By: Andy Stout
Monday, February 6, 2012 - 12:12 pm
After a few years where the lustre was taken off the trophy due to football’s money all moving elsewhere, the FA Cup – the oldest football competition in the world – is once more back in the nation’s consciousness, partly for its ability to surprise as anything else. But for Roger Pearce, Technical Director – Sport at ITV, who co-broadcasts the competition with ESPN, the job is all about keeping those surprises to a minimum.
“It is a very complex operation because we are not able to plan very far in advance due to the draw schedule, and until each draw has taken place we can’t put any resources in place,” he says. “The grounds vary from world class stadiums like Old Trafford to little more than a village recreation ground. So our OB supplier, SIS Live, has to be agile and ready to go anywhere in England. We cover all the games in each round, apart from the three live games produced by ESPN. The actual game selection process between ITV and ESPN changes between rounds which also makes life interesting.”
The competition is now midway between the fourth and fifth rounds, with most of the smaller teams from the lower leagues now safely eliminated, though both lowly Crawley and Stevenage will enjoy a tilt at Premiership opposition. All in all, about 200 games are covered through the course of the competition, with 40 in Round One alone
“At the smaller grounds you are much more exposed to the elements, which can be technically challenging, not just unpleasant to work in,” says Pearce. “One game, still etched on my mind, was at Histon where we were hit by a persistent mist-like rain that clung on to the lenses and acted like a diffusion filter for our sparkling HD cameras.
“The biggest challenge comes in gathering in coverage of all the games that are not covered by an OB with live feeds. We use ITV news cameramen from around the regions and feed it in to our edit hub in The London Studios via a mix of video and FTP straight into a server.
Production facilities ramp up as the competition moves to the Final at Wembley in May, with both broadcasters sharing feeds and facilities and sometimes even commentary. The number of match cameras will increase forma max of 17 to 31, and extras such as Super Slo, Hi- Mo, Skycam and Helicopter feeds get added along the way. “It is always fun when a small club gets through to the final stages and it seems like we put more cameras in than there are people at the ground,” says Pearce.
OB is provided by SIS Live, which Pearce says has the depth of resources to cover possible two live and three highlights OBs for each round (the company also provides uplinks with BT overseeing the fibre paths).
For the future, Pearce sees the main focus of technical efforts revolving round the connection of server systems on OB to base and how the material can quickly be exploited online. “This would move forward fast if reliable ad hoc data connections were available from locations in the same way that video is now.,” he says.
As to any new production toys this season, the broadcaster has been commendably restrained. “We are always looking to add production value so we are constantly looking to improve analysis – we generally use Piero – and have explored VR and in-vision Touchscreen recently, but the toys are only good if they add value and have a good editorial reason to be on screen. We try to keep reminding ourselves it’s about covering a sport not a gadget show.”