With pre-tournament estimates of one billion viewers worldwide, the Men’s Cricket World Cup taking place in England and Wales is set to be one of the most-watched events of the year, and the various companies involved in the production have been striving to ensure it is as innovative and inclusive as possible.
The six-and-a-half-week, 10-team, 48-match one-day international tournament is being delivered by ICC TV, an arm of the International Cricket Council responsible for host production, with the support of various service, equipment and technology partners.
The partners are led by Sunset+Vine, the UK-based TV sports production and media company, which has been the ICC’s main collaborator in this field since the live production was taken in-house four years ago, and has now been retained for major events through to 2023.
S+V is well-versed in cricket, with ongoing relationships in the sport with the England and Wales Cricket Board, Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, the Caribbean Premier League and UK commercial broadcaster Channel 5, and is producing rival Channel 4’s highlights of the World Cup, recalling the much-reminisced-over relationship with the network covering live cricket in England from 1999 to 2005.
However, serving and providing the world feed for the ICC differs from working with an individual broadcaster, a situation in which a production company would expect to take the lead.
Speaking to Sportcal at the England vs Australia group match at Lord’s, Huw Bevan, S+V’s head of cricket and the executive producer of ICC TV, says: “I think there are a number of fundamental differences between the service we’re providing here and were we to do it elsewhere.
“By definition, it’s an ICC event, so they’re our client, and we’re following their guidelines and we’re following their preferences. They are commissioning us so they clearly have KPIs that they want us to address in a style of production, which is under their management.
“We work with them, we advise them, and sometimes we try to coerce them to go in different directions. But ultimately they’re the decision-maker.”
Bevan has been overseeing the World Cup offering, supported by Gavin Scovell, as lead director, and Joanna Lowndes Lumb, as head of production, driving an operation of 500 staff from around the world, including four core production crews and five engineering teams, which have been moving between the 11 venues.
NEP Broadcast Solutions, the Singapore-based company, has been responsible for the provision of equipment, with the flyaway set-ups including portacabins for the world feed, engineering, VT, audio, production, graphics, ball-tracking, analysis and editing.
An outside broadcast truck has been employed for the most remote grounds, namely Taunton in south-west England and Durham in the north-east, while ICC TV highlights packages have been produced at S+V’s base in west London.
Each match has been covered by a minimum of 32 cameras, including eight ultra-motion Hawk-Eye cameras, front and reverse view stump cameras, a Spidercam on a line above the ground and a drone camera and a ground-level Buggy Cam both provided by Batcam.
Additional cameras have been deployed at high-profile games such as India vs Pakistan and England vs Australia, and there will be similar enhancements for the final at Lord’s on 14 July.
While S+V has been responsible for the world feed, featuring well-recognised commentators (largely ex-cricketers) and delivered to international broadcasters covering more than 200 territories, Star India, the ICC’s global broadcast partner, and Sky, the UK’s pay-television operator and foremost cricket broadcaster, have had their own trucks and teams at matches.
“They [Star and Sky] take the world feed from us and customise it, that’s the easiest way to describe it,” says Bevan. “But that’s done on a match-by-match basis. In some cases, they would not touch it, for others they will customise it, for example they’ll have additional cameras, sometimes they’ll have their own additional commentary. In Star’s case they have multiple commentaries [in different languages], some of which comes from site and some of which comes from Mumbai.”
S+V’s output is supported by other now established ICC technology partners including AE Graphics, which has rolled out a new look and feel for scores and statistics at the World Cup, and Hawk-Eye whose ball-tracking system is used in cricket’s decision review system.
There are also new tools such as player tracking, courtesy of ChyronHego, the broadcast graphics company, enabling names to be put to fielders, 360-degree replays via Piero, the sports graphics specialist, which are being operated by Hawk-Eye, and allow multiple camera feeds to be combined in a single video, and an in-depth data analytics system from cricket intelligence provider CricViz.
Ajesh Ramachandran, ICC TV executive producer and senior manager for broadcast, claims that the governing body is using the 2019 Cricket World Cup, its flagship competition, to showcase technology and appeal to new audiences, and that the plans have been up to three years in the making.
Speaking at the Lord’s Media Centre, he says: “In this event we’ve obviously stressed a lot the new technologies. For us at the ICC it was very important to create a sort of visual signature, something different, which adds to the game at the same time.
