Thursday, July 8, 2010

SET VISIT: Behind the scenes at Football Focus and the high in the sky super set of the BBC in Cape Town.

The BBC's coverage of the beautiful game can only be described as, well . . . beautiful.

For the 2010 FIFA World Cup the Beep has set up shop in a big way as a global broadcaster in Cape Town, with a extraordinary broadcasting centre and control room in Greenpoint. The BBC constructed a visually wonderful set for the broadcaster's global magazine show Football Focus with Manish Bhasin that's perched atop the Somerset hospital. With the elegantly designed set, basking in a soft amber glow and infused with inspiration from the new elliptical wave designed Cape Town Stadium, the BBC can boast with the completely unrivaled and best panoramic backdrop of any football show covering this World Cup tournament.

Football Focus which can be seen in South Africa on BBC World News (DStv 400 / TopTV 400) at 14:30 is simply a visual delight to watch. I visited the BBC's broadcast fascility which is an impressive bee hive of activity, went up with the BBC's specially constructed lift, and got access to the Football Focus set.

Click on READ MORE below for more photos and insider info from my set visit to the BBC's World Cup broadcasting hub in Cape Town and the BBC Football Focus set.

This is how the BBC's slickly produced and high gloss magazine show Football Focus looks when it goes out on BBC World News (DStv 400 / TopTV 400) at 14:30 (check schedules for days). Behind the scenes - putting this show together as well as coordinating all the other broadcast operations and logistics - the BBC is a bee hive of activity at its broadcast centre in Greenpoint, Cape Town.

Here digital clocks tick relentlessly. There's multiple live TV streams, VT to edit, soundbytes and voiceovers to record for the BBC's multiple platforms and a litany of other backend production operations. It all shapes that sense of heightened hyper reality uniquely found in studios, control rooms and around TV production crews racing against deadlines, competitors and the beast called live television that you can never feed enough. Yet there's a super professional, yet undeniably and distinct friendly air of camaraderie here - somewhat unusual for the inner sanctum of any broadcaster's base of production and control room. Then again, this is the BBC.

Listen carefully and you'll hear that the word ''mate'' many times. Could the Beep's first ''B'' actually stand for ''buddy" broadcasting corporation?
''Yeah, mate'', ''Right, mate'' and ''I hear you mate'' gets thrown around like a bouncy Jabulani ball by everyone from the on-air talent while they're off-air, cameramen, producers, editors and controllers alike. They're all working hard putting shows like Football Focus together. Yet all the ''mate'' banter that abound aludes to something not seen by viewers. It's not just about football here. These 240 people are secretly also having a bit of fun.

''I think its been a very different World Cup because it Africa's first World Cup. I think that's been very apparent. It's been more than just the football really if you look at what has been happening over the past few weeks. The vuvuzelas . . . its just extraordinary,'' says Mark Cole, editor of the BBC's Football Focus, who still finds time for a chat despite his attention being pulled in a myriad of directions.

I ask him what's been most enjoyable doing Football Focus from this technical outpost covering football so far away from the BBC's usual headquarters. ''I think the variety of football really, and the different kinds of programmes we've been making to go with that,'' says Mark Cole. ''Football Focus is a very different programme as well because it reaches so many people across the globe. Its strange really to think that someone is having their breakfast in New York watching us while someone is going to bed in Sydney. And you're doing the same show for all of them, so its really about trying to understand the audience and that been a real challenge, but its been great fun as well.''

Any viewer watching Football Focus will get an immediate visual injection of the visionary sense of the BBC who secured (literally!) the top spot for a studio atop the Somerset hospital months ago - a lofty, electronic eagle's nest with a vast background vista of Cape Town, emblematic of the BBC's panoramic coverage of this World Cup's football news and action on the field.

You only reach this set by taking the external and temporary constructed lift up into the air of Cape Town's winter weather and then climbing a staircase right to the very top of the roof. Its from here that the Beep beams its flagship football show with a soft amber aura to millions around the globe. ''When you look at South Africa and you say what is the most iconic image, its Table Mountain,'' says Mark Cole about the broadcaster's decision to bring the BBC to the tip of Africa. ''We've been able to showcase it and it looks fantastic. That's the iconic image. We also have a presence in Johannesburg but I think its important that we have this iconic image in our programme.''

In terms of the backend logistics, managing and operating a setup like this, creating a 30 minute TV broadcast multiple times a week (and over weekends) does come with particular daily challenges that casual viewers who just flip a switch and find a well-produced show, are not aware of.

''South Africa is a vast country and getting people around to places is always a challenge,'' says Mark Cole. ''We have a small team here in Cape Town and there's some people in Johannesburg. We also have this mobile bus going around so we can get to some of the more non-football stories. That's been a challenge logistically: Getting a satellite truck around has been a real challenge for the boys on the road but they've done it and they're bringing amazing images to screen. That bus has done 2 000 miles already and I think its going to do a few thousand more before the end of the tournament. It's a massive country and we want to get around and show viewers the real South Africa. We've been able to do some slightly different stories. We try to do interesting stories with a nice twist around football.''

''There's a lot of trained journalists here and a lot of trained news people,'' answers Mark Cole when I ask about how the BBC handles the issue of access - and often last-minute, must-try-and-get access and interviews all media outlets are scrambling to get when news breaks. ''I think the thing with the BBC is that its not just TV. The BBC is also radio, we're online and there's the BBC's world service. Obviously we want the BBC to be first, so we have a range of output we've managed to do. We try and get everything and get it out fast. When you look at the whole spectrum, we do so many programmes – live programmes, highlight programmes and magazine programmes like Football Focus - its just so well covered really.''

So any easier to do because the Beep is actually based in Cape Town for the World Cup? ''We've been quite stretched really,'' Mark Cole admits, wanting to explain why. Just then, a producer, already anxious to get him back into the control room minutes before the next live edition of Football Focus, pops his head in. ''I think its always the way it is in these big events,'' says Mark Cole, unperturbed. Unrushed. Then he smiles. ''Its fairly relentless. It has been all hands to the decks, really. You want to do so much and people want to go the extra mile. Its been hard work but good fun.''

Football Focus with Manish Bhasin on BBC World News (DStv 400 / TopTV 400) at 14:30, check schedule for multiple weekly editions.

Sport Today with Sean Fletcher on BBC World News is live daily from Cape Town.

David Eades presents news programmes and bulletins live from South Africa for BBC World News throughout the tournament.