A whole lot of firsts for Rugby World Cup

Oita Stadium


The first sports event broadcast of a Rugby Union international was radio coverage between England and Wales from Twickenham in the United Kingdom, back in January 1927. Some 40 years later, the first-ever rugby match was broadcast on television in colour. It was a highly charged third test between England and the New Zealand All Blacks in 1967, also at Twickenham.

The idea of a Rugby World Cup had been suggested on numerous occasions going back to the 1950s, but met with opposition from most unions until 1985 – when it was finally agreed upon, seeing the inaugural tournament played in 1987. It is now the third-largest sports event in the world, after the summer Olympics and the Football World Cup, and this year sees the ninth Rugby World Cup take place in Japan, with a whole host of firsts when it comes to broadcast technology.

Rugby has been played in Japan since at least 1866, when the Yokohama Football Club was founded. It’s fitting, therefore, that Yokohama, which borders Tokyo, will host this year’s final. It’s the ninth Rugby World Cup and Japan is set to break new ground as the host of the first tournament in Asia. International Games Broadcast Services (IGBS), a joint venture between HBS and IMG Media, have been appointed to be the host broadcaster. The decision to appoint a specialised host broadcaster for the first time reflects World Rugby’s commitment to the highest standards of ground-breaking technical production and consistency between tournaments.

Also, for the first time, all 48 matches of a Rugby World Cup will be produced in multiple formats. The UHD standard is 4K SDR 2160p/59.94, while HD standards are 1080p/59.94 and 1080i/59.94. In addition to the traditional World Feed, Rights Holding Broadcasters (RHBs) will have access to uninterrupted live feeds to complement their studio operations, plus access to action clips during the match to enhance their analysis and programming. Dedicated ENG Crews will provide content from around the country, the tournament and the competing teams. All the live and ENG content will be available via the World Rugby Media Server, which is being supplied by EVS, with logged rushes plus some post-produced features all available for RHBs’ programming, be it a traditional broadcast or online offering either at the International Broadcast Centre or remotely at their home studio.

IGBS is also introducing another first, the Match Day Preview Show, which will look ahead to the next day’s games. This, combined with the live matches and the daily highlights show, will offer broadcasters access to all-day programming. In a world that now has the need to feed social media, World Rugby has introduced a specific content package to promote the event on a variety of social media platforms. The social media content production team will enable rights holders to simply populate their own streams, websites and apps with high-quality content, with short-form content, infographics and 360° virtual reality (VR) clips all made available.

Production teams have been drawn from France, UK, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia by the host broadcaster in order to maintain the highest standards throughout the six-week tournament. There are a number of first-time innovations that have been introduced to enhance the coverage this year. Depending on the rating of the match, there will be 23, 28 or 32 cameras, as well as corner-flag cameras and Spidercam will be

operational at 34 of the 48 matches. Hawkeye will be providing facilities for the Television Match Official (TMO) and for Citing and Head Injury Assessment.

NHK, the sole public broadcaster of Japan, are going to provide 8K Super Hi-Vision coverage to the domestic market with unprecedented free-to-air coverage offering an opportunity to use rugby’s biggest event to reach the widest possible audience. Under the IGBS umbrella, they will use nine cameras together with some host 4K cameras up-converted. They are planning to broadcast 31 of the 48 matches in 8K, and NHK will use Japanese UHD graphics created on-site as well as Augmented Graphics in conjunction with Spidercam to add to the 8K spectacle.

All the broadcast title and program graphics will be run by Alston Elliot, who also provide the official data throughout the tournament. Alston Elliot is a graphics production company that specialises in televised sports graphics and data systems, and also serves as technology partner to broadcasters, if required, by supplying turnkey graphics systems and custom output software. In particular, football broadcasters such as the English Premier League, FA Cup, Europa League and FA Women’s Super League have adopted their turnkey services. Other sports they supply to are golf, motorsports, athletics, tennis, hockey, fishing and, of course, IPL cricket. Their technical innovation for rugby includes scrum analysis, play patterns, try origins, team trends, ruck analysis, tackle analysis and field position analysis.

The company’s graphics creation workflows are based mainly on Vizrt and ChyronHego software and they have come a long way since they started out in the UK back in 1992. The company now has offices in South Africa, India and also Australia, where they recently designed and supplied a ground-breaking broadcast graphics package for Augmented Reality on Spidercam for the National Rugby League.

One of the major challenges facing the broadcasters is a bit of a strange one. Remarkably there are four varieties of local power in Japan – 200v/60Hz, 100V/50Hz, 200V/50Hz and 100V/60Hz, depending on the stadium location. These challenges have been overcome, however, with the appointment of Aggreko, a UK based company who will provide critical power systems and distribution for all broadcasts at the various stadiums as well as backup systems for the 12 venues across Japan.

Meanwhile, world lighting leader, Signify, have installed its connected lighting system Interact Sports at the Toyota Stadium in Aichi, Japan. It’s the first outdoor stadium in Japan to install connected LED pitch lighting in combination with high performance Philips ArenaVision LEDs. This new lighting meets the stringent broadcast standards for flicker-free Ultra-HD 4K television and super slow-motion action replays. People at home will clearly see every detail and emotion on the pitch in a tournament that is bound to provide us the best that sport broadcasting has to offer and the most exciting rugby we have seen…ever!


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