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How Timeline helped the BBC get back into the swing of cricket on TV

TVBEurope talks to Timeline's James Poole about producing cricket highlights during the time of Covid

For the first time in over 20 years the BBC has been broadcasting both live matches and highlights from England’s cricket fixtures during the summer of 2020.

Timeline has supported Whisper with technical facilities from its Ealing Broadcast Centre, including a large production gallery to allow social distancing and safe working conditions for crew as well utilising a number of flexible production pods for a mixture of edit suites, EVS, IP Director, Hawk-Eye and logging staff.

“For the Whisper / BBC cricket contract we have provided an entire floor from July until the end of September consisting of a large production gallery, associated sound control room and VT area, as well as a number of production pods,” Timeline’s unit manager James Poole tells TVBEurope.

These pods are all completely contained with fibre and copper tie lines to Timeline’s CAR and can be patched to any of the company’s equipment bays. They can be used as edit suites, voice over / off tube commentary booths, graphics suites, additional VT areas or for any other roles involved in production. Each pod has its own Riedel talkback and monitor stack which is driven by EVS’ Cerebrum control system, and each pod can link into any of the company’s gallery operations. “That has been absolutely ideal for social distancing and we have been able to comfortably and safely spread crew out to maintain social distancing without compromising production quality in any way,” explains Poole.

As part of the coverage, Timeline has provided Whisper with its PCR G production gallery with sound control room and its own VT gallery. They have also employed two edit suites for the BBC coverage and another two edit suites for highlights which have been produced for the English Cricket Board, as well as a digital clipping operation. “We then have extra production pods for EVS, Hawk Eye, a logger and a large production office with kitchen facilities for the production team to be based,” adds Poole.

“Ealing has a wide range of connectivity making it ideally suited for remote productions. We have access to the NEP Connect Anylive network and are using a Nimbra for J2K video feeds to and from site as well as a data service with a rack of our IP equipment for the camera tally signals, remote vision router control, GPI for mixer wipes and point to point links for Alston Elliott and Hawk Eye to their equipment at the ground.”

For the on-site operation, Timeline built two identical compact racks of equipment for the audio transport and all the various IP connectivity required. “We are also providing one of our dual channel Mobile Viewpoint units for additional vision circuits but also to act as our DR paths for the presentation cameras or BBC clean feed in the event that we had problems with the Anylive network,” states Poole.

“Our Ealing Broadcast Centre also has multiple Nimbra units on the Tata global media network, multiple incoming and outgoing redundant BT Tower lines, steerable and fixed Ku band satellite downlinks and uplinks as well as Mobile Viewpoint and LiveU servers. We also have a large number of encoders to generate RTMP, SRT and ASI feeds meaning we can accommodate almost any type or combination of incoming and outgoing feeds and any size of production.”

Because of the on-going impact of the coronavirus pandemic, was Timeline given any specific requirements as to how the BBC wanted its coverage produced? “Because of the ECB bubble put in place to protect crew and staff working on site at the two grounds (the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford) we weren’t able to send engineers as we would in non-Covid times to rig our equipment,” says Poole. “This also presented a potential issue in the event that the spec expanded or changed during the season. It would be difficult to simply bring in additional kit and crew as we would normally. We decided early on that we needed to have lots of flexibility already built in to cover us for any evolving production requirements, and so far, we have been able to handle everything that has been asked of us by the production team.

“Andy Underhill from BBC Sport and Jon Fay from Whisper were really thorough and gave us a comprehensive overview of the ‘known’ facilities that would be required and also a very good idea of the possible future requirements they thought might arise, and that helped us design a very robust, future proof vision, audio and IP workflow.”

Poole adds that while none of the processes or workflows used for the BBC’s cricket coverage were new to the Timeline team, they have tried to go the extra mile and deliver “as many of the little things the production team might miss from being in an OB to make their experience more positive.” 

He adds, “I think it has been an excellent example of all our years of experience coming together to deliver a very slick, well packaged remote production operation for our customer. It is sometimes easy to forget how complicated what we are doing actually is and I am really proud of our team at Timeline for making it look easy and delivering a workflow that is technically robust, but more importantly so user friendly for the Whisper production team.”