“Sunset+Vine are obviously a production company with solid experience on the cricket front, but we needed to enhance that with technology… After every event we do a lot of focus group studies in our key markets to see what’s working and what’s not working.
“One of the things that repeatedly came back to us was because the demographic of the viewership is changing so quickly, and so many younger viewers are starting to watch cricket, you have to cater for that audience… which is why we look at these visual differentiators, things that are very similar to what we’re seeing in video games.
“An event like the Cricket World Cup attracts quite a bit of casual viewership… so this is the chance to grow that audience as well. We try to make the graphical proposition as simple as possible and easy to understand, and the commentators have picked up on that really well.”
However, Ramachandran is at pains to stress that the technology should be seen as an add-on, rather than distract from what takes place on the field, saying: “Our production philosophy has been geared towards explaining the why rather than just the what, and all our technological innovations come from that editorial idea and support that.”
On Piero, which is familiar in TV soccer analysis, but is being employed in cricket for the first time, he points out it has been possible to combine high and low camera angles, and produce detailed replays within 10 minutes.
“You can freeze the action and play it out as a replay,” says Ramachandran. “Or you can paint over, magnify and put tags and graphics on it. It is used in studio productions a lot.”
Huw Bevan, executive producer of ICC TV
Asked what he feels have been the most successful innovations at the tournament, Bevan says: “The feedback we’ve had on player tracking in particular has been very, very pleasing. It took a little bit of time to get it operationally working as we wanted to. But after the tournament proper got under way and people got used to it, I think it's really been a big value-add because it’s brought the cricket field to life in a way that has not been possible before.”
He adds: “The [level of] analysis has been another area that has been very much welcome. We’ve wanted to tell stories across 100 overs. I feel that perhaps people have focused in the past in a general sense on cricket analysis, maybe in their pre-game shows, their mid-game shows and post-game, but with less emphasis during the game.
“We’ve essentially created a dedicated analysis team with specialists. One of our producers for example is [ex-cricketer] Simon Hughes who is known as ‘The Analyst’. They have deep-level expertise in the game and work with commentators to select different parts of the match they want to focus on…
“If the game is very exciting, you won’t need as much analysis by definition. But in those periods when maybe there’s a lull, there’s an opportunity for us to do more storytelling from an analytical perspective.”
Bevan also emphasises the ICC TV presentation of the matches at the World Cup, saying: “The other thing that has been quite well received has been the packaging we’ve done to highlight the heroes of the game, and the rivalries. We’ve brought in some additional edit capability that maybe has not been utilised before in live broadcast.
“I think that’s made our production look quite glossy, and it’s given us a standard to our styling, which I think has been quite eye-catching, and which obviously we wanted to achieve in the same way that graphics can look and move and be very dynamic, including various data sets.”
A notable absentee at the tournament has been ultra high definition TV coverage, which was offered, for 10 games, including the semi-finals and final, at the last World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2015.
Ramachandran cites a lack of demand by the time of a self-imposed deadline of the end of last year, saying: “There was a little bit of interest from the UK to be fair, and possibly a little bit of interest from Australia but, beyond that, in the countries where the big numbers are, we really didn’t get anything.
“It [UHD] would have been an incremental sort of production because our fundamental principles would have been the same… The way our media rights work is divided is Star Sports is our global licensee and they sub-license to various networks around the world, like Sky in the UK, so consolidated if there had been enough demand, that holds true for the future as well.
“Whenever there are enough [UHD set-top] boxes in the world and there is demand and hunger for that sort of technology, we can do it again. We did it in 2015, and thought about it in 2019 but the demand just wasn’t enough.”
Nonetheless, with the future in mind, the ICC is keen to leave a production legacy in place from this year’s tournament, which could enhance TV coverage of future events such as The Hundred, the new youth-focused short-format competition being introduced in England and Wales next year.
Ramachandran says: “We’ve set up Spidercam [at many of the grounds] so that even if local licensees and production houses don’t really do it… the venues now have an idea of what needs to be done and how some of the technologies work.
“There’s only one network [Sky] that’s been broadcasting [cricket] here for a long time and what that network does is known to all the venues and a lot of the stakeholders in cricket. It’s nice for them to have someone like us come in and have a lot of different technology in their grounds.”