Live from Rio 2016: BBC Sport Streamlines From London But Expectations High
The BBC production team at the Rio Olympics is 455 people strong and, like the Great Britain Olympic team itself, the team is trying to make sure it does everything it can to replicate the success of 2012. “Our team is performing fantastically well and doing it under pressure as there are external factors that are making things a little bit more difficult,” says Jonny Bramley, BBC Sport, executive producer, Rio 2016.
The BBC’s coverage of the games can be found in the UK on BBC1 and BBC4 from 9 a.m. to midnight Rio time which means the core of coverage back home is between 1 p.m. and 4 a.m. A cut down of the content that airs live from midnight to 4 a.m. is then rebroadcast the following day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. In addition, there are six Red Button digital channels and coverage of all sports is available on the Web and also Smart TVs with all of the production efforts for those outlets originating out of the BBC facility back home in Salford.
One interesting aspect of this year’s games as while this might have been an ideal time to base a lot of the production team and studio operations back in the UK the start of the English Premier League season on August 13 actually made it more economical to operate out of Rio.
“Back home football started and our business-as-usual capacity in Salford is scaled around domestic football operations and so it was more economical, bizarrely, to do it on site here rather than build it out in the UK,” says Richard Morgan, BBC Sport, chief engineer.
The physical presence the BBC has at the IBC is smaller than it was in 2012, measuring 1,750 square meters vs. 2,500 square meters.
“We have two big control rooms with an audio gallery, one each for the two principle networks,” says Morgan.
Between those two control rooms is a broadcast operations center which is designed to streamline the incoming content so that those in the two control rooms can simply focus on the show. The BBC facilities at the IBC were integrated by Dega Broadcast which the BBC has used for several other events, including the London Olympics.
“They do a super job and the installation looks like it is a permanent facility,” says Morgan. “So we get the best of both worlds as it is cut cable but also a really good installation.”
Other key equipment includes Sony production switchers, Sony cameras, Calrec audio consoles, an Imagine routing switcher, and For-A frame rate converters.
“Converting the frame rate is one challenge coming out of here and the For-A gear is proving to be very comparable with other frame rate converters,” says Morgan.
There are 34 channels of EVS XT3 servers which do temporary and quick turnaround storage and then a nearline storage system from Object Matrix that provides a storage platform that times into the Avid ISIS storage systems and 12 Avid editing suites (six of which are enclosed for high-level craft editing).
One unique aspect of the BBC Olympic operations is that there are 14 logging stations back in the BBC headquarters in Salford, UK, where BBC staffers input the BBC’s own metadata instead of relying on OBS metadata.
“We prefer our own logging as it is more suited to our needs and, apart from anything else, our archive and business-as-usual workflow has a certain approach and we don’t want to deviate from that for one event,” says Morgan. “For quite a lot of our backend systems as we don’t want to tailor it for a specific event and it’s easier to stick with one workflow and have a consistent archive.”
Those extra effort ensures that Olympic content is archived in an identical way as all other BBC Sports content so that it can be easily retrieved for years to come. The first step in that process is sending 36 HD services plus numerous other connections back to the UK where the logging takes place and then that metadata is available to the production team back in Rio.
Streamlined Venue Operations
If there is one place that fans at home will notice a difference versus 2012 it’s that the in-venue presentation has become a bit leaner with fewer cameras and operators and the BBC is relying more on the OBS-provided commentary for some of the content that is being streamed.
“We’re trying to match the look we had in London but with fewer facilities,” says Bramley.
Morgan points to the production efforts around sailing as an example of ways the BBC is trimming around the margins.
“In 2012 we had a big outside operation for sailing but now we just have simple RF cameras that can be cut into the live coverage,” he says. “And we have far less commentary positions.”
The BBC team is also relying more heavily on the work done by OBS, including using more of the OBS provided commentary. The BBC talks with OBS about what it needs out of the commentary (and also offers suggestions on talents) but there have been some compromises.
“Some of the minor sports aren’t commented on throughout,” says Bramley.
Adds Morgan: “Ultimately we’re responsible for our output so if our output is not as good as it could be we absolutely carry the can for it. But the production standards on OBS are very good.”
Main studio operations are located out at Copacabana Beach with four studio camera signals returning back to the IBC where they are switched in a control room. In addition, there are augmented graphics provided by Deltatre with the data coming back from the studio and the graphics processing taking place at the IBC. Lawo equipment is helping in those efforts as well as at other venues.
“For the first time we have a lot more IP from the venues and we have quite a few venues back via that route,”
The BBC has three radio cameras at the beach hub also and four radio cameras at the Olympic Park that are shared by BBC Sport and BBC News.
“We like to do our presentation in venues or in amongst the people to really give people a taste of the games rather than sterile studios,” says Bramley. “So we’re mixing and matching between a really nice studio and being out and about.”
The games are about to begin its second week and it was at this point in the London Games when the Great Britain team truly became great on the field of competition, particularly at the cycling and track and field events. The BBC is ready, once again, to capture that magic. Now it’s just a matter of the team, once again, stepping up.
“Things here are working the way we intended them to in spite of everything that has been thrown at us and there isn’t much I would change in hindsight,” says Bramley.