TV France ascends the Olympic mountain in Sochi with Gorki-based ops center
While nearly all rightsholding broadcasters in Sochi have located their primary production centers at the International Broadcast Center (IBC) in the Coastal Cluster, TV France has opted for a different route. It housed its primary production operations further up the mountain at the Gorki Media Center, 48 km from the Main Media Center and Olympic venues in the Coastal Cluster.
It’s no surprise that TV France would want to be near the snow — 24 of France’s 27 all-time gold medals have come in skiing, snowboarding, biathlon, and Nordic combined events — the motivation behind the move to Gorki was more about integrating technical and editorial operations in a single location.
“Our interest is in the snow, for sure,” says Francis Cloiseau, head of sports production, TV France. “But now, for the first time, we also have the technical [team] at the same place as editorial, so it is very comfortable to have everyone in the same place.
In Vancouver for the 2010 Games, France was forced to house its primary control room at the IBC because of the prohibitive cost of connectivity between the widely separated Mountain and Coastal Clusters. However, with the IBC and Gorki Media Center just 48 km apart in Sochi, TV France was able to procure two STM-16 (2.5-Gbps) fiber pipes from the control room at Gorki to the IBC and one from the IBC back to Gorki.
At the IBC, France TV has established a small, 15-person technical operation housing minimal equipment (including two Avid Media Composer NLE suites) and allowing the network to operate a commentary position out of the Iceberg Skating Palace (figure skating and short-track speed skating) that links to the Gorki operation.
The primary Gorki setup includes a 60-member crew, four Avid edit suites, and a seven-camera studio atop the Media Center looking out over Sochi’s mountainous landscape. Seven ENG teams — four for sports and three for news — using Panasonic P2 cameras are roaming throughout the Coastal and Mountain Clusters.
“For [Pyeongchang, South Korea, in] 2018, we absolutely plan to install our [main location] in the mountain, with the coastal as the [IBC], says Cloiseau. “I think a lot of broadcasters are more interested by the snow than the ice and [will follow suit].”
From Sochi to Paris and back
France TV is responsible for programming two channels back home — France 2 and France 3 (as well as France 4 on Day 1 of the Games because of a scheduling conflict with Six Nations Rugby) — from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., with live programming and highlights at the end of the day. In addition, France TV provides live coverage of the Games by supplying all six OBS-provided MDS (Multichannel Distribution Service) feeds as live-streaming video on its Website.
The operation uses 12 direct fiber lines to its Paris headquarters to send a mix of 20 OBS-provided multilateral feeds from the Sochi venues, up to seven discrete cameras from its Gorki rooftop studio, its mix zones at the various venues, its alpine commentary position, and its figure-skating commentary position. An EVS network infrastructure established at Gorki is tied to its broadcast operations in Paris.
To manage this profusion of feeds over the 12 available fiber lines, France TV uses in-house–developed scheduling software integrated directly with OBS’s BDF (broadcast-data feed), which includes the Olympic data feed (ODF), logging, transmission schedule, and more event-specific information. With identical software in the Paris control room, the two operations work seamlessly in scheduling feeds to transmit. The software also coordinates playout for France TV’s news department in Sochi.
“Since the software is interfaced with the BDF information, we can automatically integrate the OBS information for each competition,” says Cloiseau. “The production managers here and in Paris work together. Everyone is working on the basis of this software.”
Sky-high set in Gorki
The rooftop set at Gorki features five on-air talent and seven active robotic cameras during the morning and primetime shows and a single anchor and three or four live cameras during daytime hours. With a tight footprint in which to build the studio, TV France opted for seven Panasonic robotic cameras — six POVs and a motorized one on a track — with four operators (three for the POVs, one for the motorized robo). The seven feeds are sent discretely to Paris, where the show is cut.
The studio also features two projectors that display mountain-centric Sochi backgrounds rather than the pitch-black mountainous landscape during the nighttime hours.
A rough arrival in Sochi
Although the Gorki broadcast center has proved a rousing success for France TV, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Upon arriving in Sochi on Jan. 23, the technical team found itself without equipment to begin setting up its operation. Because of significant freight-transportation delays in Russia, the gear did not arrive until Jan. 25, forcing the team to rush setup on a shortened timeline. Further complicating matters, the bulk of the French team found itself without a place to sleep because its hotel wasn’t ready in time for their arrival, forcing France TV to focus much of its effort on logistics rather than production and technical ops.
“We got the freight two days late, and our team had to wait with nothing to do, and we had to push very hard to get it all accomplished [in time],” says Cloiseau. “Every day, we spent 50% of our time on logistics. It takes time every day to make sure [everyone has hotel rooms]. It is resolved now, but it has been difficult.”
Looking ahead to Rio
In both Sochi and London, France has relied heavily on “at-home” workflows that connect its on-site operation with its home base in Paris. Although the strategy has paid off in spades thus far, the 2016 Games in Rio De Janeiro — and the connectivity challenges that come with them — present a tough proposition for TV France.
“The cost benefit is evident [in this workflow],” says Cloiseau. “We are saving 35 people by having them in Paris. For Rio, I think we may have to find another way. [Fiber lines] in Rio are [extremely expensive], so we will have to change how we do things. But sending more people to Rio will also be difficult. We will have to find a solution, though.”