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Glastonbury - covering a major cultural event

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Andy Parfitt | 15:09 UK time, Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Florence Welch on the Introducing Stage at Glastonbury

Every year we have to counter the charge that the numbers of backstage talent the BBC sends to create Glastonbury is excessive. If the figures were 600, 300 or 100 people I don't think it would make any difference. Last year we sent 274 staff and freelancers and this year it will be less.

Glastonbury is a major cultural event and the UK's most significant popular music festival. Last year our coverage reached nearly 16 million people, was listened to by 5.7 million individuals and the website featured around 170 hours of video. The BBC prides itself on its high-quality coverage of major events like Glastonbury, so I thought I'd give you a glimpse of what I see backstage to give you a better scale to understand why, later this month, the BBC will send 263 of its best people to Somerset to bring a huge amount of content to our audiences across all our platforms.

The Glastonbury site is 1100 acres - more than double the size of the Olympic Park and Alton Towers and the equivalent of 550 football pitches - it's huge! It took me an hour to walk across the site (with no people there) and when at capacity over the weekend with around 135,000 people on site it can take much longer!

We have cameras and crew at six stages across this massive site - bringing audiences 38 hours of TV on BBC Two, Three and Four and around 50 hours of radio across 6Music, Radio 2 and Radio 1 plus extensive coverage on bbc.co.uk, as well as on four Red Button streams, offering a complete multi-platform experience.

As a former sound engineer, I'm going to tell you about the main Pyramid Stage sound for the Radio, TV and on-demand. We're talking about delivering some of the world's greatest artists (this year there's U2Coldplay and Beyoncé) to your TV, radio and computer in super quality. I can tell you that mixing the hundreds of sound feeds does not happen on mobile disco equipment - Sound II is the BBC's big digital mobile music studio - a truck crammed with the highest possible quality mixing desk, monitoring and FX systems. Inside, our very best sound engineers work on a shift system to deliver great sound day and night; there are stage technicians who lay the cables and set the mics; and production assistants who log, time, quality check and upload hundreds of tracks so that the BBC Radio stations can play out live music in their Glastonbury specials.

This is only one stage and only the sound - across a sprawling site which is bigger than Bath. There's also the John Peel Stage, West Holts Stage, The Park Stage, Other Stage and BBC Introducing Stage with each one having dedicated technical points. And there are dozens more stages, tents and areas where music and comedy acts are doing their thing - so getting around the site with equipment and artists can be a real challenge.

All this, even before we get to the multi hi-def camera points, the vision mixers, directors, vision control engineers, producers, the website techs and the fact that tons of kit has to be installed in a fairly remote valley in Somerset and taken down days later by riggers and drivers. I hope you'll appreciate that this is why it takes the number of people it does to deliver the BBC's high quality multi-platform content. I should add that as the broadcast partner, the BBC's pictures are beamed across the world with BBC WorldWide selling rights to coverage overseas and generating funds to be invested back into the BBC for making programmes.

And this is certainly no 'junket'. There's no BBC corporate hospitality and any BBC executives attending will also be working. Every member of staff onsite has a clear and accountable role - working hard and extremely long hours to offer unparalleled coverage. The people who work at the festival are some of the most dedicated, talented hard-working and professional crew I have come across in my career - and I have been around a long time!

Andy Parfitt is Controller Radio 1, 1Xtra, Popular Music and Asian Network


  • Comment number 1.

    I try to get to Glastonbury most years, and love the BBC's coverage after the event. Considering how huge it is, you do a good job with that many people.

    Essentially the Mail et al are whipping up the same old booooring "controversies".

  • Comment number 2.

    But do you get your own toilets - or share the dreaded longdrops?

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't see any 'real facts' here. Without the need to provide a spreadsheet with rotas, it would be useful to have some numbers (e.g. the headline act at the Pyramid has nn cameras and mm channels of audio whcih needs n engineers ).

    More importantly, this festival would get coverage from the commercial sector if the BBC stepped aside. The BBC could then concentrate on the smaller festivals, which would probably cost less per performance (with many of the same acts...) as the sites are smaller, as you yourself point out. So following the BBC remit to do more with less, you should be covering these festivals, not 'glasto'.

  • Comment number 4.

    Is Alan Yentob going this year and is he paying for his ticket or doing any work?

  • Comment number 5.

    Up with this sort of thing!

    Robust, passionate rebuttals of Daily Mail-esque hysteria is exactly what the BBC should be doing more of. Not kow-towing and compromising to placate vested interests

  • Comment number 6.

    Personally, I think it's a bad thing that you've felt the need to justify your position on this

    I feel that the BBC (in it's entirety, not just Radio) is an amazing corporation. This is even though I only subscribe to a small number of services that the BBC offers

    Looking at the BBC as a whole, you get an awful lot of bang for your buck. For my license fee, I get all sorts

    * Advert free TV and radio - The problem with commercial TV/radio is the commercials
    * One Big Weekend - A free festival, who can't like that!
    * Bite Size - A genuinely useful resource
    * Wonders of the Universe - This was possibly made with Discovery. But, oh my. Which other broadcaster in the UK produces programs like this? Science is getting mainstream, and the BBC must be thanked for this

    Ok, only a few examples. But, considering the scale of these things, I think it's a pretty good deal

    Yes, you're sending people to Glastonbury to work. But, if it's a bit of a reward for people too, so what? Companies should reward their staff where possible and relevant. When your staff are happy, your product is generally better produced, resulting in happier customers

