That Was the 2013 That Was: SVG Europe Looks Back (part 2)
In a two-part retrospective, Andy Stout reflects on the primary sports broadcasting developments of the July to November period, Andy Stout reflects on the decline of interest in 3D, a spate of high-profile 4K tests, and those all-important World Cup preparations.
July is, of course, the month when live sport explodes onto the continent’s TV sets in all its glory and SVG Europe was there to portray a spectacularly fecund and busy European sporting programme.
We started with a bit of a catch-up on the immense ESPN effort at Wimbledon, where the broadcaster was in the midst of producing 140 hours of mainstream coverage, not to mention a further 800 for ESPN3’s multi-screen presentation of all TV courts.
It was also televising five days of action from Centre Court for ESPN 3D only weeks after announcing that the channel was to close at the end of the year. This month the BBC joined in the doleful chorus for 3D too, saying that after the Wimbledon Men’s Final it had no further plans to produce anything in 3D, with only a couple more productions (including the Dr Who 50th Anniversary special) left in the pipeline.
The Corporation used interesting language in its statement, talking of a hiatus and effectively hedging its bets in case a new generation of auto-stereoscopic TV sets reinvigorates a moribund market. Meanwhile though, the next wave of technology coming over the horizon gained further momentum, as FIFA and Sony began the evaluation phase of their 4K FIFA Confederations Cup tests. The tests in July proved that a mix of HD, 4K and even 8K cameras can all be upconverted and downconverted for use within an HD, 4K or even 8K production. “There are compromises in resolution if only six true 4K cameras are used and the remaining 15 angles are upconverted HD, but upconverting those 15 cameras cuts down on expenses related to personnel, equipment rental and seat kills,” we wrote.
Sky Sports launched its Ashes Event Centre, its branded second screen offering previously rolled out to such high-profile tournaments as the Champion’s League, while we also looked in-depth at how its coverage of the series was put together, as well as reporting on the problems that cricket’s Decision Review System ran into and the implications that had for the wider field for video refereeing technology.
Over in France we examined some of the interesting new RF kit that is such an essential part of the coverage of the Tour de France, which this year was wending its way around France for the 100th time, while in Germany the kick-off of the 2.Bundesliga season saw all matches finally delivered to German viewers by Sky in HD.
In the UK, the BBC and BT Sport landed a four-year shared rights deal that saw both broadcasters become home to The FA Cup from 2014, while at the other end of the rights scale, at The Open, CTV OB and IMG Media celebrated their 25 year relationship. “Getting into golf took us into real sport,” said Barry Johnstone, CTV OB, managing director.
BT Sport launched from a new broadcast complex in the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park, so we took the opportunity to discuss the project with the new broadcaster’s technology and operations staff, the main equipment suppliers and representatives of Timeline Television, which managed the design and building of the three studios and supporting production areas.
Canal+, beIN SPORT outlined their camera details for Ligue 1 coverage, which got underway on August 9 when Olympique Lyonnais played host to Nice, and newly-promoted Monaco traveled to Bordeaux. Meanwhile, the new English Premier League season ushered in the GLT era. “After this weekend the name of footballer Branislav Ivanovic is likely to be best remembered in future pub quizzes as the answer to the question ‘Who was the first player in the English Premier League to be denied a goal by goal line technology?’” wrote correspondent Kevin Hilton. “The Chelsea defender’s headed shot in added time at the end of the first half of his team’s opening fixture of the new season yesterday (18 August) was saved on the line at the second attempt by Hull City goalkeeper Allan McGregor. Because the indicator receiver worn by referee Jonathan Moss did not buzz and display ‘Goal!’ play continued and the score remained 2-0 to Chelsea through to full time.”
And, with IBC looming, SCG Europe revealed its Sport Technology Reception award recipients. Red Bull Media House, Riedel and Origin Digital were to take home the honour for Production Achievement for the impressive work done on October 2012’s Red Bull Stratos launch, while the honourees for Technical Achievement were BSkyB and ChyronHego for the development of Premier League player tracking graphics.
September was variously all about IBC and 4K, with the two combining elegantly as the first ever international live 4K sports broadcast saw a Gloucester vs Saracens Aviva Premiership rugby match broadcast into the Halls of the RAI.
All in all, IBC2013 attracted a record 52,974 people through its doors, with an impressive 300 of some of the most important movers and shakers in the sports broadcasting industry attending SVG Europe’s Sport Technology Reception. Technology-wise 4K and the monetisation of the second screen dominated the show, while there was also a huge amount of attention paid to Big Data and how to mine viewer analytics over in the Conference. We reported on all the new sports broadcast technology, including an impressive abundance of new commentary systems.
