Olympic Lessons Applied to Sound for Glastonbury Music Festival

June’s Glastonbury Music Festival near Bristol, UK, was an incredibly complex undertaking. When headliners the Rolling Stones, Mumford & Sons, and the Arctic Monkeys, joining nearly 250 other acts, took to the stages, 14 discrete video streams were sent by satellite simultaneously by the BBC. These included TV feeds for three UK broadcast networks that were also available on digital platforms (PC, mobile, tablet, and Internet-connected TVs), as well as radio broadcasting across four UK networks using IP with ISDN backup. Digital viewers and listeners were able to watch and listen to six main stages live as they happened.

But what was perhaps even more remarkable was that the BBC assembled its Glastonbury coverage based to a large extent on its experience covering the audio for the 2012 Olympics. To create what the network described as its first “truly digital” coverage of the Glastonbury Festival, says Bob Shennan, the BBC’s controller of popular music, “We’ve learnt a lot from the experience the BBC had in 2012.” He cites the BBC’s Olympics experience with digital transmission, simultaneous backhauls of audio from multiple sites, and the inclusion of streaming to mobile devices — all aspects that shaped the audio for this year’s music-festival broadcast.

14 Streams Via Satellite
“For the London 2012 Olympic Games, given the BBC’s UK broadcast rights, we were able to simultaneously broadcast up to 24 various sports and events as they happened, directly to those watching and listening,” Ian Walker, digital communications manager, BBC, tells SVG. “Together with the near-limitless connectivity at Stratford [the BBC’s main A/V hub for the Olympics broadcasts], being as it was so connected to the London and worldwide communication hubs, we could beam live feeds across just about all imaginable platforms. So, in addition to regular and enhanced radio and TV coverage, we could offer streamed IP feeds for digital viewers, together with the usual distribution via DTT. The means to move sizable chunks of broadcast data between our network centers for editing, compliance, direct broadcasting, or streaming is now increasingly possible, as cheaper high-capacity connectivity is happening almost daily.

“For Glastonbury 2013, we sent some 14 video streams by satellite,” he continues, noting the operational parallels. “These included TV feeds for three UK broadcast networks, which were also available on digital platforms as well as radio broadcasting across four UK networks using IP with ISDN backup.”

In terms of technical infrastructure, Glastonbury was the opposite of Stratford, says Walker, and thus a considerable challenge to link via IP. “It is basically situated on a farm in the middle of nowhere, in Somerset, England. Broadcast connectivity from there is currently expensive, but fiber has just arrived in the village. From this year, we now have new fiber in position and will be seeking to use IP from next year.”

Although the London Olympics were broadcast in 5.1 surround sound, the network only experimented with multichannel sound for the concerts, citing the extended distance back to London from Somerset and the availability of only analog lines there. However, Walker adds, that will likely change at some point in the future.

The connection between music and broadcast-sports audio remains as robust as ever. Jay-Z still has a piece of the Nets, as does Usher with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nelly is still on board with the Charlotte Bobcats, and Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie has been a part-owner of the Miami Dolphins since 2009. It’s nice to see that one is learning from the other, too.