That Was the 2013 That Was: SVG Europe Looks Back (part 1)
In a two-part retrospective, Andy Stout reflects on the primary sports broadcasting developments of the January to June period – among them the continued rise (and rise and rise) of BT Sport, innovative new second screen applications, and the ever-building momentum of the 4K ‘project’.
The year kicks off with a seemingly innocuous story that BT Sport was to screen live women’s tennis in a deal inked with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) that set it up to show as much as 800 hours per year of live games, including the season-ending showpiece TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships.
There were quite a few of these rights acquisitions stories from BT Sport at the start of the year, and no one could really have guessed where it was all leading. Another important rights story from January also saw Sky Sports awarded comprehensive Premier League highlights rights, allowing it to show extended highlights of all 226 Premier League matches not shown live on television, plus goals and key moments for other programming.
Meanwhile, the runaway steamroller that was to be the story of 4K production in sport was gathering momentum with news that Japan’s Kyodo Television had called on EVS servers for a 4K ‘world first’. The OB provider selected two EVS XT3 servers to power a live 4K production of a J League football match for SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation, the trial deployment making it possible to provide instant highlights and slow motion replays in the format.
Of course, the key enabler of much to do with 4K has been the development of the HEVC codec which, as little as eleven months ago, we were introducing with sentences such as “A new video coding standard, informally known as ‘High Efficiency Video Coding’, has been approved by the International Telecommunications Union…”
The new standard will need only half the bit-rate of its predecessor, [we continued] ITU-T H.264 / MPEG-4 Part 10 Advanced Video Coding (AVC), which currently accounts for more than 80 percent of all web video. HEVC will unleash a new phase of innovation in video production spanning the whole ICT spectrum, from mobile devices through to Ultra-High Definition TV.
February was dominated on both sides of the Atlantic by games involving egg-shaped balls. In the USA, Super Bowl XLVII showcased some of the very latest in sports gizmology, including Hyperzoom, a 4K system that allows for 1080i images to be extracted for ultra-clear zooms into an image, and the use of Evertz Mosaic, a system that allows up to six camera angles to be synced and played back on a split screen to viewers at the push of a single button.
European rugby’s international Six Nations tournament, meanwhile, was more about six director’s own angles. “You have four different companies and six or seven different directors, so any one weekend you can have half a dozen different directors doing it in their own style, which in rugby can be quite interesting,” said Paul Davies, exec producer of the tournament for the BBC. “Certainly the French and Italian directors can be very different from what we would expect. The French, for instance, like to be very artistic, which is their style, but as long as they capture all the action then that’s fine. It’s not right or wrong, it’s a familiarity thing and there are certain grammatical things that you need when covering rugby. It’s a complicated and technical game and if you’re not on the right shots at the right time then it can be disturbing to viewers.”
While rumours of 3D’s death began to become more strident as the year progressed, Sky continued a process of trend-bucking that it still cleaves to by broadcasting Formula 1 in 3D for the first time during the pre-season test at the Circuit de Catalunya. That made F1 the 14th sport to be broadcast in 3D by Sky.
Ahead of the Alpine Skiing World Championship in Schladming, Riedel Communications worked together with the International Ski Federation, FIS, and Austrian public broadcaster ORF to develop a new wireless camera solution. Developed over a period of one-and-a-half years, the RiCam solution consists of camera, transmitter, battery and strap, weighs only 64 grams, and is incorporated aerodynamically into the strap of the ski goggles.
Meanwhile, football world governing body FIFA finally gave the go-ahead for goal-line technology (GLT) to be used at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and invited tenders from developers to provide systems. As we wrote then: “After many years of either dismissing GLT completely or deferring a decision on it, FIFA has finally recognised the concept of using technology to assist match officials in deciding whether the ball has crossed the goal line or not.”
In the UK, BT Group and ESPN announced an agreement that BT would acquire ESPN’s UK and Ireland TV channels business. These primarily comprised the ESPN and ESPN America channels and their live sports rights portfolio, including the FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League, UEFA Europa League, and the German Bundesliga.
It was the fervent rights landscape in the UK that effectively pushed ESPN out of the country, a fact highlighted by a report from the University of Milan Bicocca that estimated that Olympic sports rights alone had increased by 2000x from Rome 1960 to London 2012.
March brought the SVG Football Production Summit fully into the frame. “3D, 4K or super-slo mo… whatever the technological trend, the chances are that football – arguably unrivalled in its appeal across ages, nationalities and territories – will be a primary agent of change,” we said in one of several stories reporting back from the event at the Stade de France in Paris. Graphics experts from a number of manufacturers took part in a robust discussion on getting the most out of existing tools by using them to tell stories and not simply add sizzle. And 4K, of course, reared its head more than once.
Back in the UK,IMG brought fresh tech to C4’s revamped racing coverage, the most obvious innovation being the use of the MovieBird Crane, a piece of kit more usually found on film sets. During the Cheltenham Festival this was positioned on the inside of the track at the last fence to give what the broadcaster described as “an unprecedented view of the final leap before the valiant uphill finish”.