Sky Sports collaborated with SIS, Ericsson and Telegenic on an Ultra HD satellite backhaul test involving the Premier League match between West Ham and Stoke City at Upton Park, London, to the Sky Sports Broadcast centre in Osterley. SIS LIVE, SIS’ OB division and the former BBC OB arm, was in the news again with BBC Sport awarding all of its new OB contracts to its rivals. “The broadcaster says the two parties were unable to reach a commercial agreement for the provision of some of BBC Sport’s outside broadcast services, and as a result SIS Live will cease working with BBC Sport at the end of its current contract in March 2014,” we wrote. There would be more on this next month.
The EBU and A.S.O. concluded an agreement covering a range of cycling events through 2016-19, including the Tour and some of the greatest one-day races on the calendar. And we went behind the scenes of Mediaset La 5’s waterpolo coverage in Italy. ‘Vite in Apnea’ deals with the days of training, the difficulties in reconciling sports with other aspects of life, the sacrifices and the struggles associated with being part of a leading Italian waterpolo team based in the city of Savona. It has never seemed an easy sport, and the programme captured that fact superbly.
In a sign that it’s still a tough economic environment out there, ESPN decided to pull the plug on X Games events outside of US, scaling back to its original two summer and winter events and keeping them on home soil. And it was announced that SIS LIVE, which had provided outside broadcast units and services to the BBC since initially purchasing the BBC OB units in 2008, would wind down and eventually withdraw from the OB sector completely by the end of March, 2014, following the loss of its BBC sport contracts the previous.
Happily, we could report on a still busy European sports broadcasting scene. Canal+, HBS, AMP VISUAL TV et al were gearing up for Rallye de France which took place in the Alsace region, while in Italy Teleriviera rose again from the mess caused by analogue switch-off — two regional stations were allocated the same frequency — by majoring on coverage of football, cycling, hockey and more. France Télévisions inked a contract with deltatre to support the group’s sports programming with a range of cutting-edge digital solutions. And further afield Channel 9 dropped Hot Spot technology for The Ashes following a summer in England where it caused as much controversy as it settled (it was later reinstated with the addition of realtime audio technology as a backup system).
The rumours surrounding Brazil’s preparedness, or lack of it to be more accurate, for the World Cup started getting louder and louder. With the host broadcast reliably in the very capable hands of HBS, it was “the unilaterals that were the area causing concern,” we reported, “though not so much from a technical standpoint as from the logistical one that ties into the rest of Brazil’s communication and infrastructure problems. Moving kit around is set to be challenging, mobile signals and mobile internet – which has become essential in OB ops all of a sudden – is patchy, and there is a pronounced shortage of reasonable standard accommodation, especially as you get out to the further flung host cities.”
Still, none of that stopped FIFA and HBS detailing a rich offering of multiscreen plans at Sportel. It looks like World Cup rightsholders next summer will have more ways than ever to reach football fans as FIFA TV and HBS will offer up not only a full slate of HD production, but also 4K coverage of the Final (and possibly other matches), as well as a multimedia experience that will deliver a wealth of video to handheld devices via apps and web sites.
Meanwhile, at the CEATEC show in Tokyo, during a panel addressing the rise of 4K and 8K technology, Korean and Japanese broadcasters KBS and NHK gave attendees —and us — a rare behind-the-scenes look at preparations for 8K productions at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
There were more worries for the World Cup as Soccerex, which was due to be held in Rio’s Maracanã Stadium on the eve of the recent draw in December, was abruptly cancelled amidst an unseemly row about where the blame for its canning should reside.
Meanwhile, we reported on interesting developments in geolocation technology. In France Trimaran adapted its sailing-oriented 3D georacing tracking solution to motorsport and coverage of the Rallye de France, while Ad Valem and the Italian group Telespazio joined forces to establish Earth Lab and Sport Lab, services capable of driving geolocation and second screen applications.
A two-part SVG Europe feature looked at Sky Italia’s preparations for 4K work, with test shoots that extended back to the Ferrari Challenge in Monza back in March, while we also looked at one of the few negative Ultra HD stories of the year, which suggested that 4K capture was looking increasingly unlikely for the XX Commonwealth Games next July.
Interestingly, the more tests that were done during the year the more that the speculated date for the start of mainstream 4K transmissions receded further into the future. It’s not the fault of the tests — which were largely successful in establishing the parameters of 4K as a production format — but more a realistic acknowledgement that there is more work to be done on the transmission infrastructure before it is robust enough to cope with the daily demands of continuous broadcast.
The last story that we’re picking from a year of SVG Europe highlights could have a bearing on matters too. In mid-November it was announced that BT Sport was spending over €1bn on a three-year exclusive deal with UEFA to screen all Champions and Europa League football in the UK. The share price of BSkyB, formerly the 800lb gorilla in the room at all sports negotiations, tumbled over 10% overnight and speculation grew rapidly that we could be in for a new round of rights price hikes that might ripple out from the UK and affect the whole of Europe, and possibly beyond, as serious IPTV players muscled in on the action. And against that background, a slow and steady rollout of the 4K project as a whole might even be considered a good thing.