As production challenges go, this is a big one. Over 3.5bn viewers are set to tune in to watch this month’s World Cup, and they will expect nothing short of first class coverage – whether on TV, mobiles, tablets or desktops.
Yet producing the World Cup from Brazil is far tougher than for most major events. And that’s largely down to the sheer size of the country. Brazil’s 12 host cities (up from 10 in South Africa) are spread across its 3.3m square miles, putting a huge strain on the production operation.
Driving crews and OB trucks between them is, in most cases, simply not an option. For example, it’s 3,580 miles between the Manaus and Fortaleza stadiums by road. It’s the equivalent of a journey from London to Moscow – and back. So dozens of specially chartered aircraft, as well as ships, will move kit and production staff across the globe and between the host cities to produce the coverage.
Hosting the Cup
Coverage of the World Cup is overseen by Swiss-based Host Broadcast Services (HBS), which has been appointed by FIFA as the host broadcaster responsible for providing neutral, high quality coverage to each of the tournament’s 230 rights holding broadcasters around the world, including the BBC and ITV. Set up in 1999, it’s owned by sports marketing outfit Infront Sports & Media, and has produced the host coverage for the World Cup since 2002. HBS is also the fixer for each of the rights holding broadcasters, providing production, transmission and commentary facilities that allow them to get their coverage on air.
To do this, HBS has designed, built and installed an International Broadcast Centre (IBC) on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro that’s 55,000m2 – the size of eight football pitches. 83 broadcasters have taken studio space at the IBC, from where they will host their coverage of the tournament. Others, like the BBC and ITV, have hired purpose built TV studios with views over Copacabana and the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer.
Meanwhile, HBS is also responsible for producing the host broadcast feed at each venue, which is produced by specially selected match directors and their hand picked teams. “We’re keeping ‘the dream team’ concept, which we developed in 2002,” said HBS director of production Dan Miodownik in a speech in March. “The idea is that the match director is chosen and he then selects his dream team to work around him – he has complete control over who he chooses to have onsite.” As Televisual went to press, it’s understood that at least two British directors have been selected as match directors.
HBS is also responsible for providing the facilities for the commentary teams presenting from each venue. 120 commentary positions have been booked for the opening match, indicating the level of demand for onsite facilities.
Shooting for the world
HBS has appointed Sony as its delivery partner for the World Cup, meaning that the manufacturer is responsible for kitting out each of the 12 venues with cameras and production tools for capturing each match. Sony, in turn, has appointed seven subcontractors to create a full HD live production workflow for all 64 matches.
The subcontractors, who are supporting Sony with hardware and staff, are: Sonosvts, Presteigne Charter, Studio Berlin, CTV Outside Broadcast, Outside Broadcast, AMP Visual TV and Broadcast RF. They are providing everything from camera installations to audio and video equipment racks, air conditioning and crews. 280 technical staff will work on the production through Sony across the 12 venues. It’s the first time that Sony has worked as the technical partner on such a big event, and builds on the manufacturer’s experience of shooting the 2010 World Cup in 3D for HBS.
Shipping down the Amazon
Instead of using OB trucks, Sony has purpose built 12 studio containers, one for each of the venues, to house the technical facilities for the tournament. Each container is the size of three OB trucks and was constructed in Munich, before being shipped to Brazil to each stadium. The 50,000 mile journey takes 40-45 days by sea, with some travelling down the Amazon on their final leg.
Each of the 12 production facilities has, essentially, the same set up. It means that a director and his crew can walk into any one of the facilities at the 12 venues and quickly feel at home.
“We moved from an OB van set up in 2006 into a flyaway fixed installation in 2010,” explained Miodownik. “We weighed up all the options and came to the conclusion that the flyaway fixed installation was by far the best.” He added: “It is significantly the best option for us, given the scale of the operation.”
Each match will have 37 cameras filming, up from 32 in 2010, including a cable system, aerial helicopter cameras and two Ultramotion cameras. The main match cameras are Sony HDC-1500 and HDC-2500s. 224 have been booked in total, as well as 64 Super-slow motion camera chains.
Meanwhile, three of the matches – including the final – will be shot in 4k Ultra HD as part of a bid to promote the growth of 4K content. Sony has chosen Brazilian OB outfit Globosat to provide the on-the-ground technical facilities for the 4K broadcast, while the UK’s Telegenic, which worked on the Confederations Cup 4K trial last year, will provide technical expertise and experience. The PMW-F55 is being used to shoot the 4K matches.
Mark Grinyer, programme manager World Cup 2014 at Sony Professional Solutions Europe, says there are three important factors to ensure when working on such a major event. Firstly, trust between all the partners is crucial.
There’s no room for prima donnas, or ego scoring on such a big project, he says. “It has to be a partnership.” Secondly, it’s crucial to keep the energy going in the project. Sony has been working on the World Cup project for three years, which has involved a huge amount of forward planning, so it’s been important to ensure that deadlines are consistently hit over this long period. And thirdly, it’s vital to focus on the small details. Says Grinyer: “This is the biggest sporting event in the world. It’s important to keep yourself focused on doing the little things – crossing the i’s and dotting the t’s – and not letting the project overawe us.”
