Coverage of the Winter Paralympic Games was a task of Olympian proportions, says John Loughman
Channel 4 was keen to build on the success of its award-winning London 2012 Paralympic Games programming by delivering nearly 180 hours of coverage - the greatest ever commitment to the Paralympic Winter Games from a UK broadcaster.
This comprised of nearly 80 hours of live coverage across ten days to Channel 4 and More 4 and a further 100 hours of video on demand content via two Paralympic Extra streams.
We partnered with independent sports production company Sunset+Vine to take on the challenge and helped plan and provide technical facilities for the operation.
Daily coverage began from 05.30 and on the penultimate day there was 14 hours of programming.
Depending on the schedule of events, it included live coverage from all five of the winter sports – Alpine Skiing, Ice Sledge Hockey, Wheelchair Curling, Biathlon and Cross-country Skiing.
Our 7,500 sq ft Stage 9 at Elstree Studios hosted Sunset+Vine’s production team.
Two thirds of the floor was utilised for the set, which included a huge 70 panel LED screen and was designed to accommodate up to four guests.
The remaining third of the floor space was converted into a large production office with studio and off air monitoring and IT and phone provision for a crew of 30.
Stage 9’s existing production office was transformed into a post production hub (including three sport EVS positions, six IP Director logging stations and two administration positions). Re-arranging the available footprint meant there was more space in the main gallery for the producers and exec producers to watch the programme output and also ensured plenty of wheelchair access.
Dedicated fibre links from Sochi were installed by Sunset+Vine, comprising five incoming fibres bringing in material from the Games around the clock and two outgoing reverse fibres, back to the production team in Sochi.
During transmission, feeds were coming in from up to five events at any one time and were recorded into an EVS system, so nothing was missed.
Due to the time difference between London and Sochi, and the need to record the events as they happened, the edit operation ran for nearly 19 hours daily, from 3.30am until roughly 10.00pm each night, with packages being cut almost around the clock.
For very fast turnaround edits, HD content was made available on Avid Isis in real time so the editor and producer could start creating a feature within seconds of the action happening. The HD material remained on the Avid ISIS throughout the games, so if older material needed to be referred back to, it was available instantly.
The incoming feeds were also stored on a nearline storage system and logged so it could be referred back to at a later date.
At the end of the 10-day event the team had recorded over 300 hours of content and Sunset+Vine took away all of the media on Xfile drives for use at a later date. It was truly a tapeless workflow production.
John Loughman is post production supervisor at BBC Studios and Post Production