross (left) discusses TV production of UEFA EURO 2016 with SVG Europe’s Fergal Ringrose.

UEFA’s Bernard Ross (left) discusses TV production of UEFA EURO 2016 with SVG Europe’s Fergal Ringrose.

“That really is a large amount of content that we are creating as the base level. The base level that broadcasters expect is very high,” said Ross. “And then we are there to facilitate something they can personalize. It has become important for them to stand out from the crowd and use technology to create better, more interesting content. We give them a high standard and large amount of content, and there is no going back.”

According to Ross, the most significant challenge for the UEFA TV-production team at EURO 2016 proved to be an element well out of its control: heightened security due to terror attacks in France.

“The biggest challenge of this Euro had nothing to do with our job, broadcast, for once. It had everything to do with the security situation in France,” he said. “My 8 a.m. UEFA meeting each morning was attended by two armed policemen, who were there just to update us each day on the security situation. We thought we may play in front of empty stadiums; we thought the tournament might be canceled.”

Another major challenge was the series of broadcast studios at the Paris FanZone, which essentially served as the 12th venue (the IBC and 10 stadiums made up the other 11).

“They came to us directly after the tragedies in Paris. It was in a very complicated area with 80,000 people and needed a lot of flexibility,” Ross noted. “It really did stand out as a shining light, especially for Paris in particular.”

IP Migration Takes Center Stage at IBC
The International Broadcast Centre at the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles took on a very different vibe this year. The migration toward IP took center stage in the Central Equipment Room [CER] and Telco Interface Room [TIR]. UEFA partnered with EBU, Lawo, and Orange to create a 100-Gbps dedicated network delivering up to 50 feeds at once to the IBC, putting more pressure than ever on IP-based technologies in the TIR.

“What you found in those two rooms was the old and the new,” said Ross. “In fact, there was a cage between the telco and all the EVS [servers] and switchers. I think that symbolized how we are. We want this base level of functioning old machines and this stuff that is very intelligent, capable, and flexible, but we keep that to one side. [There will be a moment when] we are at a crossroads, where we are not on the left or the right but in the middle. So the vision of those two rooms has changed a bit, but it hasn’t gone entirely into the [IP] realm.”

4K/UHD Production Still Searching for One-Truck Model
The 4K production of EURO 2016 was examined in detail later in the day during a session featuring RAI, Eutelsat, and V-Nova, but Ross touched on 4K advances and challenges at the tournament.

UEFA produced its first 4K/UHD match at the 2014 Champions League Final in Lisbon, and its 4K production model continued to evolve for the 2015 Champions League Final in Berlin and other events. However, UEFA has yet to perfect a single-truck model and has been forced to operate two separate productions for 4K and HD shows.

At EURO 2016, UEFA’s eight 4K productions (Opening, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Final) deployed 14 cameras each, including a Spidercam and helicam. However, that is substantially fewer than the 52 cameras used for the HD broadcast of the Final.

“Our key conclusion at UEFA was, we can’t continue telling broadcasters and ourselves you’ve got to have two trucks,” Ross explained. “The expense, impact on the staging, and the evolution of this has just been halted in my opinion, and I think that’s shared by the broadcasters that took [the 4K feed]. We had 10 takers, but we need a system where we can send one truck and switch on the feeds that we require.

“We are HD-priority,” he continued. “A lot of our broadcasters want the ability to give their audience something else. All of them said to us that, effectively, 4K is not rich enough for them. Everything looked very good, but it doesn’t tell the story.”

An Eye Toward the ‘EURO for Europe’ in 2020
Ross also provided a sneak peek at UEFA EURO 2020, when the host broadcaster will be tasked with delivering a tournament across 13 cities in Europe. The prospect of hosting one the world’s largest sports event in 13 venues from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Dublin rather than in a single nation, creates monumental new challenges for UEFA.

Ross mentioned, for example, that there is no single network provider to connect all the venues as it had with Orange for EURO 2016 and in previous tournaments (although UEFA is working with the EBU to develop the network for 2020).

“Everything has to be [reevaluated]. We will have the base-level plan in terms of number of cameras and how we bring those back, but there are quite a few unknowns that we need to address,” he said. “We look at what we’ve done on EURO and the Champions League Final — which are massive … quite often bigger than a World Cup Final in terms of size and broadcasters in the broadcast compound — and then evaluate our plans based on [those productions].”

The cross-continental nature of EURO 2020 and the growing use of remote-production methods by broadcasters brings into question whether the concept of a traditional central IBC will even exist for the event.

“The first and major [decision] is whether there will be an IBC or whether there will not be an IBC,” Ross observed, noting, “The IBC, as a concept, is a switching center. We can reduce it as much as we like, but a technical center [is still required]. We most probably will change the name, but, effectively, there will be a central point. The overriding message we get from broadcasters and on the technical side is, we want to have the tried and tested as that layer to rest upon and then do all the other stuff on top of that. We’re not really in the cost-cutting world, where I can take the IBC and do a virtual IBC in the cloud on IP and away we go. I don’t think so for 2020.”