FA Cup Final Makes HD, Twitter Debuts

By Kevin Hilton

The FA Cup Final, which rounded off the English football season on May 30, not only was shown in HD for the first time on ITV in the UK but also reached a new audience through Twitter. The Final, between Chelsea and Everton at Wembley Stadium, made its debut on the social-messaging service, thanks to “Commentweeter” Jon Champion, who also served as commentator on the match for pay-per-view broadcaster Setanta Sports.

The host feed was provided by ITV, with facilities coordinated by its regular outside-broadcast contractor, 021 Television. The OB company had three trucks in Rome for the Champions League Final on May 27 and afterwards was committed to coverage of the British Touring Car Championship and the Hay arts festival, as well as the production of a children’s TV show. Although 021 used its own Unit 8 as the presentation scanner and two tape vans, it did not have enough vehicles in the country for the Cup broadcast and hired in Telegenic’s T16 HD truck to handle the match feeds.

A total of 38 cameras were used: eight for the presentation and 30 on the game itself. Most of these were Sony HDC-1500s, with HDC-3300s for super-slow-motion shots. Other special cameras included an Arri Hi Motion, two wireless Steadicams, and two radio hand-held systems, with a hothead camera mounted on an ACS vertical tracking system behind each goal.

A robotically controlled Skycam, again with a hothead camera, was suspended above the pitch, with wider aerial shots provided by the Mike Smith Flying TV HD 1080 downlink system. This was another first for both ITV and 021 and is an HD camera on a Cineflex gimbal fitted with a Canon eHD XS lens, with signals conforming to BBC HD specifications.

EVS server-based recorder/players were used for playbacks, with 10 fitted in 021’s Unit 6 VT truck and another four in the Tape 2 vehicle. Of these, five super-slo-mo EVSs were connected to five match cameras, with four standard replay servers assigned to a further four cameras.

The EVS systems were integrated with three Apple Final Cut Pro (FCP) editing workstations: one for immediate transmission material, a second for features, and the third handling graphics as required. 021 Account Director James Clement sees this use of FCP as another first for an FA Cup Final broadcast. Analysis of key moments was aided by the Red Bee Piero graphics system.

ITV has not had a good FA Cup tournament, garnering harsh criticism of its coverage from the public and the press. The lowest point was when a commercial break cut into the transmission of the fourth-round replay match between Everton and Liverpool in February, preventing many viewers from seeing the only goal of the game.

Clement says the pressure was on ITV and 021 to produce a “high-quality event,” and so all efforts were made to come up with the goods.

Rehearsals were held on Friday afternoon, and ITV was broadcasting from Wembley for two hours before kickoff on Saturday. “There was a great weight of expectation,” Clement says, “so we approached everything with meticulous organisation.” Setanta holds the satellite, Freeview (pay-per-view), and broadband rights to the FA Cup but this year put as much emphasis on new media as on television. The observations of match commentator Champion and analyst Craig Burley, a former Chelsea player, were transcribed for Twitter, with photographs posted online through the yFrog application.

Champion also posted comments and answered questions prior to the match, noting that this was the first occasion in his 20-year career when he had commentated in two ways at the same time. “As a commentator, you want to communicate with people in a way that helps them enjoy the game as much as possible,” he says. “If becoming a Commentweeter is going to help do that, then I think it’s a great idea.” Broadcast facilities for Setanta were supplied by Arena Television.

These facilities included the double-expanding-side Units 8 and 9, which worked on three two-hour build-up shows (one handling two programmes, the other just one), before linking up for the match and presentation coverage.

Arena took 20 ISO feeds from ITV/021, augmenting the host coverage with two cameras in the studio, one on the main gantry, an RF link in Wembley Way for interviews with fans arriving at the stadium, four cameras at pitch-side for pre- and post-match interviews, one Steadicam, an RF camera, and a helicopter-mounted camera to follow the team coaches on their way to the match. Six networked six-channel EVSs were available, along with two Final Cut Pro systems. In recent years, viewing figures for the FA Cup Final have declined, but this year, ITV, which has the contract for the competition until at least 2012, pulled in a peak audience of 6.8 million, giving a 57% share, with the entire programme averaging 3.6 million.

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