Eye on the ball and the beach in Brazil for World Cup

BBC Sport studio in Rio TV Sport's studio on Copacabana offers spectacular views of sands and Sugarloaf Mountain - until 5.30pm

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Phil Bigwood is in training for the World Cup when Ariel catches up with him. Not trading passes in a triple-layered tracksuit, but trying to make it across town by public transport.

The television sport executive producer is sweating buckets in the tropical heat of Rio de Janeiro, having been stuck on a bus for nearly two hours to travel the short distance from hotel to International Broadcast Centre.

The streets are already snarled up and this is before throngs of foreign football fans arrive and the first match kicks off.

But it's no surprise to Bigwood, who's been 'acclimatising' to Brazil since 2009, when he first visited to start planning for 2014. He soon learnt that this World Cup was no time to go it alone.

'In Berlin in 2006 and Cape Town in 2010 we went our own way,' Bigwood tells Ariel. 'We did everything unilaterally in terms of the production gallery and studio space. We investigated all sorts of options in Brazil but, to be honest, it's quite a challenging country to work in, so we approached Fifa.'

Start Quote

'It's the perfect scenario for us. And it really is quite spectacular. I hope people will be impressed by what they see.'”

End Quote Phil Bigwood World Cup Executive Producer

Gary Lineker and co. will present all the action from the BBC studio inside Fifa's purpose-built block on Copacabana.

Co-occupants of a building with nine studios - including ITV and Al Jazeera - will help bring costs down, while Fifa is laying on essentials like power and connectivity back to the IBC.

After dark

'It's the perfect scenario for us,' reckons Bigwood, a load off his mind. 'And it really is quite spectacular. I hope people will be impressed by what they see.'

That depends, of course, on whether the world's most famous stretch of sand, bedecked with beautiful people and in the shadow of the monolithic Sugarloaf Mountain, ticks your boxes.

The city's fan zone at the far end of Copacabana beach will also be in the studio's sight. The big screens and party vibe are expected to draw massive crowds.

'When the Pope was there last year they had more than three million people on the beach,' says Bigwood. 'And with Brazil playing on the opening night, it could be quite something along that stretch.'

Trouble is the tournament takes place bang in the middle of Brazil's winter and it will be pitch black outside by 5.30 in the afternoon. It means that the BBC will have to call on augmented reality to give its after-dark coverage a fitting backdrop.

Thierry Henry, Gary Lineker and Rio Ferdinand World Cup winner Thierry Henry and former England captain Rio Ferdinand join Gary Lineker in the studio

Thirty kilometres to the west of the studio is the International Broadcast Centre - technical focal point and production centre for the world's broadcasters.

'It's where all the match feeds come in,' explains Bigwood, 'and where every signal back to the UK will go from. This is where the bulk of our post-production and VT operation will be.'

'One big lesson'

Fifa appoints eight match directors from around the world to provide pictures of the live football to broadcasters, who can add their own commentaries and extra material.

When England take on Italy on Saturday, for instance, the BBC will have units out and about around the stadium and doing pitch-side interviews.

Bigwood is in talks with Italy's RAI over sharing some resources in the Amazonian city of Manaus, having already agreed to share cameras and aerial footage with ESPN and Canada's CBC during the month-long competition, as well as warehouse space with Germany's ARD.

'That's been one big lesson,' he reflects. 'Because of the challenges of covering this World Cup compared to previous ones, there's been a lot more collaboration between broadcasters.'

Meanwhile, Fifa is sending out 41 single camera crews - one with each of the 32 teams and nine providing features on the Brazilian culture, landscape and people. All the material is up for grabs on the host server.

'With that rich mix of content I think we're going to cover most angles,' reckons Bigwood, who believes the host country itself could play as big a part in our enjoyment of the World Cup as the likes of Messi and Ronaldo.

Start Quote

The whole country will come to a standstill when Brazil play. There are likely to be public holidays. If Brazil have a good run it could really be one of the best World Cups ever”

End Quote Phil Bigwood
Spiritual home

In South Africa, stadiums crammed with vibrant costumes, dancing fans and droning vuvuzelas amped up the atmosphere. Can Brazil really trump that?

