The coverage of the Winter Paralympic Games from Sochi by independent sports producer Sunset+Vine for Channel 4, posed a task of Olympian proportions. Keen to build on the success of its London 2012 Paralympic Games programming, Channel 4 was delivering nearly 180 hours of coverage, the greatest commitment to the Paralympic Winter Games from a UK broadcaster. This comprised nearly 80 hours of live coverage across 10 days to Channel 4 and More 4 and a further 100 hours of video on demand content via two Paralympic Extra streams.
BBC Studios and Post Production (BBC S&PP) partnered with Sunset+Vine to take on the challenge and help plan and provide technical facilities for the operation. The BBC’s commercial production facilities company has previously supported events including the London 2012 Olympics and FIFA World Cups.
Daily coverage began from 05.30 and on the penultimate day from 05.30 to 19.00. Depending on the programme of events, it included live coverage from all five of the winter sports – Alpine Skiing, Ice Sledge Hockey, Wheelchair Curling, Biathlon and Cross-country Skiing.
Transforming Stage 9 to host the production
BBC S&PP is currently leasing studios from Elstree Studios to complement their BBC Elstree studios offering, whilst Television Centre is being redeveloped. Working with Hertsmere Council, it has transformed Stage 8 and Stage 9 into fully equipped HD TV studios, wherever possible repurposing technology from Television Centre.
The Sunset+Vine production team were hosted in the 7500sqft Stage 9, which in recent months has been upgraded with a new laser levelled floor and MTS monopoles. Two thirds of the floor was utilised for the set, which included a 70 panel LED screen and was designed to accommodate up to four guests. The remaining third of the floor space was converted into a large production office with studio and off air monitoring and IT and phone provision for a crew of 30.
“We transformed the existing production office into a post production hub,” explained John Loughman, post production supervisor, BBC S&PP. “This meant that there was more space in the main gallery for the producers and exec producers to watch the programme output and also ensured plenty of wheelchair access.”
Dedicated fibre links from Sochi were installed by Sunset+Vine, comprising five incoming fibres bringing in material from the Games around the clock and two outgoing reverse fibres, back to the production team in Sochi. They also installed a satellite back-up facility for standby incoming and reserve transmission feeds. BBC S&PP provided the main transmission fibre route out to Channel 4.
EVS servers, Avid online storage, IP Director workstations and graphics systems were installed in the new post production hub to support the recordings and playout and four Avid Symphony edit suites cut features, highlights packages and the recorded highlights programme which went out each evening. A generator and UPS backup was also available to the production.
The studio and post operation was designed to handle up to five simultaneous incoming circuits, with up to eight embedded audio tracks in each feed. The extensive MADI infrastructure available in all BBC S&PP studios enabled the feeds to be shared across sound mixing areas. A dedicated sub-mix area using a Studer Vista 5 desk managed the mixing and repackaging for delivery to any of the five EVS operating positions and edit suites and to the main Studer Vista 8 transmission sound desk.
Fast turnaround tapeless editing
The first transmission was the opening ceremony on Friday 7 March, hosted by Jon Snow with commentary provided by Krishnan Guru-Murthy, with the production team back on-air the following morning. Feeds were coming in from up to five events at any one time and were recorded into the EVS system, so nothing was missed. Due to the time difference between London and Sochi, and the need to record the events as they happened, the edit operation ran for nearly 19 hours daily, with packages being cut almost around the clock.
All of the recorded material was logged by a team of five using EVS IP Director. All of the material was stored for the duration of the Sochi Winter Paralympic Games on a 44TB Nearline storage system.
For fast turnaround edits, HD content was made available on the Avid ISIS in realtime so the editor and producer could start creating a feature within seconds of the action. When each edit was finished it was sent to one of the two transmission EVS servers using the Send to Playback facility on Avid Symphony, which allows an edit to be sent from the Avid to the EVS faster than realtime.
The HD material remained on the Avid ISIS throughout the games, and at their close Sunset+Vine took away over 300 hours of content for use at a later date, via EVS XFile.
Flexible facilities for gold standard coverage
“Our experienced crew combined with the flexible nature of the Elstree site and its strong connectivity, meant we were able to customise the facilities to Sunset+Vine’s requirements cost effectively and provide a truly tapeless workflow,” commented Loughman. “Being a single company providing both studios and post production we were easily able to work together to provide the best experience for Sunset+Vine, to help them achieve gold standard coverage.”