France has one standalone sporting spectacle this year in hosting the Rugby World Cup France 2023 and anticipation of a possible home triumph is building, writes Adrian Pennington. 

“This reminds me of the excitement in the build-up to 1998 when France hosted the football World Cup,” said Julien Bertin, Executive Producer at HBS, told IBC365. “If France performs on the pitch anywhere near as well as [the team who won in 1998] the more the excitement will build; this is a huge opportunity for France as a country.”


Behind the Scenes: Rugby World Cup

Source: HBS and World Rugby

In the four years separating the 2019 and the 2023 Rugby World Cups, World Rugby has worked hand in hand with its host broadcaster, HBS, to evolve its coverage to add new specialist cameras to the standard camera plan. Coverage this time will feature footage from cable-cameras for every match, drones, helicopters, and cine-style cameras.

“It has been a pleasure to work alongside HBS with the planning of RWC 2023 where we feel the broadcast of rugby will be shown in an innovative and exciting way bringing viewers closer to the game than ever before,” stated Steve Jamieson, World Rugby Executive Producer.

Behind the Scenes: Rugby World Cup - Mirrorless Cameras

There has been a surge in the use of compact, mirrorless cameras that capture a shallow depth of field as part of a live sports broadcast. At the Qatar World Cup, which HBS produced for Fifa, they deployed a Sony FX3 camera with RF connectivity at each game.

Read more Best of Behind the Scenes

“The added cameras bring a real editorial enhancement,” Bertin emphasised. “We felt it was important to include them in our coverage. Rugby has lots of stops in play where you can use them. We will try to be more immersive with the players starting from their arrival off the bus perhaps captured in slo-motion so we can see [Antoine] DuPont or [Owen] Farrell looking relaxed or focused.”

Behind the Scenes: Rugby World Cup - Cinematic coverage

Cine-style shots will be used extensively in the warmups and in the tunnel prior to kick-off where World Rugby wants details of the player’s faces. This will also be applied during the players’ line up and the national anthems.


Behind the Scenes: Rugby World Cup

Source: HBS and World Rugby

“The national anthems can be very emotional, so we want that cinematic focus on a couple of players. South Africa captain Siya Kolisi, for instance, often closes his eyes and cries during the national anthem so we want to go there since those moments create so much empathy.”

Following a try, the cine-style camera operator will be allowed onto the pitch to film the scorer’s joy. It is all about wanting to bring the viewer into the stadium and onto the field of play.

Pool matches are covered with 25 cameras, upped to 33 for the quarter finals, 38 for the semis and 39 cameras (including heli) at the final at Stade de France. Two cine-style camera (one per team) will operate from the knockout phase.

For the first time, two cameras will be filming inside the Team Match Official (TMO) cabins, bringing viewers closer to the heart of the decision process.

OB suppliers include trucks and crew from French companies AMP, EMG ad well as NEP UK.

Behind the Scenes: Rugby World Cup - Overhead tactical shots

Cable-cams are being introduced for every venue and every match. The technology’s use in rugby is perhaps more instrumental than for any other sport (bar NFL). “You can place it overhead to see tactical movements, you can position it on the line out and at kick off and we’ll be using it for every penalty kick and conversion kick,” said Bertin.

“Again, relevance is the key word here. We will use the cable-cam to follow the trajectory of the ball from behind the flyhalf as they kick toward the post. We feel that is the best angle for the audience to know for sure whether the ball has crossed the try line.”

Coverage of pre-match warmups will also benefit from the aerial shots. World Rugby and HBS hope that player familiarity with cablecams will help them relax and interact with the camera, “a gold mine for the broadcasters” when that happens, said Bertin.

The technology is also important to convey the experience of spectators at the match reacting to what is happening on the field. “The idea is to show to viewers at home what the atmosphere is at the stadium.”

Similarly, and for the first time at a Rugby World Cup, drones will play a prominent role. Among its applications here is to connect the atmosphere of fans surrounding and arriving to the stadium, with the game itself.

“We decided that it was important to provide context to any game to offer a more immersive coverage for the viewers; we’re not just showing the stadium and the pitch, but also the fans in the city, and the whole country as one big celebratory event for the Rugby World Cup.”

Behind the Scenes: Rugby World Cup - UHD not HDR

All coverage is being produced natively in UHD (some cameras such as slo-motion being up-rezzed from HD) as well as offered in 1080i. NHK is one taker of the UHD feed but in the UK, ITV is broadcasting HD. None of it is HDR, which is perhaps surprising given the advance into this format made by other sports like soccer.


Behind the Scenes: Rugby World Cup

Source: HBS and World Rugby

In terms of digital, Rugby World Cup France 2023 has taken another leap forward, with the addition of a digital first methodology. Whereas in 2019 digital output was largely post-produced, a digital first initiative will see dedicated teams at each game shooting content pitch-side on mobile phones with the clips turned around in near live and stored on a portal for broadcasters to access.

“There’s a huge increase in dedicated digital driven by broadcasters and World Rugby demand,” said Bertin. “That said, live linear remains the core content production which all other content outputs use as their first reference.”

One thing rugby has in its favour over soccer is the respect given to match officials. In particular, the role of the on-field referee will be given prominence by HBS when it comes to communicating decisions.

“The Match Official (MO) is our number one commentator when it comes to the rules. We ask our commentators to go quiet when the Match Official is talking live. The MO has a very simple, clear form of verbal communication. Is it a try or not? Is it a knock on? For us, this is gold and it’s why we put even more emphasis on the audio of the match official.”

While the Television Match Official (TMO) video review returns with a similar on-screen workflow, new for this World Cup is the Bunker system of adjudicating red cards. The bunker itself, with officials, is centralised at the International Broadcast Centre at Roland-Garros in Paris, instead of at stadiums.

“We’ve created new graphics to indicate that a bunker review is in process and, similar to TMO, when there’s a decision the match official will speak, and we will see an angle of the referee announcing whether it is a red or yellow card and then show the angle that has triggered the decision.”

They won’t, though, carry the chest-high ref cam which has been used in other test matches, with World Rugby deeming this unnecessary.

While HBS, a company with its operational headquarters in Paris, treats every project and sport with equal balance and professionalism, there’s no doubt that their intimate knowledge of events on home soil has handed them a bonus point.

“We know the technical zones and cable paths and camera platforms so from a practical point of view we know what works and what doesn’t and how the culture works to get things done,” said Bertin. “I feel proud to play my part in making this tournament a success, as we all do at HBS. It would feel a missed opportunity not to give it 500%.”

Read more IBC2023: Best of the Show