'Absolutely and more so,' Bigwood insists. 'Brazil is the spiritual home of football. It is a religion here and the fever behind it and the passion for the Brazilian team is difficult to quantify.

'The whole country will come to a standstill when Brazil play. There are likely to be public holidays. If Brazil have a good run it could really be one of the best World Cups ever.'

But that sort of euphoria can't mask a society sullied by slums, gun crime, drug gangs and inadequate public services. At last year's Confederations Cup, more than 100,000 demonstrators protested about the millions splashed on the World Cup as vital infrastructure improvements are neglected.

If the ugly clashes between police and protesters are repeated this summer, BBC News - who has its own studio above the fan zone - will be on the case. 'As BBC Sport, our first task is to cover the football,' adds Bigwood, 'although it would be remiss of us not to reflect the more negative aspects in some way.'

The fact that the BBC is sending 272 people to Brazil has irked the press, but the exec claims he's 'very comfortable' with the number.

Down on South Africa's 295, they will be producing 50% more content than last time round to satisfy new multimedia demands.

Staff safety

'It's going to be the first 24/7 World Cup,' he believes. 'I'm sure television will still draw in the big audiences, but I really think the other platforms are going to take off here. They just work so well together.'

Phil Bigwood in Rio studio Phil Bigwood: 'It really is quite spectacular. I hope people will be impressed by what they see'

But the safety of his staff has been 'more front of mind' than at previous events. Briefings took place ahead of travel, and people will be booked into reasonably large hotels, which offer greater security. A member of the BBC security team will be on hand throughout to offer advice.

'We have to be particularly careful if we want to film in one of the favelas, for example. Elsewhere, people need to use their common sense, like they would in many big cities around the world.'

Making sure all those staff are in the right place at the right time - in a country 30 times the size of the UK, with match venues spanning 12 cities and two time zones - is an even bigger headache, with fog-prone airports, the rainy season, frequent flight cancellations and traffic jams adding to the fun.

Start Quote

We've had to build some more slack into the system to allow for delays. But all broadcasters are expecting a few bumps along the way”

End Quote Phil Bigwood

'Kay Satterley, our production manager, deserves a medal,' declares Bigwood. 'We've had to build some more slack into the system to allow for delays. We discovered at the Confederations Cup that you can't afford to fly in commentators on the day of a game because they might not get there. But all broadcasters are expecting a few bumps along the way.'

The audience won't mind a bumpy ride, of course, so long as the England team can find its way out of the 'group of death'.

The BBC - which had second pick of the matches after broadcast partner ITV (having chosen first at Euro 2012) - only gets to show one of England's group matches so will be crossing its fingers that the team makes the last 16.

But is the success of the BBC World Cup tied up with an England run?

Who will win?

'It will always have a massive impact on audience appreciation,' Bigwood concedes. 'If England were to progress, then the whole country will be in a far better mood about it and will undoubtedly embrace it more.

'But the kick-off times are fantastic for us; it's in Brazil with all that means to football, plus the Premier League is full of World Cup stars so there's already a bond with the audience. Come what may, I think they'll stay tuned throughout.'

The BBC pundits are something of an attraction in themselves, with World Cup winner Thierry Henry ('he has real star quality') and four time Champions League winner Clarence Seedorf ('he ticks every box going') lined up to give their verdicts on the play.

Together with names like Rio Ferdinand, Alan Hansen (in his last BBC role), Neil Lennon and Danny Murphy they create 'a good mix of people'.

Each will have their predictions for the tournament, but who does the BBC man think will win?

He won't dismiss England's chances out of hand, but thinks it will be tough for any European country to succeed in South America.

'I'd probably go for Brazil, then Argentina,' he considers. 'If they met in the final it would be absolutely sensational.'

  • BBC TV Sport is showing 31 live matches and 160 hours of highlights, replays and reviews across BBC One, Two, Three and Red Button. Radio 5 live will also be covering the 24 days of live football, and there's enhanced digital coverage for PC, tablet and mobile.

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