BBC versus ITV coverage
In the UK, the rights to the World Cup are split between the BBC and ITV. Both are covering the event from studios in Rio that are provided by Fifa, via HBS. With space at a huge premium, their studios are in the same building that overlooks Copacabana, with the BBC in the top right hand side, and ITV in the bottom left.
ITV will air the first game of the tournament on 12 June, between Brazil and Croatia. The BBC’s first game is the following day between Spain and the Netherlands, and the corporation also airs England’s first match, against Italy, at 11pm on 14 June. ITV has the rest of the England games in its qualifying group. During the knockout stages, the split of the games will depend on England’s progression. The BBC will take the first pick of the round of 16, ITV the first pick of the quarter final matches and the BBC will take the first pick of the semi-finals. Both the BBC and ITV will show the World Cup final. In all, the BBC is showing 31 live matches, and ITV 34.
Both broadcasters stress the technical challenges of covering the tournament. The BBC is taking 272 staff, compared to 295 for South Africa. Because of the huge distances involved, it’s deploying 12 separate commentary teams – one for each host city.
The first 24/7 World Cup
The BBC’s director of sport, Barbara Slater, says that the coverage “will be our most ambitious, most comprehensive ever.” With live matches shown on BBC1, the BBC Sport website, BBC3 and the red button, she says that coverage across the channels adds up to 160 hours of TV – over 50% more than from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Picking up from many of the lessons learnt at London 2012, she says “the aspiration is to make this the first 24/7 World Cup for all audiences, on all platforms at any time of day or night.” She says each major sporting event, from South Africa 2010 to London 2012, has set new benchmarks in terms of audience numbers using the multimedia services – and that she expects the same at Brazil 2014.
She says that first thing in the morning there is a surge to the BBC’s mobile offering, with people waking up and turning on their mobiles to check the news. Lunchtime is the next big spike, and then as commuters return home. The BBC also reports plenty of access via desktops during the day as workers check-in to the sports site, while tablet usage surges during the evening.
Digital highlights include live text commentary, real-time stats streamed to devices and, for the first tim, real-time voting via the second screen.
Mark Cole, lead executive at BBC Football, says he expects a surge in viewing from tablet devices, anticipating that many viewers will watch the 11pm games on tablets in bed. It’s led observers to predict that this will be the first ‘tablet World Cup’.
ITV’s coverage, meanwhile, is fronted by Adrian Chiles, with teams criss-crossing the country to present from the stadia. ITV has commissioned Gearhouse Broadcast to deliver additional facilities in the IBC, including a production office, master control room and transmission gallery. Gearhouse has also set up ITV’s facilities in its Copacabana beach, and are providing on site support.
Like the BBC, ITV is also pushing the multimedia aspect of its coverage. Live matches will air on ITV and ITV4, and on the ITV Player on itv.com while the website itv.com/worldcup will bring the competition to life for mobile and tablet users, and will include highlight packages of all 64 matches, in-match video clips as well as news and analysis.
Whatever the audience figures, it’s clear that Brazil 2014 is going to be a truly digital World Cup.
Is the takeover of the UK production sector by foreign, largely US, buyers a good thing for British creative businesses?
It has been a seismic few months for the indie TV sector in the UK. A spate of deals has seen many of the largest players change ownership, with American and international buyers investing heavily in the market. The three largest superindies – All3Media, Endemol and Shine – are in the process of changing hands, with Discovery and Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox emerging as key players in the sector. The dealmaking follows hard on the heels of another US buyer, Viacom, acquiring Channel 5.
The talk is that ITV might now emerge as the next major target for US buyers, which would leave the BBC and Channel 4 as the last significant broadcasting entities that are wholly UK owned.
So how do British broadcasters and producers view this new landscape? There was a political furore when US drugs giant Pfizer tried to takeover UK rival AstraZenica. But there has been no such comment about the takeover of the British production sector, which is now largely in foreign hands (see box below).
Some of the few remaining truly independent producers in the UK do admit to concerns. Small and medium sized indies worry they don’t have the financial resources or network of customers to be able to compete with the superindies.
“You watch from the sidelines as this consolidation takes place and don’t know the full consequences of it,” says Blink Films md Dan Chambers. He says true indies fear that broadcasters which have bought into the sector, like Discovery, may prefer to commission from their own production companies rather than go to the indie sector.
That said, Chambers points out that there is still a great diversity of buyers in the UK and the US for indies to pitch ideas to. Chambers, and fellow indie md Richard Farmborough of Reef Television, also say that deals like the All3Media takeover could be good news for true indies.
All3Media producers will no longer qualify for official indie status, now they are owned by a broadcaster. It means that All3Media companies will not qualify for the official quota of 25% of programmes that the BBC has to commission from indies. The corporation may instead be forced to look to other indie suppliers to ensure it hits the quota mark. “Quite a few indies are looking on thinking this will be a benefit,” says Farmborough.
