BBC Gears Up for Live Coverage of the London Marathon

By Kevin Hilton

A big sporting event like the London Marathon might seem more than enough live coverage for a broadcaster to cope with on one day, but on Sunday April 26, BBC Sport also has the next rounds in the Moto GP and Formula 1 competitions to deal with, plus highlights of the day’s two Premier League football matches.

All these sports need a fast turnaround in presentation, editing, and packaging, especially to support the live coverage of the 29th Marathon and the two motor-sport competitions. This is being handled in BBC Studios and Post Production’s Sport facility, housed on the second floor of Television Centre (TVC) in west London.

A server-based network links the Avid, EVS, and Final Cut Pro suites in this area, which will be receiving 20 incoming feeds. These are then relayed to a number of outlets on different platforms, including terrestrial and digital TV channels, the Internet, and Red Button interactive services.

The Marathon will be shown on BBC One from 8:30 a.m. to noon and then moves to BBC Two for further coverage up to 2 p.m. Postproduction staff will be monitoring material as it comes in from locations around London, preparing packages for the beginning and end of the transmission, as well as editing the evening highlights programme.

Outside broadcast facilities are provided by SIS LIVE, which will have seven vehicles along the route. The races begin in the leafy southeast London suburb of Blackheath, where six SD cameras will be located, with further OB units at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich (four cameras), Tower Bridge (seven cameras), Canary Wharf (five cameras), Billingsgate (one camera), and the Embankment (five cameras). The finish line in The Mall will be covered by nine cameras.

Progress along the way will be covered by two helicopters fitted with gyro-stabilised cameras; at ground level, there will be camera operators on two motorcycles and two buggies. These signals will be beamed to an aeroplane flying at 23,000 ft. above a midway point on the route. Footage is then sent to TVC using a mixture of terrestrial radio and satellite links.

The Marathon is moving from BBC One to BBC Two to make way for live coverage of the Bahrain Grand Prix, with edited highlights on BBC Three at 7 p.m. A production chain will be created between the SIS LIVE flyaway and the edit suites at TVC, linking BBC Studios and Post Production’s Final Cut Pro workstations and the location Xsan. The aim is for everyone to be able to work on the material, whether they are in London or Bahrain.

The Moto GP from Japan begins the day’s sport at 6:45 a.m., followed by a roundup at 2 p.m. Proceedings conclude with Match of the Day 2 at 10 p.m., featuring Arsenal versus Middlesborough and Blackburn Rovers against Wigan Athletic, plus highlights of Saturday’s matches. This heavy schedule means that the second-floor Sport area will be augmented by Avid and linear-tape suites in the Entertainment Production Village on the fourth floor of TVC.

This is made possible by the integrated matrix used in the building.

“Our technology investment has always been driven by demand and in particular our customers’ requirements to handle large live events, involving many incoming and outgoing circuits,” comments Clive Hodge, joint head of operations with BBC Studios and Post Production. “Traditionally, this flexibility has been delivered by sophisticated multi-level matrices, including communication such as talkback and four-wire circuits. We have now supplemented this with our ability to move media between different forms of server, including Avid, EVS, and Xsan technologies.”