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BBC outlines World Cup coverage

Following criticism of the amount it spent on a bespoke studio for presentation of the 2008 Euro Football Championships in Austria and Switzerland, the BBC is at pains to explain its decision to adopt a similar approach in South Africa.

Instead of renting space in the Johannesburg international broadcasting center, the BBC will build a flat-pack studio in Cape Town on the roof of a hospital within “great views of Table Mountain” and will reuse the outside broadcast studio at future events. “From the outset, the most difficult decision was where to base the BBC's main TV studio,” said Phil Bigwood, the BBC football’s executive producer, on a blog on the BBC’s Web site. “One option was to broadcast from Television Center in London. This would have detached us from the action and would have diminished our ability to cover stories on the ground. Programs would have arguably not been as engaging and would have been devoid of the atmosphere that is so crucial to a World Cup.”

The BBC is sending reduced numbers of personnel to South Africa, compared to the number it sent to Germany in 2006. The staff will consist of 190 for TV (compared to the 210 who travelled to Germany), 48 for radio and around 40 as part of the news crew. “This is despite the fact our output will have grown since then, and we will be working in a much more logistically challenging environment,” Bigwood said.

The BBC will cover 32 games live on BBC TV plus highlights of all the games, totaling 110 hours of World Cup coverage across BBC1, BBC2 and BBC3. There will be more than 100 hours of interactive TV coverage and more than 100 hours of video content on the BBC Sport Web site. Radio hours will total more than 250. “We are satisfied that this number of staff is not large for an operation of this scale, in a country this size and with issues around transport and security,” Bigwood said. “The UK is regarded as one of the major World Cup players in broadcasting terms, yet some of our colleagues from Europe and South America will send many hundreds of people to the tournament, in excess of the numbers for the BBC and ITV combined. I, therefore, believe the UK broadcasters run a pretty lean operation given the complexity and enormity of the event.”

Despite its live coverage being anchored from Cape Town, the BBC will still have about 73 staff located in Johannesburg to oversee the feeds streaming into the international broadcast center.

A UK National Audit Office report criticized the BBC for spending £250,000 ($383,000) on its studio in Vienna in 2008. It said the BBC “does not have transparency” over the way money is spent on major events, but noted four of the six it considered came in under budget.

Adrian Pennington
Adrian Pennington

Adrian Pennington is a journalist specialising in film and TV production. His work has appeared in The Guardian, RTS Television, Variety, British Cinematographer, Premiere and The Hollywood Reporter. Adrian has edited several publications, co-written a book on stereoscopic 3D and is copywriter of marketing materials for the industry. Follow him @pennington1