World Cup Gets Complex Sound Infrastructure

“Ten times bigger than Super Bowl” is the way Henry Rousseau, coordinating technical manager for ESPN, describes the upcoming World Cup telecasts from South Africa June 11-July 11.

The network will have three control rooms set up in Johannesburg: Control A, the main location at the host broadcaster, will handle sound for studio wraps and pre- and post-game packages. Control B and Control C are smaller and will act as audio-integration rooms, taking in the native 5.1 feed from the host broadcaster, mixing it with on-site commentary from the 10 game venues around the country — including Johannesburg, Durban, and Capetown — and transmitting the mixes to ESPN’s broadcast center in Bristol, CT.

Three discrete control spaces give the network the capacity it needs to cover multiple matches simultaneously, says Rousseau.

ESPN is relying heavily on Lawo for mix surfaces and routers for this World Cup telecast, and each of the three ESPN control rooms will have Lawo mc2 consoles (a 64-fader desk with a total of 84 analog I/O and 96 AES I/O in Control A and 32-fader boards in B and C), and there will be a total of 22 Lawo desks among all the venues and the International Broadcast Center. Each venue will also have a Lawo mc2 56 console connected to an Innovason Eclipse mixer with integrated digital multitrack recording.

The German console manufacturer expects to have between 50 and 60 consoles in use at various venues by numerous rightsholder broadcasters. “One of the reasons we’re working closely with Lawo on this year’s World Cup is because they had extensive experience from the 2006 World Cup games,” says Rousseau.

According to Herbert Lemcke, president of North American operations for Lawo, for the previous World Cup, Lawo systems connected 300 broadcast positions, a total of 600 audio pairs, managed by a large Nova 37 HD central router that took in signal from stage boxes at each venue and transferred them on 155-MB connections via an ATM (asynchronous-transfer-mode) network, similar to the signal-path-management plan for these games.

“For ESPN’s broadcasts, the [64-fader] console serves as the distribution center and router for the rest of the control rooms,” Lemcke explains. “All three are networked using MADI, and the two smaller consoles can grab any source out of the main console.”

The discrete 5.1 feeds that ESPN takes in from the host broadcaster will be encoded for broadcast using DTS Neural codecs. “That gives us a variety of codecs for commercial and noncommercial music and for natural sound to Bristol,” says Rousseau. ESPN will have one of its staff A1 engineers doing its main mix, augmented by two freelance mixers for effects mixing.

Though putting the World Cup games into their proper global perspective, Rousseau can’t resist using American football as a reference point. “The sheer numbers who will be listening and watching are enormous,” he says. “We want to give them the best audio quality possible. We want to bring the viewer closer into the experience, as we do with NFL games.”

In fact, ESPN will have 300-plus crew members at the World Cup and is using the opportunity to deploy some new technologies. For instance, ESPN mixers will get to run with Schoeps’s new Super CMIT microphone, which was chosen by World Cup producer Host Broadcast Services to pick up ball-kick sound. It digitally suppresses extraneous noise and will be used instead of parabolic microphones along the sidelines.

Says Rousseau, “We’re really going all out for coverage at these games.”

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