    Take, for example, the week build up to One Big Weekend. Sending the breakfast and afternoon teams to the house for all the build up activities was awesome, and I hope it happens again. Mixing Chris & Greg's shows makes the radio a bit different for a week. And, everyone seemed to be having fun with it all which resulted in me listening to the radio more

    Personally, I love it when the BBC R1 shows cross over into each other, and generally mix it about a bit. All the presenters seem to genuinely like each other, which makes it a better product

    The Red Nose marathon show that Chris Moyles and Comedy Dave hosted - When that was announced, I was disappointed. The idea wasn't all that appealing at all. However, I couldn't stop watching on the Red Button, or online (which ever was most convenient for me). What other broadcasting company would do something like that? For free? Without adverts or bias? When the breakfast show gets behind something, they *really* get behind it. I don't know of another broadcaster that has a similar ethic - They're only interested in the bottom line, and a lot of the time it shows

    Most recently, Radio 1, 1 Xtra and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra collaborated to mix an orchestra with dubstep. Inspired! Who else would have the backbone to attempt such a thing? I can't see ITV pulling it off - Not enough dancing dogs or judging panels

    People are always quick to criticize the BBC, but I don't think they realise how good we have it in this country with regards to broadcasting

    I say - Send as many people as you think reasonable to Glastonbury and continue to create fantastic products

    Lets be honest, other broadcasters do struggle with live events. They have a bigger commitment to their advertisers demands than anything else. Didn't ITV cut to adverts during an England match during the World cup, and therefore miss showing a goal? How many seasons for Formula 1 were impacted by ad breaks?

    Other than being a licence payer, I have no affiliation with the BBC or any other broadcaster

  • Comment number 7.

    I've been going to Glasto for about twenty years now and as that has changed I find the BBC coverage has stayed physically routed to the two main stages. This is frustrating as Glasto provides the BBC with the opportunity to record the oddities and side-shows. Record the story-tellers, the arts fields and report at least once or twice on the greenfields.

    The BBC's got a duty to broadcast outside of the main realm that MTV would focus on. It would be nice for once if they did.

  • Comment number 8.

    As it's impossible for me to get to Glastonbury I really don't begrudge the money spent on coverage of Glastonbury and the other festivals, I just wish that the same acts didn't seem to be appearing at all of them in the same year.

  • Comment number 9.

    You should have had a clear-out years ago... overly sentimental, lightweight & self indulgent conversation & interviews from Jo Whiley & Zane Lowe become more tedious each year.

  • Comment number 10.

    How much would it cost to record the jazz stage in it's entirety? What about recording some of the comedy?

  • Comment number 11.

    Thankyou for all that work. I appreciate it. If only it were available all year round on iPlayer.

  • Comment number 12.

    Rah rah rah!

  • Comment number 13.

    It's ridiculous that you have to justify what you do. If you weren't there to broadcast Glastonbury, we'd all be a lot worse off. Like last year, I'll be glued to the TV this weekend, so keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 14.

    The usual single-issue types been moaning about the BBC providing a good service again, then? Never mind, one day we'll probably get things their way and we can get the same service only with a £20 "pay to view" charge on top of a monthly subscription charge along with adverts in the middle of the Vampire Weekend comeback set. How much "better" things will be.

  • Comment number 15.

    I can't believe there are people calling for actual numbers of staff on each stage. From an already un-necessary statement of accountability, it should be painfully evident that the number of staff is perfectly appropriate. Speaking as someone who disagrees with the licence fee, I still think the BBC does an amazing job of their festival coverage, and personally don't give two figs if there are a couple of liggers there. More power to them if they can get away with it.

  • Comment number 16.

    ANDY: Should you read this:-

    I have two gripes Andy which detracted from an otherwise excellent sounding festival which, as a sound engineer, you might be interested in:

    1 The reverb used on many of the usually seamless-sounding acoustic sets in the BBC Garden was excessive. There was so much reverb at times it intruded to the point that it spoiled the performance. I point you particularly to sets by John Grant and Jon Allen on Sunday night, however almost all these recordings had too much reverb.
    2. A couple of bands from the Other Stage on Saturday, eg The Chemical Brothers had their bass rolled off too much.


  • Comment number 17.

    The BBC is oddly schizophrenic IMO...and perhaps this highlights the stratification within it...
    on the one hand the news offered is the most partisan, Royalist propaganda imaginable...i call it State TV one step removed...it must be borne in mind that the BBC is essentially "old money" once you get to a certain level.
    but then the camera teams seem to be the best in the world...they offer the best Nature photography, the best coverage of Glastonbury I've seen through the years and in Sport they choose relevent pundits...like F1 with ...Coulthard and Jordan et al....people who will be talked to willingly by the competitors as they seem to know them almost as colleagues.
    very strange.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    I would agree with the sentiment that the BBC shouldn't need to justify the numbers of people going to Glastonbury to produce the tv, radio, "red button" and online coverage. You give us viewers a fantastic show.

    To those who say the coverage should be given to Competitors, you don't get the same experience as they typically show just one song from each artist due to their commitment to show adverts during the time slot.

    Although I might not watch or listen to everything the BBC produces, and the coverage of the royals is a bit sycophantic, I am happy to continue to pay the licence fee because when the BBC does something well it is far superior to anything a commercial channel would produce - the magnificent Nature programmes (such as the Springwatch and Autumnwatch shows), the excellent science programmes (I learned such amazing things that I subsequently impressed science teachers with the knowledge).

    I hope the BBC continues to give us the viewers what WE want and ignore the comments made by the mail and their ilk.


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