With an expected TV audience of more than one billion viewers in over 200 countries, the 18th FIFA World Cup will arguably be one of the premiere telecasts in sports history. For the first time, all of the 2006 tournament's soccer matches will be broadcast in HDTV.
While portions of the 2002 World Cup held in Japan and Korea were televised to Asian audiences in HDTV, Europe is relatively new to HDTV, and consequently, there is a relatively small universe of HDTV-ready households.
But, many believe that the 2006 World Cup will be an ideal, high-profile showcase that introduces European viewers to HDTV's superior picture quality and Dolby digital sound, and promotes its acceptance worldwide.
HBS (Host Broadcast Services), based in Zug, Switzerland, was instrumental in making the 2003 decision to provide the 2006 World Cup in HDTV. HBS, which was hired by Zurich-based FIFA, The Federation Internationale de Football Association, is the exclusive provider of all video and audio "pool" feeds during the World Cup. (HBS also produced the 2002 FIFA World Cup.)
For the 2006 tournament, the scope of the broadcast production is massive, with 64 soccer matches taking place between June 9 and July 9, in modern, freshly renovated stadiums in 12 host cities across Germany--including Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Munich, Leipzig, Berlin, Hamburg, and Hanover.
Considering the frenzied zeal of the world's passionate soccer audience, the production is made far more technically challenging by HBS' plans for flawless delivery of live, uncompressed 1080/50i (50Hz), 16:9 widescreen HDTV pictures along with 5.1 channels of surround sound, in addition to SD feeds.
"This is a massive logistical undertaking. We already have 18,000 tasks in our project management software," said Nicola Taylor, director of communications for HBS. "It has taken three years of planning to get everything organized and to explain to our 'broadcast partners' what we intend to do and how we are going to do it."
At press time, there were 300 broadcast partners, including TV and radio stations, which had licensed the rights to televise the World Cup to their audiences in more than 200 countries, according to Joerg Polzer, manager of communications and public relations for Infront Sports & Media AG, in Zug Switzerland, one of the world's leading international sports marketing companies.
Infront Sports was contracted by FIFA to handle the worldwide marketing and sales of the broadcast rights to 2006 FIFA World Cup; as well as, to supervise the host broadcast of the games through its wholly owned subsidiary, HBS.
"At this stage, we are unable estimate the availability of HDTV programming worldwide," Polzer told TV Technology. "But the percentage of viewers who will have access to the HD feeds and who have the necessary equipment to watch in HD is still a very small number of the overall total. However, HDTV is expected to grow considerably and having a showcase opportunity using the FIFA World Cup is certain to raise awareness."
As part of the painstaking planning, HBS invited the broadcast partners to several "venue tours" where they were able to survey the sites to determine where they could place their own cameras and trucks in order to produce "unilateral" features about teams, players, and matches of interest to their own local audiences. This production was considered by HBS to be supplemental to their "multilateral" coverage.
PASSING THE HD TEST
According to Taylor, mobile HD production in Europe has come a long way in the past several years.
"In 2003, when we decided to present the World Cup in HD, the trucks did not exist," Taylor said. "So we went to the big equipment suppliers and discussed the possibility of their actually building HD trucks by 2005, in time for us to test them--in all 16 venues of The FIFA Confederations Cup in June 2005 in Germany using 15 HD cameras--which they did, and the HD tests were successful."
Thomson Grass Valley was commissioned to provide seven HD mobile trucks, the last of which is being built now.
"Grass Valley will work directly with a number of service providers and mobile unit fabricators to oversee construction of the new all-digital, multi-format mobile production trucks in time for the 2006 World Cup," the company said in a statement.
Each truck will carry a significant number of Grass Valley products, including: one Kalypso HD Video Production Center switcher or one XtenDD HD switcher; a Trinix digital video routing switcher and a Concerto Series multi-format routing switcher for handling SD and HD signals and a variety of Kameleon and Gecko modular products.
THE CAMERA PLAN
The Thomson trucks will also carry 17 LDK 6000 mk II HD cameras and six LDK 6200 HD slomo cameras. In addition, Panasonic is providing HBS with an arsenal of 100 Mbps DVCPRO HD and 50 Mbps DVCPRO acquisition gear, including: 50 units of DVCPRO SD ENG cameras; 25 units of DVCPRO HD ENG cameras; 100 units of DVCPRO HD VTRs and 75 units of DVCPRO SD VTRs; as well as 60 cameras that record using the new DVCPRO P2 solid state memory cards (including 35 P2 HVS200 handheld units and 25 P2 shoulder ENG cameras). The P2 technology enables a streamlined, tapeless production workflow within the International Broadcast Center (IBC).
Taylor said that no wireless camera systems will be used because "they are not yet 100-percent reliable. However, we will use mini-cameras to be put in the goal cages [two in-goal cameras with one per cage], probably Iconix. Plus a mini-crane at the exit of the tunnel to film the footballers as they enter the field of play." Cameramen will protect for the 4:3 "safe area" for audiences watching in analog or standard definition.
The multilateral camera plan calls for 25 HD cameras on each field of play, including "PlayerCams" A & B, which will be used to follow a single player from each team during the match. Camera positions include: an elevated camera providing the main wide shot; two cameras providing low-angle super slow motion replays; two super Slomo cameras behind the goals; Steadicam cameras to cover players, benches, and other action at pitch level; two elevated reverse angle cameras for Team A & B coverage; and an aerial view providing a beauty shot of the stadium and surrounding area.
