Sometimes you wish you hadn’t accepted a job, and four days into my Paralympic experience at London 2012 I was on the verge of thinking just that. I was working for the International Paralympic Committee on a project called ‘paralympicsport.tv’. Put simply, it’s a TV station which endeavours to air as much Paralympic competition as possible, to as many people as possible during the games. As you know, the Paralympics are the ‘Parallel Olympics’, they are supposed to be equal and run alongside the Olympics, but in broadcasting terms, the Olympics reaches a much bigger audience than the Paralympics (the media presence in the International Broadcast Centre for the Paralympics was a quarter of the size). This was mainly due to decisions made by global broadcasters not to fill their schedules with Paralympic Sport. All of the sports are still filmed by the Olympic Broadcasting Service, but rarely are they shown to the people across the world who want to see it. That was where this project came in. By simply going to the IPC’s official website (paralympic.org), anyone across the globe could watch top class live and recorded Paralympic events.
I’d been involved in Vancouver in 2010 at the Winter Paralympics where there are four concurrently running competitions at any one time. That had been busy enough! In London there were up to 11 sports being filmed by the OBS which we were going to attempt to broadcast to the world on 7 channels.
paralympicsport.tv channel 2
I arrived two days before the opening ceremony having had a relaxing break in Sweden. It didn’t take me long to realise there was a lot of work to do.
Jochen and John building the gallery and other things. 1 day to go!
The budget was quite small so much of the equipment was borrowed or provided by sponsors. Much of it had been delivered but wasn’t set up and the workflow for using it hadn’t been devised. The brief idea of how the channels would work was…
1. Take feed of sport from OBS and send to commentary booth
2. Add commentary and take back from booth
3. Send to sound and vision mixer
4. Encode and stream on the internet
Sound simple? Yes! But there were complications. One of the channels needed to be simulcast in Spanish, and a deal had been struck to send this same channel to international TV broadcasters such as Al-Jazeera and Super Sport South Africa. Technically, there was an issue that the recording and play-out were to come from the AJA Kipro, a sort of tape machine with hard drives instead of tapes. It works just like a tape in that you can’t play out a recording until it has finished. Not perfect for running time-delayed sport on a 24 hour channel but we had what we had. But the biggest issue was that there were only 4 technical staff available to run everything, and the channels ran 9am until midnight. Not good. Luckily I had drafted in an old friend, John Greatwood, who is a tech wizard and managed to make my band Pillow Talk sound pretty good a few years ago. He can do anything!
John Greatwood and myself in the Master Control Room
We set about finishing the construction of the gallery, record bank, edit suites and commentary booths.
Jeremy Nicholas in one of the commentary booths complete with Commentator Info System, WiFi and video feed
We set up the AJA audio (de)embedders which would add the commentary to the natural sound from the events…
There were 6 commentary booths in the end. So lots of de-embedding and re-embedding of audio
…the bank of AJA Kipro record machines to capture the events on both for playing out on various channels and also for the archive…
12 AJA Kipro machines. 10 for record and 2 for playout. Each drive takes up to 4 hours of ProRes footage
…I devised a workflow for ensuring all the recording was started and stopped on time (there were up to 25 recordings per day)…
Recording schedule on ACER PC, MacBook Pro controlling Kipro machines and simultaneously sending footage to networked Facilis archive over FW800
…and the AJA Kumo matrix for routing all the various signals to various places.
We should have bought a bigger matrix!
When we had finished, it was about day two of the Games! Up to that point we had been simultaneously on air and scrabbling to complete the setup. I lost my voice trying to answer thousands of questions from commentators, web up-loaders, technicians and volunteers who were trying to get to grips with all the brand new systems we had just set up. It was a total blur
… somehow we were on air though, but sleep was a luxury.
There couldn’t have been a more appropriate place to sleep than this (I didn’t REALLY sleep here but it was quite comfy)
By this time, the AJA Kipros were recording hundreds of hours of commentated sport, and this was being transferred manually to a Facilis server for archive. We were vision mixing between events and cueing commentators (including in Spanish) to pick up. We were running edited news packages featuring highlights of the days action. All with just 5 technical staff (the IPC had shipped one more in to help). The schedule was quite complicated, with some events running live and some running time delayed or ‘relive’. This added to the complexity of the event and required us to cue up play-outs whilst simultaneously recording other feeds, vision mixing channels and cueing commentators. And that’s if it ran smoothly and on time!
The paralympicsport.tv daily schedules were fairly busy
I did a staff list on day 5 to ascertain the minimum number of people we would need to make the operation run smoothly and counted it as nearly 50. There were 15 of us!
The very talented and flexible commentary team, (L-R, back) Amy Bainbridge, David Oates, Francis Collings, Nick Gillingham (front) Nigel Adderley and Jeremy Nicholas. They tried their hand at most sports.
All said though, what the IPC managed to pull off was staggering. With such a small budget they managed to air hundreds of hours of sport which would have been unseen to anyone outside the venues, with commentary, to the world. They broke all records on website attendance and London 2012 turned out to be a real turning point in how the world sees Paralympic Sport. A huge success. I was glad to be part of it.
On the last day I thought it fitting that I should go and watch some sport. So I went along with Jeremy, one of the PSTV commentators, to see Ukraine vs Russia in the 7-a-side final. As part of the IPC team you get to sit in the Paralympic Family seating which is the creme de la creme! Earlier in the week I’d gone over to the stadium after a very long shift to grab some food and watch the final athletics race of the day. I stood at the buffet next to Ed Milliband, saw countless other politicians and also Seb Coe and Princess Anne relaxing in the same lounge as me. Very surreal.
Princess Anne hanging out in the Paralympic Family lounge. Love the TeamGB sneakers and Olympic handbag!
Best place to watch the athletics. Am a bit scruffy for the royal box though.
Enjoying a beer in the Paralympic Family stand at the Riverside Arena. Well earned.
Before it was all over, I still had time to edit a film which was to be screened at the closing ceremony, the Whang Youn Dai award.
The Whang Youn Dai award film which was shown at the ceremony
After a couple of celebratory glasses of champagne we headed off to our Paralympic Family seats for the ceremony, watching all of the athletes march up to the stadium including some familiar faces and picking up some interestingly packaged dinner on the way in.
The athletes make their way up to the Olympic stadium to watch the closing ceremony
Ellie Simmonds and other members of ParalympicsGB outside the stadium before the closing ceremony
Jem, Amy and Nigel show off their Paralympic Closing Ceremony dinner! Salmon on the left and Bertie Bassett dessert on the right
It was a great show. Coldplay were pretty good, the lights were as amazing as they had been for the Olympics a few weeks earlier and it was a great feeling to hear 80,000 people cheer parts of my film when it was played on the giant screens in the stadium.
Huge screens high in the stadium (on which my film was shown) with terrific light show provided by small LED matrix lights on the seats
One of the LED matrix lights…awesome!
The best thing though, as always, were the fireworks… I can still see them now.
At the closing ceremony… very tired