With 22 live sports across 14 venues, the Commonwealth Games is bigger than, say, the UEFA Euros, and more complex by virtue of having multiple disciplines running concurrently.
The 2022 games was originally awarded to Durban, then reassigned to the UK after financial constraints hit the South African city. Birmingham beat Liverpool to the prize, which brings with it a global audience of 1.5 billion that will be focused on the West Midlands over 11 days, beginning 28 July.
“In terms of the range of venue, the amount of kit, planning and crew and because of the quick change of disciplines it is an Olympic scale project,” says Matt Coyde, Sales Director at Aerial Camera Systems (ACS).
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More than 370 cameras will be deployed across 19 different sports and 22 OBs, with the additional trucks needed for events like road cycling and time trials. Live coverage alone will tally 1,500 hours with additional material including a best of games channel and a highlights package for clipping taking the total production output to 3,300 hours. Some 34 feeds will be switched at the IBC with 22 feeds required at peak.
“We were always tasked with coming up with a right-sized host for the Commonwealth Games – something that makes it sustainable and secures its long-term future,” explains David Tippett. Managing Director at Sunset+Vine, which is commissioned by the Games organisers to produce the coverage.
That’s about being relevant to generations not bred on the concept of the Commonwealth and for which an inaugural esports championships is being piloted with separate branding, medals and organisation. It also means addressing the soaring costs of hosting such an event.
World class sport meets world class production
The Commonwealth Games Federation claims that the £967 million spent on the Gold Coast 2018 delivered a £1.3 billion boost to the Queensland economy, while also saying of Birmingham’s £778m budget that “an important element is the significant decrease in direct Games delivery costs compared to Gold Coast.” The 2026 event is in Melbourne (the Victoria CWG).
“The honest truth is that we won’t have all the bells and whistles of an Olympics, or quite match the level of specialist cameras or 3D animated replays,” Tippett says. “[The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games] will have really high quality, well directed and well produced broadcast coverage which will stack up against any world championship.”
“We’re producing more content than ever before for broadcasters to tailor coverage, as well as making it all accessible to remote production.”
Each sport has one or several specialised directors, an area where S+V is particularly strong. This includes assigning Gavin Scovell to direct the cricket (“arguably the best director of cricket in the world,” says Tippett) and Helen Kuttner “one of the best directors of athletics in the world.”
Kuttner is also S+V’s Deputy Head of Production for the CWG Host Broadcast and responsible for overseeing all the directors hired for Birmingham. This includes participating in a series of workshops to ensure consistency of output (for graphics or the way medal ceremonies are covered), while allowing each director the freedom to cover the sport to the best of their expertise.
The opening ceremony will be produced in UHD HDR (HLG) but all other coverage will be in 1080p SDR.
Broadcast tests were staged at the Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr and at Sandwell, home of the aquatic events. The Alexander test was actually a Diamond League athletics event broadcast on 21 May for which S+V was the producer.
Conventional OB plus remote options
Surprisingly perhaps, given the recent drive to remote live, all production of the host broadcast will be on site in largely conventional OB.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, planning began pre-Covid. Secondly the economies of scale that usually work in favour of remote producing a series of matches for one sport don’t necessarily work with multiple different events to produce. The Games Federation doesn’t own a remote production facility and the venues themselves lack the connectivity required to route dozens of feeds back to a central hub. In addition, the UK is blessed with OB facility providers and with no need to fly any additional crew or facilities in, it simply made sense to use the resources at hand.
“This is the first CWG in a truly remote world,” says Tippett. “Pre-Tokyo 2020, the concept for every multi-sport event was that the RHBs are responsible for their own distribution of feeds from the event IBC. The new world means that is not as clear cut any more so we have looked at being more involved in that distribution to suit downstream workflows.
“We’ve made a basic package of feeds available as streams as opposed to broadcast circuits. Lower rez streams are being distributed by the organising committee themselves for use via IPTV around Birmingham, or for individual federations to access and analysts to watch performances.
“It is down to the host to ensure that rights holder needs are catered for. This includes producing more content than ever before for broadcasters to tailor coverage, as well as making it all accessible to remote production.
“We’ve had lots of discussion about connectivity and distribution of feeds whether live, delayed or on-demand,” Tippett adds. “There’s huge complexity. One broadcaster might want to produce using one remote model and another will have a different version. It’s finding the common ground that works for everybody based on how technology has changed.”
Timeline and the IBC
Of the several facility suppliers involved, Timeline has the most complex suite of responsibilities. Its main function is to kit out and crew the IBC that is located in Hall 2 of the NEC.
Within this main facility, there are about 50 rooms ranging from host broadcast offices to daily briefing rooms to the large MCR into which all feeds are brought from venues before onward distribution. The router core is Grass Valley Sirius controlled by EVS Cerebrum. The asset management system is EVS IP Director. All footage is stored on a Harmonic MediaGrid storage system, which rights holders can access on-site or remotely using EVS IPWeb.
Timeline is also providing the facilities for S+V’s Games Channel production – a continuous multilateral feed for rights holders that covers the most important events and gold medal bids. It is also producing a multichannel service – a 6 x 24 hour set of channels covering all sports, which broadcasters can take straight to air or record for their own programming.
Highlights and clips for social media are being produced via a post production operation for which editors using Adobe Premiere browse and clip material from a central bank of EVS machines. Digital coverage is being produced of Squash, Badminton and Table Tennis.
“We’ve got an extensive operation to produce clips and other Games-time content,” says Tippett. “This is closely linked to the logging operation and involves a mix of IP Director and IPWeb workflows. This will be staffed by a mix of experienced digital producers and Host Broadcast Training Initiative personnel.”