And in France, for the first time since 1992, French audiences interested in Formula 1 racing had to pay in order to see races on television. Back on February 14, Canal+ announced that it had wrested the broadcasting rights for the following three seasons of the World Championships from TF1, which had been airing races for the last 20 years. “Negotiations turned out to be an epic battle,” pointed out Rodolphe Belmer, second in charge at Canal+, who also only had one month to form teams and create editorial in time for the first Grand Prix of the season.
April, of course, means NAB, but away from the trade show floor there was plenty of action on the tracks and in the stadia of the world too. In the UK, Channel 4 pulled out all the stops for its Grand National debut, in France Canal+’s coverage of the Stade Francais and RC Toulon rugby match saw a camera mounted directly on the main referee for the first time, and in Italy Mediaset revved up for MotoGP and Superbike 2013, the first time that both major two-wheel track competitions in the country were handled by the same provider.
Meanwhile, the EPL confirmed it would begin using goal line technology from the 2013/14 season, selecting the British-designed Hawk-Eye system for installation at the grounds of its 20 member clubs. The highest league in English football was expected to adopt GLT soon after FIFA approved the concept for the Confederations Cup, but its choice put it at odds with the world governing body, which has chosen another camera tracking system, GoalControl-4D.
And talking of the Confederation’s Cup, it was announced that the tournament in Brazil would provide the biggest test bed so far for Ultra High Definition broadcasting and involve the world’s first 4K outside broadcast truck, then being systems integrated by Sony in the UK for Telegenic.
The European Tour launched its eponymous European Tour TV channel, a brand new golf channel accessed via the Tour’s website. Stage one saw a soft launch with a library of highlights culled from the past decade’s action in the European Tour and Ryder Cup. The expectation was that this would build up to around 500 hours of content before stage two launched only last month with live streaming.
The 2013 edition of SVG Europe’s SportTech UK conference event took place on 24 April and featured lively panel sessions on 4K, second screen and the state of UK sports production. And rounding off the month Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.) and France Télévisions announced the signature of a new partnership agreement up to 2020 for the broadcasting of events organised by A.S.O. on France Télévisions, including, of course, the Tour de France.
The newest entrant into the febrile UK sports market, BT Sport, unveiled its new sports channels and gave a preview of the studio complex being built to host presentation of its ever-expanding portfolio. BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie meanwhile outlined some of the broadcaster’s plans for coverage of the next Commonwealth Games, which are scheduled to take place in Glasgow from 23 July to 3 August 2014. “We will adopt a similar approach [as the Olympics] to the Commonwealth Games, during which 15 separate streams will be beamed from 17 locations around Scotland,” he said.
May, of course, is the month when many of the European leagues wrap up for the summer, with the Champion’s League final being one of the centrepieces of the month. London’s Wembley Stadium played host to the all-German final between Bayern and Dortmund, with Sky Deutschland introducing a new studio set and ITV delivering the world feed. And Sky Sports used EVS’ C-Cast technology for the first time in the UK during the Final when it launched Sky Sports 360, a new multi-camera highlights feature available as part of its Sky Sports for iPad app.
The European cycling season cranked into high gear with the start of the Giro d’Italia too, while for another sport May = Monaco and the combined madness and spectacle of Formula 1 cars threading their way through the narrow, winding streets of the Principality. SVG Europe wrote extensively about the production workflow of the only race that Formula One Management does not produce entirely for international broadcasting.
Lastly for the month, ESPN’s global X Games push made its way to Barcelona for the first of two key European stops on its 2013 tour, pushing the technical envelope by utilising a modular production model at all six X Games events and venues throughout 2013.
By June of 2013 the whole 4K project was really gaining momentum, with a welter of tests and trials underway across several continents. In France, the French Tennis Federation (FFT) and France Télévisions – the official broadcaster and executive producer of the Roland-Garros Tennis Tournament – were preparing to undertake a 4K trial at the French Open. And that was over and above the conventional effort, which saw a team of 600 people (journalists and technicians) combining to see through both production and broadcasting of the tournament for the broadcaster.
Meanwhile, the long-heralded Confederation’s Cup 4K test got underway in Belo Horizonte in Brazil, with the kit showing great improvements over tests held as recently as early May in the UK. SVG Europe also took the time to take a detailed look at the Telegenic 4K OB truck that had made its way over to Latin America for the occasion.
Wimbledon got underway and in on the 4K act too, CAN Communicate and Sony working with the All England Lawn and Tennis Club to experiment with Wimbledon in 4K, using two Sony F55 cameras as well as an NEX FS700 to capture action on Court One in the 4K RAW format. “We are experimenting with different camera angles and the focus is on looking at different shutter speeds and colorimetry,” said Mark Grinyer, Sony Professionals Europe, World Cup 2014 programme manager.
Meanwhile, in starkly contrasting technical fortunes, ESPN announced plans to shut its US 3D channel. “The service’s forthcoming demise undoubtedly calls into question the long-term prospects for 3D broadcast of sports in the US – at the very same time that the movement appears to be losing what momentum it had in Europe too,” we wrote.
Look out for coverage of 2013 Q3/4 on SVG Europe next week.