It’s the time of year when Britain goes midsummer mad for the festival of live music at Worthy Farm.

With more than 40 hours of TV plus 85 hours of live radio in addition to live streams from the five biggest festival stages, Glastonbury 2023 delivered record live coverage from Worthy Farm, figures likely to be matched if not exceeded by the time US R&B star SZA closes the festival on Sunday.

Alison Howe, Emily Eavis, Lorna Clarke, Lauren Laverne

Alison Howe, Emily Eavis, Lorna Clarke, Lauren Laverne

In addition to network coverage on the four main linear channels and on iPlayer there is a second iPlayer channel this year. It will serve up 30 hours alone and will act as more of a catch-up service. That could be important this year given the clash with the Euros which means programme schedules will be calculated at the last minute.

“What worked really well in 2023 was iPlayer,” says Alison Howe, Executive Producer, BBC Studios. “It was only the second year of iPlayer, the numbers were good and it gave everybody a better understanding of what we could do on iPlayer.”

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Content from Worthy Farm was streamed over 50 million times across BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds - up 47% on 2022. On BBC iPlayer, viewers streamed sets and Glastonbury programming a record 47.5 million times, up 49% on 2022.

A highest ever audience of 21.6 million also tuned in to some of the coverage on TV bringing the total audience up 7% on last year across linear television.

“What also worked well was being able to use a drone for the first time on an artist’s set,” adds Howe.

This was timed for Elton John’s arrival on the Pyramid Stage and required all the stars to be aligned including artist approval, clear space for launch and take off, health and safety greenlight and good weather.

“The technology for capturing live music is evolving especially with cameras but we’re always mindful of not introducing new angles or visual ticks that distract the audience enjoyment of the artist,” she says.

“The best way of checking something with someone is to go find them. It is hard to do that if you are offsite.” Alison Howe, Executive Producer, BBC Studios

Howe works with musicians and their management year-round for various BBC shows and says the collaboration with them is essential to making Glastonbury coverage work. “They trust our teams to deliver the performance and often work directly with artists or their representatives on sound and the visual side.”

It is one reason why Howe and the rest of the BBC team maintain a strong presence on-site.

“Connectivity at Glastonbury is challenging at the best of times and you cannot rely on phone signals or WhatsApp so often the best way of checking something with someone is to go find them. It is hard to do that if you are offsite. The artists expect you to be there to sort things out.”

Production setup

Technical provision has broadly the same template as last year including requirements for at least 64 cameras. “There’s been a few tweaks in the various technical compounds and as a result, we’ve had to do a little bit of replanning,” says Gareth Wildman, Head of OB, Timeline TV. “It’s a big site and way that we connect things together uses quite a lot of fibre connectivity and juggling things around.”

Elton John

Glastonbury 2023: Elton John

For example, if a truck parks on a different side of the compound, it can make a big difference to the technical planning in terms of cable runs. “It’s been really obvious whilst doing the planning for this year’s festival that it’s not like any other OB. It’s almost a temporary installation of an IBC because there’s so much going on,” adds Wildman.

“We’re collaborating with BBC Radio, BBC Technology and other OB teams and the whole machine needs to work together to make these hugely popular music programs. It is really heartwarming that there’s still that much collaboration between the different stakeholders but also it’s eye-opening for how meshed everything is with everything. Every cog in this machine is vitally important,” he says.

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Timeline provides satellite uplinking as a back-up broadcast in case there are any issues with the IP. It provides the radio cameras and RF links used for all BBC presentation hits over the festival site. It also supplies the fibre interlinking the stages and the presentation areas which include a BBC studio up at The Park and another on the hill by Worthy Farm. Timeline also operates three large scanners where BBC programmes are mixed on site. These are designated for BBC One and BBC Two, another for channels Three and Four and a third for iPlayer.

The BBC cover five stages live: Pyramid, Other Stage, Park Stage, West Holts and Woodsies, with camera and engineering coverage provided by Cloud Bass and Vivid Broadcast. All audio across broadcast and radio is provided by BBC Radio. Audio and vision feeds from each of the stages are fed back to Timeline’s trucks for program production.

Facilities for a sizeable on-site editing operation of non-live is managed by Origin Broadcast including Avid suites and EVS systems.

Improved connectivity

This year, Timeline is also providing off-site facilities for the second iPlayer channel at its Broadcast Centre in Ealing. An advantage of doing this off-site is that the BBC keeps its crew numbers on-site down.

Arctic Monkeys

Glastonbury 2023: Arctic Monkeys

“Those people working on it get to sleep in their own beds every night which is a big plus for some,” says Wildman.

There’s been a permanent fibre network on the festival site for some years and it’s been through a few iterations.

“Obviously, being on a farm it is quite susceptible to being damaged between festivals,” Wildman says. “Over the years we’ve been burying the fibre deeper and deeper and getting better at routing it.”

The network is used to route TV signals, all audio and news signals, security cameras and internet for the festival itself and for merchant’s pay machines.

“We’ve just finished going through this year’s checks before we arrive on site on 25 June. It’s all looking pretty good. On top of that we lay in 50km of fibre for the last mile of connectivity running between stages and the connection hubs to the presentation and uplink vehicles.”

Fibre circuits are more cost-effective than satellite and it would be technically feasible to remote all of the feeds back to a central hub. That they don’t is partly a matter of reducing the risk of reliance on one contribution path and also because it helps with the smooth running of the event to be on site.

All coverage of the Pyramid Stage, which hosts headliners Dua Lipa, Coldplay and SZA, is UHD HDR to feed the dedicated UHD channel on iPlayer. All other coverage is HD SDR.

“The only time you can really think about new camera positions for example is when the festival is at its busiest because if you come back a week later, it’s just a field.” Alison Howe, Executive Producer, BBC Studios

Howe doesn’t rule out expanding the higher bitrate format in future. “We have to balance our ambition and budget. It’s about investment and being mindful of the budget available to us and what is the best use of our budget.”

Howe’s work on 2025’s Glasto will actually be during the live weekend. “The only time you can really think about new camera positions for example is when the festival is at its busiest because if you come back a week later, it’s just a field.”

“What makes it so successful and so enjoyable is that a lot of different teams come together with the single goal of making it work and whether something is weather-related or artist-related or technical, things only get resolved because of the knowledge and calmness and humour of everyone involved.”

Howe is particularly excited about Cyndi Lauper and Shania Twain, but she is particularly eager to see which stars of the future Glastonbury 24 might uncover. Howe picks out New Zealand-Australian Jordan Rakei playing West Holtz as one to watch.

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