The HBTI has been running for several months and designed to find talent to fill 150 paid roles (10% of the total 1,500 crew) staffed from the West Midlands. The scheme has successfully attracted 12% disabled candidates, 30% candidates from ethnic diverse backgrounds and 30% from low socio-economic backgrounds.
A considerable part of the IBC technical area is taken up with racks of kit serving the host broadcast from matrix to sound and talkback.
Physical infrastructure at the games
Separately, Timeline has built the physical offices (walls, ceilings, air-con) for rights holders taking space in the NEC like the BBC and Channel 7. Timeline will ensure they receive the video connectivity for the package of feeds booked.
In an adjacent OB compound, Timeline is supplying the trucks covering the five sports being held at the NEC: weightlifting, boxing, badminton, table tennis and netball.
All other venues have been connected with 2 x 10G fibre lines taking video circuits back to the IBC. This connectivity, including encoding and talkback, is managed by Timeline via a Broadcast Technical Operations Centre (BTOC) at every venue.
The broadcast graphics are part of the official results scoring from the CWG’s timing partner Longines and its brand Swiss Timing.
Several Mobile Viewpoint 4G bonded backpacks are also available for ENG of local stories around Birmingham.
For the mountain biking, 12,000m of cable has been installed into a hillside at Cannock Chase for a 26 cam OB.
In parallel to this process, and a prerequisite before fast turnaround edits begin, is the logging process. “Logging is made on 50 EVS IP Director stations and is a combination of automatic logging using the RDF (Results Data Feed from Swiss Timing) and more descriptive manual logging from a team consisting of ‘graduates’ of our HBTI,” Tippett explains.
Around 200 people will be based at the IBC to produce all the additional content – this number includes producers, assistant producers, editors, loggers, production management and other technical staff.
Specialist cameras and RF links
ACS, part of EMG, is supplying coverage from three helicopters for the opening ceremony and outside race events with links coordinated by Broadcast RF.
“For the opening ceremony in particular it is critical that pictures from the helicam are matched with the rest of the HDR workflow,” says Coyde. “Trying to operate a camera in a helicopter and matching the RF feed from the stadium is challenging.”
ASC is also supplying a large inventory of specialist cams across the event. These include a 2D wirecam at the main stadium and nine railcams with stabilised heads. Two are at the athletics (home straight and curved rail); swimming pool (deck and overhead); and another for gymnastics.
Its in-house developed SMARThead robotic system based on Sony HDC P50 cams is dotted across venues. These cameras can take a wide angle or standard zoom lens. Another SMARThead for a box lens is trained on the bowling.
There are underwater systems including a railcam for swimming and diving and 15 minicam systems, some capable of high frame rates, at the athletics. At the squash event, an HFR mini camera fitted to a robotic arm is positioned behind the back wall for replay angles. The SMARThead system achieves a gentle gib movement to accentuate coverage.
All these specialist cams are installed and operated by a crew of 70 staff and freelancers from ACS.
EMG is providing OBs to cover the aquatics, cricket (including super slow and ultra motion cameras in addition to Hawkeye), judo, wrestling and rugby 7s, as well as the Marathon (time trial in Wolverhampton and road race in Warwick), mountain biking in Cannock Chase and triathlons at Sutton Park.
These large format sites require complex RF links organised by Broadcast RF and supplied by Belgium’s Eurolinx, another division of EMG.
A Marathon broadcast effort
On the Marathon, EMG is providing one small OB at the start, which is fed to a large OB at the finish area. During the race, eight motorbikes with integrated RF systems follow the runners (split across Mens, Womens, Mens Para, Womens Para races). Video (plus comms, tally and GPS data) from these cameras and three ground-based long range RF cameras, as well as two helicams, are transmitted up to a plane circling the event, which re-transmits down to a Hoist with GPS antennas onsite.
“It is a complex set up made more so because of challenging logistics,” says Greg Livermore, Technical Project Manager, EMG. “These events run concurrently so there’s a lot of leapfrogging of RF kit between different sites and involves close coordination of 130 technicians and riggers.”
For the mountain biking, 12,000m of cable has been installed into a hillside at Cannock Chase for a 26 cam OB. This event includes one helicam, locally received on a hoist and two ground based radio cameras.
“We put in place several Hubs that are extended from the OB on 24 core fibres. These connect to remote camera base stations from which the cameras are cabled. It is a significant piece of rigging logistics on [a] constantly live course,” says Livermore.
The triathlon, meanwhile, is a 20-camera OB including cameras on boats, polecam, radio cameras and four motorbikes for the cycling and running elements.
EMG began planning its coverage in 2019 from autoCAD drawings initially, then site surveys and technical reviews. It previously supplied CWG in Gold Coast and Glasgow.
Gravity flypack operation
Formerly the site of Birmingham’s Wholesale Markets, Smithfield will be the home of the basketball 3x3 and beach volleyball and competitions during the Games, expected to seat 2,500 and 4,000 spectators respectively. Gravity Media are tasked with designing, supplying and operating the OB for these events which run in parallel.
“The idea for our tech solution is to service both events separately – treating them as two independent OBs,” explains Andrew Goodman, Project account manager.
Gravity runs a flypack operation for all its events, giving it the ability to quickly scale as required.
It’s all part of showcasing an event that has taken place since 1930, evolving from 11 countries and 400 athletes to 72 countries and over 4,600 competitors. Just as the ethos of the Games challenges participants to push their bodies to the limit, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will push current broadcast technology to deliver a memorable sporting spectacle.
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