The Glastonbury Festival is back in 2022 in all its crowded glory. For the BBC, it was important after such a hiatus that its 2022 coverage should be bigger and better than ever before – adding UHD, a dedicated iPlayer channel and an earlier kick off too
2019 was the last time the BBC covered The Glastonbury Festival in all its glory with 2020 completely cancelled due to Covid and 2021 a crowd-less affair.
For 2022, the BBC coverage “will be bigger in scale and range than ever before,” says BBC director of Music, Lorna Clarke, who commissions for BBC Glastonbury across TV and radio. Along with performances on BBC1, 2, 3 and 4, iPlayer will have a dedicated Glastonbury channel and will broadcast sets from the Pyramid Stage in UHD for the first time.
For Alison Howe, BBC Studio’s exec producer of its Glastonbury coverage, it’s been a process of getting back into the saddle after a two-year hiatus. “We’re relearning and we’re all remembering,” she says. There’s a lot to catch up on “so it’s a bit like learning to ride your bike again.”
But, she says, while the BBC’s team has got back into the swing of things, “we’re equally not just doing what we did before.” That comes from a combination of wanting to “come back and offer even more to the audience in terms of their experience of watching, listening and interacting with Glastonbury” along with the fact that “ways of working have changed over the last couple of years.”
Howe says the planning for the 2022 coverage “bizarrely started in 2020. Because many of the artists have been held over since the proposed 2020 event.” Production meetings had already been held with Paul McCartney’s team for that one, for instance.
But for the 2022 planning proper, from September last year “within my little team at BBC Studios, myself, our line producer, and our technical manager, we started to have some very initial chats between ourselves about things we might want to do differently,” says Howe.
However, Glastonbury is not the BBC’s event so “you can only plan so far, because so much of what we do is built around what the festival does. You have to wait for the festival to be ready and then you can really go for it.”
clear as day
What is planned is filming The Pyramid Stage in UHD and HDR for the first time. “We actually had a plan to film the Pyramid Stage in UHD in 2020,” says Howe, although that was obviously curtailed. A test UHD shoot was done in 2019 in a limited way. “We had a couple of cameras set up to show the festival and the BBC what it might look like. It was a very simple test. It was a fixed camera shot mostly filmed during the day and it was only seen in one of the OB trucks on a monitor. It was very simple, but it was really interesting and exciting.”
Howe says it’s “one of those things that had to wait, but it really feels that now more than ever, it’s a good time to do it.” Howe is hopeful about how UHD will show “the detail on stage, but also, we’re really hopeful that at night when you look out over the crowd when the headline is on, it will really define a bit more what people at the event are seeing. Not just the detail on stage, but also the detail in the environment.”
This year, only the Pyramid Stage gets the UHD treatment but “hopefully in the future it’ll be more stages. When we first started broadcasting in HD, or even when we started to do live streaming on the iPlayer, we thought ‘will this catch on?’ And now those things are totally normal.”
Howe says the iPlayer channel will really add to the home experience. “If you just really want to watch Billie Eilish, you know exactly where to find her performance. But equally, if you want a nice Saturday afternoon at Glastonbury and you want to feel what it’s like being there, we’ve got the iPlayer channel this year, which means we can broadcast live in a curated sense for the first time during the day.”
As with many events this year, “we had a slightly interesting scenario in that Arena was one of our main OB suppliers,” says Howe. “So, when that sadly fell apart at the end of last year, we had to get going to make sure that we would have all the facilities that we needed given it’s such a busy time in the calendar.”
Quick movement on crewing is also a necessity. “It’s a really busy live events calendar, which is great, because it hasn’t been. But it means you’ve got to be quick to get the people that you want. Luckily, we have been able to retain a lot of really talented people across the board.”
Part of that team will arrive on site “at least two weeks out including engineering and technical managers.” The production management team go the weekend before the event with the broadcast infrastructure arriving at the beginning of the week the festival kicks off and then “the majority of the editorial teams arrive at some point between Wednesday and Thursday lunchtime.” The timetable has shifted slightly this time. “We’ve taken a decision this year that, because it’s been three years, we’d like to get a real sense of the atmosphere on Wednesday [when the festival officially opens] and the Thursday. We’re on air from the Thursday night.”
Howe says Covid disruption is always at back of mind, but “by the time we get to Glastonbury, we’ve already survived two or three big productions, whether it’s the Jubilee or Radio 1’s Big Weekend, so we get used to it. It becomes part of our whole resilience planning.”
Besides, she says, “I’ve had to reimagine quite a lot of existing shows over the last couple of years but the exciting thing about Glastonbury is, it’s a massive communal experience returning. The presenters are excited, the artists are buzzing. There’s a sense of anticipation and excitement. And I hope for the people who are watching, we can do it justice.”
This article will appear alongside behind-the-scenes case studies on other live productions in the upcoming Televisual Summer issue, out soon.
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