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 while the website 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.

Tim Dams

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