When Channel 4 begins its new look free to air coverage of all UK horse racing from 1 January, it will do so as the first user of the Digital Production Partnership's (DPP) Technical Standard for live programme delivery.
Channel 4's HD racing coverage, produced by IMG Sports Media and supplied by NEP Visions, will follow guidelines for file-based technical delivery drafted by the DPP as an adjunct of the documentation previously released to support digital workflows of all programming destined for the UK's major broadcasters.
The live guidelines, which were issued in October, advise MPEG4 contribution by satellite, fibre or microwave links and cover recommended practices for the delivery of stereo and multichannel audio.
“Historically, live production has been driven by Sky and the BBC, mostly based on MPEG2 using whatever kit was available at the time and using a mix of high and some lower quality bitrates,” explained Kevin Burrows, CTO Broadcast and Distribution, Channel 4 and chair of the DPP Technical Standards working group.
“Given that there are only a handful of major live sports production companies in the UK, the DPP felt we should and could agree guidelines. This is standardised on MPEG4 to try and drive old kit out. We recognise that in some areas this is hard – with something aired at 3am it may be harder to justify high bitrates than in primetime - but the timing was right for a guideline that people will follow. If a broadcaster sees fit to change it for commercial reasons that's at their discretion.”
The DPP's cross-broadcaster initiative arguably puts the UK out ahead of the rest of Europe in terms of file-based programme delivery. ITV soap Emmerdale become the first major UK production to adopt the new international AS-11 standard for HD delivery in October, and the Sunset & Vine-produced America's Cup programming for C4 was the first to use its metadata application, which is wrapped into the programme file.
The DPP is talking with US studios about adopting a version of the spec, and broadcasters in France, Germany and the EBU have expressed interest in adapting it.
“Some have already taken the leap in quality, but it's the standard way we have treated metadata which is a significant step ahead of the game,” said Burrows.
IMG's multimillion pound contract racing contract with C4 is for four years, more than 90-days a year, and covers all the sport’s premium events – Cheltenham Festival, Aintree’s three-day John Smith’s Grand National meeting, the Investec Derby Festival from Epsom Downs, Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and the entire Flat Season QIPCO British Champions Series and Day. Clare Balding (pictured) has been lured from the BBC to head up presentation.
The award was not without controversy with Highflyer Productions, responsible for Channel 4's racing for the previous 28 years, alleging that the tender process was unfair. Following an internal inquiry, concluded last September, Channel 4 gave the process a clean bill of health.
Viewers can expect a range of enhancements including presentation from a 12m x 5m adjustable height studio featuring a bespoke touchscreen table created by U Touch and powered by Hego software.
The interactive race analysis tool will enable Channel 4’s punditry team, Jim McGrath, Mick Fitzgerald and Graham Cunningham, to preview and review races using telestration, but also drive the programme editorial with touchscreen access to jockeys, horses and trainers’ profiles and statistics. An overhead camera will also be placed in the studio.
By Adrian Pennington