ELABORATE VIDEO FEEDS
Multilateral camera signals for the official coverage will be fed to HBS' OB (Outside Broadcast) van, then on to the Technical Operations Centre. Unilateral camera signals move from the broadcast partners' cameras to their own OB vans at the venues, then on to the Technical Operations Centre (TOC).
From the TOC, signals will be relayed via fiber optics or satellite to the IBC master control room. The IBC will also include production rooms, editing suites, a videotape archive (DVCPRO HD/SD) and a quality control room. Grass Valley's Systems Group designed, delivered, and installed equipment for the IBC for the worldwide signal distribution.
From the IBC, the feeds may go via fiber optic networks or satellite to TV stations worldwide. Another innovation for this upcoming World Cup is the ability to broadcast to viewers using mobile devices and IP.
Broadcast partners at the venues and at the IBC will receive multiple feeds, including: the basic international feed; a new extended stadium feed (HD/SD); a clean stadium feed (HD/SD); the tactical feed; Playercam A & B feeds; Team A & B feeds, and the ISO cameras and beauty shots.
The IBC will add two feeds to this: the highlights feed; and the EBIF show (or Extended Basic International) feed for extended match coverage, which starts 30 minutes prior to kickoff and ends 30 minutes after the final whistle.
To transmit signals from cameras on the playing field to the mobile units, TOC and IBC, and ultimately, to the broadcast partners and viewers' living rooms, HBS is partnering with T-Systems, a division of Deutsche Telekom. T-Systems will provide venue contribution services; domestic contribution services (from team hotels and other public places); international contribution services; for-hire production services; and new media services.
For this mission-critical task, T-Systems' Media and Broadcast division has laid 20,000 km of new fiber optic cable to enable the transmission of uncompressed HDTV pictures. With a total data capacity of around 480 Gbps--equivalent to 7.4 million bundled ISDN lines--this network will operate on a 24/7 basis to support broadcasting to all the time zones. For redundancy, T Systems has arranged for a satellite uplink with satellite operators, such as SES ASTRA.
For the first time ever, the entire FIFA World Cup tournament will be made available in 5.1 channel surround sound, from the Stage 1 kickoff featuring host nation Germany vs. Costa Rica on June 9, to the popular, much-awaited final in Berlin. In 2002, the final match was watched by 1.1 billion viewers worldwide.
Dolby Laboratories in the UK is providing HBS with equipment and training that will enable the compelling 5.1 soundtracks to be created in specially constructed audio control rooms in the IBC. Dolby-E technology will be used to simplify the distribution of 5.1 audio worldwide to the broadcast partners. Dolby is also supplying equipment to individual broadcasters across Europe (whose identities could not be revealed at press time) who have chosen to feature 5.1 audio in their transmissions. Equipment typically enables Dolby-E decoding for receiving the incoming feeds from HBS, and Dolby Digital encoding to re-encode the audio for final transmission to viewers.
"Watching a football match with surround sound brings the thrill of the stadium to your home," said Francis Tellier, CEO of HBS. "And as not all of us can be there to support our own countries, hearing the cheering of the crowds and the ball kicks in enveloping surround sound is the next best thing. We are pleased to be working with Dolby to deliver this to our broadcast partners around the world."
The microphone plan calls for 18 mics placed strategically on every side of the playing field, including high-end, surround sound-optimized SoundField mics. The HBS audio production plan has been simplified to make it easier for broadcast partners to use the basic mixed audio, but those that require a more sophisticated audio selection will be able to receive the component parts within the simplified stream structure.
The basic audio feeds will be Television International Sound (TVIS), which is stereo sound that accurately reflects the on-screen visuals, featuring a mix of crowd noises, anthems, and ball-kicks. RIS (Radio International Sound) will offer ambient sounds not tied to camera visuals. These mixes will give broadcast partners the flexibility to add their own commentary and presentation to each match.
TV graphics are being produced by HBS in cooperation with FIFA and Delta Tre Video, S.r.l., the onscreen graphics service provider. Based in Torino, Italy, Delta Tre has developed PC-based onscreen graphics systems that can animate characters, text, and backgrounds, in both 2D and 3D environments. The systems can translate data into any number of language outputs instantaneously, including Chinese; and can be fully integrated with the competition database and results system.
"We will not superimpose electronic graphics over the playing field to illustrate the action, as many sports telecasts do," Taylor said. "For editorial reasons, we have to provide FIFA with a clean, 'universally readable' coverage of the FIFA World Cup. Each broadcaster can unilaterally use additional graphics, provided upon request by Delta Tre, in every conceivable language."
However, the multilateral onscreen graphics will present relevant statistical information about the teams, match, and players. This information includes starting line-ups, group standings, match score, substitutions, individual and team statistics, among other data.
"The World Cup graphics, which are being produced in both HD and SD, are being designed in conjunction with the opening animations to provide a consistent onscreen design package," says Taylor. "The overall HBS graphics look includes 3D graphics and animations as part of the state of the art graphics package."
GEARING UP FOR 2010
The 2006 World Cup hasn't even started yet, but already HBS has been lined up by FIFA to serve as the host broadcaster for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. HBS will also produce the next edition of the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009, and provide ongoing consulting services involving all other FIFA events (with the exception of the FIFA World Club Championship) to ensure the best professional solution and consistent standards for host broadcasting of FIFA's events.