Many observers say the presence of foreign investors in the UK production sector should be welcomed. The deal-making is part of a structural shift that’s seeing media conglomerates position themselves for the global market, points out Pact chief executive John McVay. And they are attracted to the UK because of its strong creative reputation. “It’s really interesting for the UK market that this is all happening here. We could be sitting in a market where it is not happening at all. We are firmly in the game.”
Besides, he adds, it’s up to each entrepreneurial indie owner to sell whichever company he wants to. “That is their right,” says McVay.
Others point out that UK producers are also very active in the US market, either buying US producers themselves or selling in shows like The X Factor, Downton Abbey and Supernanny. ITV, for example, has acquired a swathe of producers in the US and now claims to be the largest independent unscripted producer in the country.
Tom Manwaring, MD of advisory group About Corporate Finance, says his company has brokered the sale of six independent production companies this year. Four of those six deals involved European companies buying up US producers, including ITV’s purchase of Leftfield, Tinopolis’s acquisition of Magical Elves and Fremantle’s purchase of Jersey Shore producer 495 Productions.
“Traffic is going both ways,” says Manwaring. “There are lots of transatlantic deals.”
Broadcasters have, so far, been watching from the sidelines amid all the corporate activity amongst their producer suppliers. The implications of all the deal-making is still being absorbed and debated, says Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham.
“There isn’t any cause for panic. We are not feeling that,” Abraham says, while pointing out that the debate about foreign ownership is likely to play out over the summer.
Abraham adds: “A Tory led coalition is never likely going to have the instinct to want to intervene in markets and block foreign ownership. Conversely they will be sensitive to this issue of indigenous culture. Who knows, we may only be one step away from ITV being bought by an American company. When that happens, politicians will really wake up. Then you would only have two broadcasters [C4 and the BBC] who are not foreign owned or controlled.”
Arguably this underlines the vital cultural and economic importance of both these broadcasters, particularly at a time when the BBC Charter is soon set for review.
Abraham adds that the indie sector has always been in a state of flux, with new companies emerging all the time. “The good news is that this business constantly replenishes itself.” C4 is backing some of them too via its £20m indie growth fund, with the first deals set to be announced this summer.
Moreover, he says that broadcasters and producers have to accept that they are now operating in a truly global market, where there is international competition for the best ideas and financing. This view was reinforced by a recent trade mission to China that Abraham went on, organised by Pact. “One can’t put one’s head in the sand in terms of the economics of how programmes are made and invested in and exploited,” he says.
Abraham also believes there are “many upsides to globalisation for Channel 4”. If the broadcaster commissions a show that ends up being a hit in America, like Studio Lambert’s Undercover Boss, it shares some of the back end revenue. And, as non-qualifying indies do not benefit from the terms of trade, Channel 4 will be able to keep a larger share of the back end from shows commissioned from broadcaster-owned indies like All3Media.
For its part, All3Media chief executive Farah Ramzan Golan says the deal is a good one for the company and the sector. She insists All3Media indies will not simply take their best ideas to Discovery, but will interact with the market as usual. To do otherwise, she adds, “would be counterproductive because it would constrain our future growth.”
Moreover, she says, the deal will lead to greater investment. “These are trade buyers with long term horizons, so now we will make long term bets with the kind of IP we develop."
The acquisition, she says, is a good one for Britain – as are the other media deals being done in the UK. “I would be the first to be extremely protectionist about our culture and creativity. I think you should ask the question, is this happening because the terms of these deals are showing a significant desire to protect and nourish these companies, to put investment in, to put resources in, to put R&D in? And Ramzan Golant clearly thinks they are.
Foreign owners of UK indies
21st Century Fox/Apollo Global Management Indies Remarkable, Initial, Tiger Aspect, Zeppotron, Darlow Smithson, Tigress, Shine TV, Princess, Kudos, Dragonfly, Lovely Day, Brown Eyed Boy, Shine Pictures Key showsBig Brother, MasterChef, Deal or No Deal, Million Pound Drop, Broadchurch and Bad Education
Discovery/Liberty Global Indies Bentley, Company Pictures, Lime, Lion, Maverick, North One, Objective, One Potato Two Potato, Optomen, Studio Lambert. Discovery bought Raw TV in March, and owns Betty TV Key shows Hollyoaks, Gogglebox, Undercover Boss, Wild at Heart, Peep Show, Midsomer Murders, Horrible Histories
RTL/FremantleMedia UK Indies Thames, Talkback, Boundless, Retort and Newman Street Key showsThe X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Grand Designs
William Morris Endeavour/Silver Lake Indie IMG Productions Key shows C4 Horseracing, Football League Show
Warner Bros Indies Shed, Wall to Wall, Ricochet, Renegade, Yalli, Twenty Twenty and Watershed Key showsWho Do You Think You Are?, New Tricks, The Choir
Sony Pictures (UK) Indies Silver River, Victory Television, Left Bank and Gogglebox Key showsStrike Back, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Wallander