Rio 2016

Live From Rio 2016: Gunnar Darge of ZDF Is Happy With German Broadcast Effort

In an age of shrinking IBC presence, German public-service broadcasters ARD and ZDF are bucking the trend with a production space in the 2016 Rio Olympics IBC that is about 100 sq. meters larger than its facility in the 2012 London Olympics IBC.

“We have more editing suites here: 28, with seven of them working with EVS IPDirector and the other 21 [being] Avid suites,” says Gunnar Darge, head of engineering and operations, special projects, ZDF. “The reason for the larger space is, we decided not to have unilateral OB production units with camera control or editing at the venues, with the exception of athletics where we have an OB unit from OBS.”

Gunnar Darge of ZDF is extremely happy with how the Olympic production is going.

ZDF’s Gunnar Darge oversees larger presence with fewer people in Rio than in London in 2012.

The ARD and ZDF philosophy is to have as much of the production done onsite, and, although they have fewer people here overall, the commitment is still to send a completely produced signal to Germany.

“It’s better to have everything done here because we’re directly at the event. It’s better for the editors and everyone,” says Darge. “We also are doing six additional channels of streaming content and the ARD and ZDF radio networks.”

Historically, the two German broadcast channels split the distribution, alternating broadcast days. And now that streaming is such a big part of content creation and distribution, they also alternate responsibility for the streaming-network productions, which are done in six streaming-control facilities.

At the core of the production facility are three control rooms: a main control room, which brings together the world-feed signals, unilateral-camera signals, and camera feeds from the studio at the TV tower; and two sub control rooms, which fill the void of not having unilateral facilities at venues. One of those rooms was used for swimming and is now dark while the other is still active for equestrian, rowing, and canoeing.

The main Rio Olympics production control room at the ARD/ZDF area in the IBC.

The main Rio Olympics production-control room at the ARD/ZDF area in the IBC

“Next time, we will do more remote production from home [in Germany] as other broadcasters have been doing it for a long time,” says Darge.

The equipment onsite was flown to Rio because much of it had been used in Paris for the UEFA European Championship, which ended on July 10. And, like everyone else, the German broadcasters battled (and still battle) a number of logistical issues that have become part of major-sports-event production in Brazil.

“From a production point of view, we’re extremely happy that everything is running perfectly and that we have proved out all the systems,” says Darge. “And to have much of it brought over from Paris and be plug-and-play and running is absolutely fantastic.”

With the 2016 Summer Olympics wrapping up this week, the big question for ARD and ZDF is what, if any, role they will have at the 2018 Winter Games, to be held in Peyongchang, South Korea, beginning on Feb. 9, 2018. Currently, ARD and ZDF do not have any rights to broadcast the Games because Discovery Communications is the rightsholder for Germany and the rest of Europe. Usually, at this point, Darge and the team would be starting some of the planning for the next Games. But, this year, that planning is on hold, and it remains to be seen whether German sports fans who have come to expect a first-rate, home-nation production will look back sadly at the 2016 Rio Olympics as the end of an era.