EURORADIO @ 2014 European Athletics Championships in Zürich

The Vision

The 2014 European Athletics Championships in Zürich were a milestone in the development of digital radio while a major innovation for radio sport.

An EBU project was created with the aim of providing supporting content for Digital Radio listeners across Europe. The project’s lead, Christophe Pasquier, had a vision to provide an “international signal” that would allow broadcasters to enrich their commentary with photographs, start lists, results and social media posts.

The International Signal

The broadcast would be much like the International Signal generated by host broadcasters that allows television stations to opt-in and out with their own presenters, VTs and camera angles. In Christophe’s case this signal would be purely a slide show with no sound - the broadcaster being responsible for embedding this in their broadcasts.

For people who haven’t discovered the joys of visual content on DAB this video from Czech Radio is all you need. It shows the EURORADIO-generated visual content being broadcast on DAB during Zürich 2014.

The EURORADIO Operation

The visual sports operation was based in a portacabin in the TV compound at Zürich 2014. The team consisted of a visual sports producer who was responsible for shaping the content that appeared on the international signal. An audio producer (Micky Curling) created a supporting broadcast in English for use on the EUROVISION Sports Live app and a radio reporter (Adéla Havránková) provided crowd and athlete reaction for the English stream. Meanwhile a team of developers in Geneva were putting the finishing touches to a project that had been many months in development.
The open-source backend system is custom-built and handles a variety of incoming sources – including photos from Getty Images, posts from Instagram (sourced using hashtags and location proximity), Tweets and most importantly data generated by Swiss Timing/Omega for start lists, results, flash quotes and photo-finishes. All incoming data is handled by a server in Geneva that turns it in to small images that are presented to the visual producer. The system will happily cycle through fresh content and present it for DAB broadcast every 15 seconds. Where the system really shines though is with a producer that is looking to tell a story throughout the event.

Imagine the start of a race: the system will be cycling through the start list. Then just as the race is about to start you could drop in a Tweet from some team-mates wishing their runner “good luck”. Then during the race you bring back the start list to support the commentary. Then the moment the race finishes you could push live the timings as soon as they come available from Omega. This might be just the winning time until the full results list is published. And as soon the still images have arrived from Getty you can put these live to really bring the race to life. And then, probably a little later, you’ll be able to show an Instagram selfie taken by someone in the crowd with the winning athlete.
For many broadcasters this is a new area to explore and, whilst EURORADIO has driven the backend development, it is now for them to find ways of implementing it. For many, the first outing of this technology has been as embedded content on their websites...

Live Radio

In addition to providing the silent stream of images, EURORADIO generated its own audio coverage of the event that was embedded with the International Signal and hosted on the EUROVISION Sports Live mobile app. For the first time in many countries people were able to experience the visualisation of sports radio. This stream was created by one audio producer/presenter and one mixed-zone reporter. The reporter recorded interviews, vox-pops and stand-ups in to their smartphone using a professional audio interface. This audio was sent directly to the producer to be broadcast at opportune moments within the live coverage that was being sourced direct from the European Athletics commentary team. This mix of live commentary with athlete and crowd reaction provided a unique take on proceedings and provided a professional broadcast that could be used to demonstrate the visualisation project.

Commentator Jonathan Blackledge

Exploding Content

Everyone on the team approached this project with the belief that the future of radio isn’t just in the form of traditional linear broadcast. With that in mind, much of the content created throughout these broadcasters was “chunked” and shared on social media. This allowed the team to explode even more content, allowing content to be fragmented to new platforms. Audio was uploaded to Soundcloud and contained in daily Thinglinks. These are new uses for the content generated during a big event and we do not know yet where and how far it can spread.

Athletics as a perfect showcase

For Christophe Pasquier and the coders it was a logical decision to choose Athletics as the first live demonstration of their visualisation technology. Aside from the Olympics, Athletics is probably one of the most complex sporting events one can cover. At any one time there can be 4 or 5 events taking place in the same arena and the flow of data is extreme. It is everyone’s belief that the success of Zürich 2014 can be replicated across many sports and that they really were working on the start of something big.

EURORADIO Zürich Team: Christophe Pasquier, Adéla Havránková & Micky Curling