The Greatest Show On Earth

Adrian Pennington looks at the technology that brought the World Cup.
Content production

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World Cup fever reached its crescendo in July when an accumulated audience of over 26 billion tuned in to the tournament’s 64 matches. That was no small degree of pressure for the production team tasked with delivering the broadcast.

HBS, the Swiss-based subsidiary of Infront Sports & Media, was the exclusive producer and distributor of images for the competition. The company has a history of innovating host broadcast production, from the first ‘multi-feed’ services to the transition to tapeless recording and archiving in HD.

The most significant developments this time was the dedicated near-live streaming of every game to mobile handsets and select 3D stereo transmission.

“The overall philosophy is the same as it’s been for every World Cup,” explains HBS CEO Francis Tellier. “We base a team in the host country, complete a detailed analysis of the country, its communications infrastructure and the requirements of FIFA TV, identify and work with local suppliers and appoint a dream team of directors.

“We don’t build anything but design and manage everything from OB contracts to cabling and signage at the international broadcast centre [IBC, in Johannesburg]. We are prepared down to the minutest of details. Of course there are nearly always surprises – but we are prepared for that.”

As for Japan/Korea 2002 and Germany 2006, EVS hardware and software had been configured into a comprehensive workflow spanning outside broadcast production of all the multilateral feeds and the logging, storage and management of all official audiovisual content. “This is the largest event in terms of equipment supplied and hours of content managed that we have undertaken,” claims EVS general manager and head of big events projects Asia and Pacific Luc Doneux.

“The underlying workflow is, however, a tried and tested one similar to previous World Cups. The main innovations are the ability for HBS production teams to remotely browse content produced at the venues from within the IBC; the first integration of a virtual offside detector within the international feed and the full integration of super high speed cameras with EVS LSM [Live Slow Motion],” he adds.

Housed in the IBC, the central FIFA Max media server was an integrated cluster of 15 EVS XT[2]+ production servers which managed the ingest and exchange of all content. More than 3,500 hours of HD material was stored on the FIFA Max and 18 additional XStore[2] storage units. That’s more than 1,500 hours greater than the total volume produced in Germany.

“The main difference is the amount of ENG [electronic news gathering] footage which FIFA wanted to generate,” explains Doneux. FIFA invested in a dedicated ENG production crew equipped with Panasonic P2 camcorders and Final Cut Pro editing to follow each of the 32 teams, plus a further 10 crews to create feature material.

“They each inputted 20-25 minutes of DVCPROHD rushes per day onto the server,” says Doneux. Connected to an EVS Xedio Dispatcher, the ENG teams were able to instantly display footage, enabling immediate media browsing for clip selection, indexing and logging. Those clips were then transferred from the venues to the IBC using SmartJog file transfer.

HBS tasked Grass Valley, the main technical supplier in 2006, with organising the technical infrastructure according to HBS’s plans. In turn, Grass Valley contracted a series of outside broadcast companies to build and crew an OB hub at each of the ten stadia venues.

Built from flyaway packs, they remained in-situ at the venues (only expensive kit like lenses travelled between venues) and had been designed such that the equipment, and production personnel, were interchangeable. A single camera set-up plan, one monitor layout and one cabling system across all the OBs, saved production and engineering staff time adjusting to new routines.

“There’s a certain level of customisation – we don’t impose a single way of working for directors, especially with the way monitoring is organised,” explains Tellier. “Engineering shouldn’t get in the way of a director’s work.”

Each OB was outfitted with Reidel intercom systems and Lawo audio consoles. Six of these OBs were built with a combined total of 400 Axon Synapse signal processing panels which created 1500 multiviewer outputs for monitoring. Each OB housed at least 13 EVS XT[2] servers.

Signals were fed by fibre to a neighbouring technical operation centre (TOC). One of these was built at each of the ten venues by the UK’s Gearhouse Broadcast.

The TOCs aggregated the host feeds and distributed them to unilateral rights holders with their own on-site flyaway OB facility. After customisation of commentary and captioning by the unilateral, the signal was routed back through the TOC and onto the IBC. There, broadcasters could further add studio elements or integrate their own ENG packages before distribution to domestic audiences via satellite.

For the first time, a virtual offside line graphic was introduced to the main international feed. This graphic overlay was managed using Epsio, a new EVS tool, which allowed LSM operators to manually trigger the offside line with the jog wheel of the LSM remote.

In addition, the host feed was integrated with Deltratre’s new statistical analytics software Magma Pro (Match Analysis Graphics Machine). HBS production teams were able to replay pictures integrated with Magma Pro data from the FIFA Max server to create analysis of key moments such as goals and the position of every player on the pitch.

The tournament was covered by more cameras than ever before (excluding the camera pairs devoted to the stereo 3D element). An average 23 Grass Valley LDK6000/8000 Worldcams and six LDK 8300 Super Slo-Mos were positioned per match in-stadia alongside a selection of specialist cameras such as ultra-hi-speeds (from ARRI Media, Live Motion Concept and Digital Video Sud), aerial spidercams, Camera Corps’ Q-Ball robotic camera systems (10 per venue), Hitachi DK-H32 and Toshiba HD mini cams.

These provided point-of-view cutaways from the manually-operated cameras which were used to follow the routine cut-and-thrust of each game. The biggest challenge from a conceptual point of view, according to Grass Valley, was to manage the increasingly complex production requirements for this World Cup with the integration of feeds from more specialty cameras.

“This goes hand in hand with the new technical concept of a container infrastructure replacing the traditional OB vans, providing separate production areas with improved working environments for the international production teams,” the firm says.

Inevitably, the World Cup’s 3D broadcast grabbed the headlines, but arguably the greater innovation was the vastly improved coverage for mobile viewers. Mobile TV has yet to take off in most territories, including Europe and the US, but events like this provide a catalyst for it.

“Mobile for the World Cup 2002 was symbolic and in 2006 it was not big business,” says Tellier. “In 2010, all matches were streamed live to mobiles (from select operators) with a special feed tailored to make the pictures more mobile-screen friendly (i.e. with more close-ups).” During the tournament itself, Tellier ensured he was in a trouble-shooting mode. “If we’ve little to do during the event it means we’ve done our job well.”

Meanwhile, attention is already turning to the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. “We’ve begun discussions with stadiums to tell them what we need as they begin construction,” he says. “The basic technical concept organised in South Africa (identical flyaway OBs remaining in situ at venues) will probably be the model for 2014.” Perhaps by then, live to mobile and 3D stereo coverage will be on a level footing with the main TV broadcast.

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