The big challenge for the BBC during the Summer Games of London 2012 was to come up with a production that matched the honour of hosting the Olympics in the UK. To achieve the best possible presentation the public broadcaster marshalled its own technology to tailor the feeds from host broadcaster OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Services) for the home audience. Behind this was the communications system, which allowed everyone working at the BBC’s control areas and studios in the Olympic Park to keep in touch and know what was happening.
BBC Sport, which produced the coverage for UK audiences, has used Riedel intercoms since 2004 and installed the brand in its new facilities at MediaCityUK in Salford. It also owns two Artist M frames for outside broadcasts but this was not enough for the planned operation during London 2012, so two Artist 128 frames were hired from Riedel.
This was needed to cover three main TV galleries, another gallery running 24 live sport streams that were carried on Freesat, Virgin, Sky and the web, a commentary line-up area, four EVS LSM controlled play-out workstations, 21 video editing positions, a graphics suite, a gallery for BBC News and a master control room known as the Broadcast Operations Centre (BOC).
These facilities were inside the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) but the studios for on-air presentation were a ten-minute walk away in the middle of the Olympic Park. BBC One/BBC One HD and BBC3 each had its own studio area, built on top of shipping containers.
The Riedel Artist frames in in the IBC were connected over fibre links in a ring arrangement. Because of this, says lead sound supervisor Peter Bridges, everything appeared as “one big system” of 512 x 512 ports.
Bridges is a sound supervisor with BBC Studios & Post Production (S&PP), working at the BBC studios at Television Centre in London, Elstree and Bristol, but was seconded to BBC Sport to work on the Olympics project and had 19 sound supervisors working with him.
All four-wire connectivity to the Riedel system was completely analogue, which Bridges says was for two reasons. “The four-wire ports on BBC Sport’s existing Riedel four-wire system are all analogue, so the additional two frames were specified with analogue I/O to keep everything in the analogue domain,” he explains. “It’s also easier to listen across and over-plug feeds with analogue but is harder with digits.”
The main difference between the communications system for this summer’s Olympics compared to what BBC Sport has used for previous Games was its size, which had to be expanded to deal with four galleries at the IBC and more venue sources than previously. Bridges says that if the same approach had been taken as before the comms panels for programme director would have taken up most of their desk space.
“We had to come up with a different way to manage everything coming in so we thought about how it had been handled in the past,” Bridges comments. The decision was to rely on a methodology that is long-standing in BBC studios – the principle of the Outside Source (OS) line.
The philosophy of this is that a gallery has a defined number of incoming OS lines, with each carrying sound, vision and comms. The source carried by each OS line is freely assignable and effectively allows a gallery to pick its own subset of sources from a much larger set.
“We knew all the staff would be familiar with that concept and thought it was a good way to route signals round the galleries,” says Bridges. Once the basic method was decided a way to do this was needed.
Bridges comments that the custom BNCS used for the Olympics worked on the basis of ‘packages’ to bundle up all the signals and information for each source. “When someone in a gallery selected a source on to an OS line BNCS would route the relevant HD-SDI source to the vision mixer and sound desk and then assign the appropriate keys to people’s comms panels, enabling them to talk and listen to the source,” he says. The system also routed clean feeds back to the source and “labelled” the monitors in the gallery using a display to show the source name.
Bridges comments that the custom BNCS used for the Olympics worked on the basis of ‘packages’ to bundle up all the signals and information for each source. “When someone in a gallery selected a source onto an OS line BNCS would route the signals to the relevant hardware. This provided vision feeds, monitor labels and audios to the appropriate panels.”
Bridges says that while the programme sound side of the installation was “large but pretty straightforward”, the comms was complicated, particularly the integration of the Riedel system with BNCS. “Some aspects were tricky, others were quite easy,” he concludes. “But we built enough flexibility into the BNCS system to cover all our needs.”