CBS News Royal-Wedding Coverage Proves Out New Live-Event Workflows

The Royal Wedding. Almost two weeks later, it still reverberates throughout the morning newscasts as the mystery of where the happy couple are spending their honeymoon has TV news crews and still photographers scouring the globe. But reflecting on the main event and the coverage by U.S. networks also points to lessons learned and new workflows for all live productions, be they sports, news, or concerts.

At first glance, it might appear that U.S. news outlets were not alone in their week-long celebration of everything British and Royal. In fact, UK pool broadcasters (the BBC, Sky, and ITV) were much more low-key.

“As far as UK broadcasters were concerned, it was a one-day event, and they wanted to park their OB units as late as they could,” says David Fairweather, director of European operations, CBS News. “So that meant they [rolled in] on the Wednesday prior to the wedding.”

CBS News coverage of the main event points to a growing trend in all remote operations: making use of fiber connectivity and other signal-transport resources to keep as much of the operation at network operations as possible.

Seven Feeds to New York
One of the unique approaches CBS News took was to deliver seven camera feeds from locations around London directly to CBS News headquarters in New York, where The Early Show executive producers and the rest of the team were located.

“It lowered our travel expenses but also, editorially, allowed the team to take in those seven feeds plus the CBS News London Bureau feed and pool feeds and composite the show in New York,” says Frank Governale, VP of operations, CBS News.

Fairweather oversaw the complete project, which involved coordinating coverage at three primary locations: the Tower of London, where CBS News had two sets, one inside and one outside the Tower walls; Methodist Central Hall, next to Westminster Abbey; and the Canada Gate, outside Buckingham Palace, where CBS and 30 other broadcasters had sets for the big event.

At the Tower of London, which was used all week for reports for The Early Show and other CBS News programs, the biggest issue was making sure the RF transmission systems could overcome the walls of the Tower itself, which seemed to be built to keep out not only marauders and peasants but also wireless signals.

“We had two diversity receive sites to cover the two stages, and they behaved remarkably well with two antennas,” adds Fairweather. Camera signals (including wired cameras and a signal from a Canobeam grabbing shots of the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London) passed through an OB truck from Bow Tie Television to an Arqiva uplink on-site for delivery via satellite and MPEG-2 to the London bureau about 15 miles away. The signals were then sent to New York via two OC12 fiber cables via Net Insight Nimbra switches.

Using both OC12 cables turned out to be a good move, since one of the fibers was accidently dug up in Ireland, requiring the other fiber cable to be used for approximately six hours.

While CBS News was broadcasting from the Tower during the lead-up, the rest of the crew was readying the other operations for the wedding day.

Direct and Satellite Links
Methodist Central Hall offered a spot near the main event for CBS TV, radio, and News Pass staffers. VER (Video Equipment Rentals) supplied a flypack at Methodist Central Hall, and Global Crossing Genesis Solutions provided a fiber connection directly to New York.  Four cameras were used at that location: three on the set and a fourth, RF camera that operated in unlicensed spectrum with the help of a Boxx Technologies receiver (the cameras on the set were connected via SMPTE fiber).

Meanwhile, CBS parked an Arqiva SNG vehicle over at Green Park on April 18, about 10 days before the wedding. That SNG truck took in camera signals from the CBS News set at Canada Gate. There were also two standup locations at ground level.

“The SNG vehicle was about 600 meters away, which made for an interesting and challenging run.” says Fairweather. “Because the UK broadcasters came in later in the week, there [had to be] elevated gantries to loop the cable over the access roads.”

The Arqiva truck had four wired cameras plus an RF camera from Link Research to get shots in the crowd. Unlike the camera at Methodist Central Hall, the Link camera made use of licensed spectrum.

“There were 150 applications for 35 frequencies, and there was a lottery to see who got what,” explains Fairweather. “We got two of our three requested frequencies for Canada Gate and the Duke of York Steps.”

The Canada Gate location was also connected to New York with three encoders sending a mux via satellite and a 100-Mbps pipe on Sky’s MPLS network sending the camera feeds to the London bureau. The royal wedding marked the first time someone outside of Sky used the network.

“We also used it for data connectivity as the cameras were switched from New York,” says Fairweather, adding that the CBS electronic newsroom system was available through the data pipes. Other content passing through the pipes via Fujitsu MPEG-4 encoders included video gathered by 16 ENG crews using a mix of Sony XDCAM and EX3 cameras.

Cooperation With Sky
CBS also made use of the Sky pool feed, taking camera iso feeds, such as a helicopter shot, a shot from the top of Buckingham Palace of the crowds, and crane shots from the front of the Palace.

“We had a staffer in the Sky studio-control room who would keep an eye and ear open to what was happening there [and] could tell New York what was coming next,” adds Fairweather. That also made it easier for graphics identifying wedding guests to be inserted properly back in New York.

“Everyone got along pretty well, and sharing resources made it possible,” says Fairweather of the multinetwork and multinational production. “There were very detailed plans on where every camera was going to be along the route and getting signals back to a central location.”

Governale says that, because camera signals were passed straight back to CBS, there was no need for a technical director or audio mixer at each location. Two CBS News techs went over and worked with three bureau engineers to pull it all together.

“We had the full power of our control rooms,” he says, “and it went off without a hitch.”