BC Place Sets Up Backup for the Backup

At the Vancouver Olympics, BC Place is a critical venue for Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS). Although no events are contested there, plenty of medals are awarded inside the stadium, and every athlete has the opportunity to march through the stadium – twice. BC Place is home to the Opening and Closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games, as well as nightly medal ceremonies and performances, so OBS has outfitted it with several specialty cameras and two backup systems, to ensure a flawless show will bookend the Games.

Redundant and Backed Up

BC Place is equipped with 43 cameras, including a helicopter camera and a beauty shot of the building from across the bay. Canadian broadcaster CTV and U.S. rights holder NBC have mobile production facilities parked outside of the arena to supplement coverage of the ceremonies, but for the host broadcast, OBS relies on two mobile production trucks from F&F Productions that are dedicated to BC Place and are fully redundant.

“We split up the CCUs,” explains James McCauley, coordinating technical manager of Canada Hockey Place and BC Place for OBS. “If camera 1 and camera 2 are side by side, one will come out of one truck and one out of the other, but they would both be available in both trucks. If we lost a truck or lost a switcher, it wouldn’t really matter because we would have a backup in the other truck.”

If a whole truck went down, McCauley says, some of the cameras would be lost, but the host broadcaster could still provide some coverage.

In addition to that redundant system, OBS placed five emergency backup cameras behind the five prime camera positions inside the arena.

“We basically put these cameras on the back of the platform, behind our prime cameras, and they’re not used,” McCauley explains. “We make sure they’re set up and ready to go, so in case we lose the main camera, we can plop them on the mount and keep broadcasting. They serve as a backup, so if the whole system fails, we will still have five cameras that we can use.”

Innovations that Work

In addition to the traditional hard cameras, the building’s 43 cameras include some robotics, a vertical tracking camera, a mat camera, and a tower camera that’s inverted and hung from the grid, so it can drop down three meters from the ceiling.

“We also have a point-to-point spider cam that gives you the possibility of moving in three directions,” McCauley says.

All of those cameras, however, are proven technologies.

“We don’t want to do stuff that is too experimental at this stage, because that can impede our production,” explains Aristeidis Nikoloudis, broadcast venue manager of Canada Hockey Place and BC Place for OBS. “All of our cameras are bookable through the rights holders, and once somebody pays for a split that we will provide, we have to guarantee that it will work. Of course we try to be as innovative with technology as we can, but we have to be able to guarantee that what we are providing will be there and be perfect during the moment that a rights holder will want that shot.”

Adds McCauley, “I don’t think we’d ever put a first-time gadget on the air in this particular environment. We’d try it in a test event first.”

Nikoloudis explains that every spearheading technology that he has seen proven – from super slo mo cameras to robotics and 5.1 surround sound – has been incorporated into this year’s production of the Olympic Games.

“Every year that goes by, there are new things coming out, and we will look to add more gadgets for the next Games,” Nikoloudis adds.

Nice Neighbors

BC Place is located directly adjacent to Canada Hockey Place, where the Olympic hockey games are played. To take advantage of that proximity, a single production compound houses trucks for both venues, and McCauley and Nikoloudis work double-duty, overseeing both venues. However, a separate production crew is dedicated to each venue, and McCauley and Nikoloudis both have two deputies, one assigned to each venue.

“The reason why we’re sharing a compound is because of the close proximity of both venues, so it would make sense to be able to centralize everything,” Nikoloudis explains. “It’s quite complex when you have to do two such big venues, as hockey is demanding from all the rights holders that are here, as well as the Opening and Closing and victory ceremonies. But for us, not having to do two separate compounds makes sense, and it’s working well for us and for our rights holders.”