The royal wedding and Rugby World Cup kept outside broadcast firms busy in a quiet year, but 2012 promises to be a whole lot better. Adrian Pennington and Michael Burns report.
International sporting events tend to fall in even years but thanks to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and the decade’s biggest ad hoc event to date - the royal wedding - suppliers to the live broadcast market were kept busy.
Nonetheless, even active OB suppliers are looking to diversify to keep their expertise and facilities ticking over during the odd years and an ever-threatening recession.
SIS LIVE commercial director Phil Aspden says 2011 was: “A tough year, compounded by constant pressure on programme budgets as a consequence of the poor economic climate.”
Aspden is looking to diversify from SIS’s core OB business by building on relationships such as its joint venture with Peel Media to operate multi-client broadcast facilities at MediaCityUK.
“We intend to build the largest teleport in the north-west in support of our activities and will be looking at ways to develop our growing national fibre capability,” he explains.
The one big sporting fixture SIS was able to get its teeth into this year was Wimbledon, providing HD facilities for BBC Sport’s host coverage.
The hallowed green of Centre Court also marked NEP Visions’ first foray into live 3D broadcasting in conjunction with 3D specialists CAN Communicate and Sony.
Aired live in 3D on the BBC’s HD channel, the trio of matches culminating in the men’s singles final were produced from a pair of Visions’ Gemini trucks, which split 3D convergence and EVS operation from production.
Planning is already at an advanced stage for expanded 3D coverage of the tournament next June. On the whole, however, 3D broadcasting has got off to a slow start.
Demand remains low, with audience take-up reportedly already in decline within cinemas, and the sale of 3D-capable TVs still slow compared with the speed of HD uptake.
“From a facility provider’s point of view, the investment required to undertake 3D is difficult to justify without a broadcaster agreeing to underwrite the capital cost,” says Aspden.
CTV managing director Barry Johnstone agrees: “Outside of Sky, the demand for 3D is low and can’t justify the amount of investment needed. 3D is a risky peripheral business.”
Arena Television managing director Richard Yeowart has seen a decline in interest in 3D coverage and reports.
“We were getting weekly enquiries for OBs and aerial filming, but this has dropped back to just one a month,” he says.
Arena is waiting for 3D cameramount technology to settle, and for demand to become more stable, before making any signifi cant move into the market.
“Any major investment made now would have to be written off over two years, which isn’t where we see ourselves,” says Yeowart.
“I think uptake will depend on the right technology being introduced.” The only OB fi rm with a strong 3D business is Telegenic, because of its ties with Sky. It felt confident enough to launch a third dedicated 3D vehicle in time for Sky Sports to host 3D production of the UEFA Champions League final from Wembley, and has announced plans for a fourth, this time for nonsports entertainment work.
Branching out into ad hoc and nonsports events seems to be key to making these uneven years pay. Johnstone, who is also chief operating officer of CTV’s parent company Euro Media Group (EMG), observes that walk in business across the group has increased.
He says the noncontractual business, including the Asian Winter Games in Kazakhstan, concerts and nonsports series like One Born Every Minute and The Hotel, seems buoyant.
Arena TV will close the year 7% up on 2010 after completing its OB14 truck, which is aimed at the ad hoc market of music and events coverage.
Yeowart, meanwhile, notes a “very stable 2011” when few mainstream contracts changed hands.
“Apart from couple that are currently doing the rounds, most contracts were ongoing across the sector so there was little churn in 2011.”
NEP Visions managing director Steve Jenkins oversaw 20% growth in turnover this year, which he attributes to “organic growth in the UK market and broadening our client base”.
Yet the challenge of tight budgets and minimal margins hasn’t gone away.
“Increasing fuel costs are outside our control and the investment in technology has not got any cheaper,” he says. Visions’ robotic camera subsidiary Roll to Record retained the Big Brother contract for Channel 5, upgrading the kit to HD.
“In terms of hours, it’s a massive departure for C5,” says Mike Bass, the company’s commercial director.
“We’ve set it up as a massive flyaway kit, with all three shows running concurrently off a huge router. It’s a significant step forward in terms of technology, and I think it really does show in the resulting picture quality.”
The biggest piece of ad hoc work was without question April’s royal wedding, when large swathes of the UK’s OB armoury were corralled in Green Park supplying the host ITN, Sky and BBC HD broadcast, as well as numerous international broadcasters.
NEP Visions and Aerial Camera Systems covered the inside of Westminster Abbey, with cameras for the host broadcast of the ceremony itself.
SIS supplied eight OB units, a specialist sound truck, 13 uplink units and an array of RF communications, including 13 radio cameras for the host and another 40 satellite uplink trucks for clients including NBC News and France Télévisions.
But this event will be dwarfed by the celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee next June. The total OB requirement (led by the BBC) is expected to be up to four times bigger than for the royal wedding.
