Over seven million BBC One viewers watched this year’s Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final - an increase of half a million viewers over the previous year’s broadcast in the UK. Broadcast live from the Globe Arena in Sweden, the global audience for the three live shows (semi-finals and final) reached 204 million people across 42 markets worldwide, five million more than in 2015, making it one of the largest global live television broadcasts of the year.
The UK hub for Eurovision was based at IMG Studios at Stockley Park in west London. “This also provided the base for the BBC Events production team headed by director, Stephen Neal and executive producer, Steve Hocking.” reports Anne Marie Phelan, senior production services manager at IMG Studios. “We took in the multilateral and unilateral feeds for all the shows from Stockholm and that was not just for the Saturday Grand Final, but also the semi-finals broadcast on BBC Four.”
IMG’s Studio C production control gallery was used for all the Eurovision programmes. Like the other studios at Stockley Park, this is equipped with a Sony MVS7000X vision mixer, Lawo MC562 Mark 2 sound mixing desk, Riedel talkback system and ETC Congo Junior lighting board.
“The show’s director, Stephen Neal, is a regular director on The One Show and this proved very useful when we did a live hit into that programme. He knew who was at the other end of talkback!” says Phelan. “While the BBC provided the production personnel, IMG was responsible for technical support for what was quite a considerable facility contribution to the programmes.”
She adds, “It was a massive team effort and it was very kind of Graham Norton to acknowledge the personnel both in Sweden and those working here at Stockley Park with name checks at the end of Saturday’s programme.”
Phelan states that the biggest challenge for such programmes is communications. “It was incredibly complex. The song contest was in a massive venue, and the comms to and from the UK hub had to involve not only connectivity with Graham Norton in the on-site commentary booth, but also Lawrence Galkoff, the technical director and the unilateral presenters, Scott Mills and Mel Giedroyc. Scott and Mel also shot a number of packages which were edited by BBC staff in Sweden. When we were offered opt-outs from the Eurovision feeds, we were able to insert these packages from the gallery here at Stockley Park.”
To handle incoming content, IMG put together a dedicated Signiant portal that enabled the team in Stockholm to send H.264 files to Stockley Park. “We built a watch folder so that anything that came through the portal went straight into DNX 120: the flavour of files used on our EVS network. The EVS operator sitting in the production control room could see the material as soon as it hit the portal,” explains Phelan.
Although the demands of the programme were complex, IMG’s head of studios, Cherry Portbury, says the master control room (MCR) at Stockley Park is more than capable of handling intricate configurations. “Obviously, we have EBU circuits and lines direct to BT Tower, but also diverse circuits that provide clients with the confidence that there is the capacity to handle any unexpected situation.”
Portbury says that in total there are around 200 circuits available in and out of the MCR. “We even transmit live sport via the Sport 24 channel to airlines and cruise ships.”
Turning to the studio space, she goes on, “When we built the galleries we made them considerably bigger than many existing facilities. That enables clients to bring in as many personnel that are needed for an effective production - without everyone being cramped for space. A programme need not be restricted to a studio. The facility at Stockley Park allows any studio to be connected to any gallery, but beyond that there are other camera connection points around the building, including the restaurant.”
In addition to the technical considerations of the programme, IMG was responsible for hosting the UK judging panel. “It’s all part of the service that studios need to offer these days,” maintains Portbury. “It’s not just about the studio, it’s about added value, tailoring a variety of resources including post production and crew, to client requirements and taking care of those who come to the facility to work or visit. The technical side is vital, but so are the peripheral activities if the client is to have a positive experience.”
She goes on, “The Eurovision Song Contest is the world’s largest non-sporting televised event. People often think of IMG in terms of sport, but we are fully geared up for other production genres. Recent clients include a commercial for Asda supermarket and live streaming of Egamer tournaments with studio presentation. We are ideal for channel hosting and one of our four studios is currently home to Alaraby Television, an Arabic news and entertainment channel which launched from IMG Studios 18 months ago. Our varied experience and expertise means we can offer great advice and support to our clients.”