Our tour started in the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) on the Olympic Green, nerve centre for the broadcasting operation. This is where rights-holding broadcasters from around the world have their offices for the duration of the Games.
At the heart of the building is the Contribution, Distribution, Transmission Centre, with a huge bank of television screens, all showing different feeds from lots of Olympic venues.
It looked a bit like a NASA control centre just before they bring down a space shuttle – people in darkened rooms anxiously watching banks of screens with live images from ongoing sporting action.
BOB employees monitor quality and ensure the feeds are distributed and packaged correctly.
Other staff spend their days replaying thousands of hours of footage, indexing and archiving it so that specific clips can be tracked down easily in future - a great job for a sports fanatic.
We headed off to see a broadcast operations centre on location at a venue. This is where the sporting action is processed. While the Aquatics venue is stunning – a vast steel box filled with trapped plastic bubbles – the venue production team is round the back in a decidedly unglamorous concrete compound.
Cabling snaked across from the venue, hung in great swags, and six or seven broadcast units – OBs, in television speak – were parked up. These contain all the screens and technology needed to monitor, edit and transmit images from inside the stadium back to the IBC control room. It takes a staff of about 500 people working in shifts to manage the process.
The broadcast vehicles are very flexible, which is just as well. An ability to cope with emergencies is essential. A thunderstorm at the rowing on the first weekend, for example, took out the cameras at the sailing venue, which meant an emergency broadcast unit had to be sent.
Inside the Aquatics venue we saw how cameras are placed without getting in the way of the action. There are lots of them, and they’re ingeniously sited, designed to bring the viewer up close and personal to the athletes.
For the diving, for example, there’s a camera on a vertical runner perpendicular to the board, so viewers can even watch the diver’s facial expression as they plunge headfirst. Play it back slowly, and you can watch faces distorting under the influence of gravity.
Then there are tribunes near the spectator stands for pool-side commentators, and higher up a row of individual studios which broadcasters can use to film their own presenters live within the venue.
It’s a labyrinthine operation but the results speak for themselves. The images from London 2012 look set to be just as memorable as those from Beijing – from Eton Dorney to Wembley Stadium and the Olympic Park itself, the spectacular backdrop is ideal for television. I’m just glad I’m not responsible for producing them.
The International Broadcast Centre:
Monitoring feeds in the Control, Distribution and Transmission Centre:
A less glamorous side to the Aquatics venue:
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