Music concerts have also become good regular and ad hoc staples for broadcasters, particularly as the popularity (and ticket cost) of live music rises.
The BBC has been the leader in this field with its coverage of multiday events like Glastonbury (OB supported by SIS). One notable first this year was broadcasting Coldplay’s headline set live around the world.
The BBC also had extensive live broadcasts from the Reading (SIS) and T in the Park (six OB trucks from NEP Visions) festivals, but Sky 3D and Telegenic also made an impact in this area with live 3D coverage of the Isle of Wight festival in June, part of Sky’s experiment in 3D festivals across the summer.
All eyes are now turning towards London 2012. Indeed, preparation has been going on all year. SIS has almost all of its SNG vehicles and OB fleet committed over the Olympic period, for broadcasters including the BBC as well as OBS, the Olympic host broadcaster.
SIS continues to pursue business from nonrights holders and is planning a bespoke playout and editing facility at its Corsham St office, which has the advantage of close proximity to the Olympic Park.
The UEFA European Football Championship in Ukraine and Poland (from June 2012) will absorb further capacity from at least two UK OB companies (Arena and Telegenic).
Yeowart says he believes the high demand during this crunch period means that “some competitors are charging rate card plus a premium for these events, [rather than rate card less a discount]”.
Visions will be taking care of NBC’s needs at London 2012 but Jenkins is mindful that when an event the size of the Olympics is on home turf, “you don’t overstretch yourself against your regular year round customers”.
He adds: “A number of events have reshuffl ed their schedule either side of the Games and we have to take thatn into account to ensure there is capacity in terms of human resource and kit.
Timeline: A year in outside broadcast
NEP Visions secures multimillion-dollar deal to supply equipment and technical crew for the seventh Asian Winter Games
2011 World Indoor Bowls Championships live on BBC (Arqiva, Input Media)
S4C’s live coverage channel S4C2 is axed February Six Nations Rugby Final gives BBC1 more than 9.5 million viewers
Royal wedding goes live to 2 billion viewers worldwide with OB services provided by NEP Visions, SIS LIVE, Arqiva, Arena, Bow Tie and others
YouTube rolls out a dedicated live-TV section with plans to enable thousands of channel partners to also stream content live
London Marathon is broadcast live worldwide to 159 countries (SIS, NEP Visions, Aerial Camera)
May UEFA Champions League Final 2011 (NEP Visions), FA Cup Final and Europa Cup (both SIS), Chelsea Flower Show (SIS)
BBC Wimbledon live in 3D (NEP Visions, CAN and Sony), as well as full HD coverage of every match at Wimbledon on seven courts (SIS)
Glastonbury live across the BBC (SIS and others)
SIS enters into formal arbitration after a failed attempt earlier this year by British diplomats to recover its £15m fee for providing OB facilities at last year’s Commonwealth Games in India August
SIS warns staff to be on their guard for further attacks after the company’s outside broadcast trucks are attacked by rioters in London and Manchester
Channel 5’s Big Brother live in HD (Roll to Record)
Endemol’s Deal Or No Deal goes out live for a two-week daily run (BBC S&PP)
OB firm NEP Cymru trials a new camera set-up that aims to deliver live pictures from the barrel of a wave for the Quiksilver Pro France surfing contest
Children In Need night - seven hours of live HD broadcast (BBC S&PP)
Sky Sports announces it is to launch a dedicated Formula One channel when it starts broadcasting the series in March 2012
Case Study: Horse Show of the Year
In October, Sky 3D covered its first live equestrian event, the Horse Of The Year Show from Birmingham NEC.
The six day event was produced as a joint 2D and 3D operation out of two Telegenic trucks.
“The challenge with anything new is to get the camera angles right without the benefi t of being able to test them beforehand,” says Robin Broomfield, operations development manager at Sky 3D.
His solution was to work with the experience that the directors and production team gained on other sports, and transfer that into the equestrian field.
“It’s known, for example, that lower angles look much better for what we’re after,” says Broomfield.
“In equestrian we were lucky because the camera angles are generally low anyway. What I also found, when comparing 2D and 3D, was not only does 3D give you the depth, the distance between the fences and so on, but it also gives you a sense of the size of the fences and the size of the horses. It felt like a more real experience than watching it in 2D.”
He adds: “There were a couple of angles we couldn’t get into - the handheld RFs being one of them - so one of the Steadicams had to be 2D. But we had six of our standard 3D rigs working in the ring [3ality rigs with Sony 1500s] and a couple of minicams on the fences. We also had a special Sky 3D fence.”
More than 60 people worked on the event with 16 cameras as well as the two OB trucks.
“One covered the event and 3D operation, and the other was for studio and replay operation,” Broomfield explains.