Gearing up for the World Cup
As Executive Producer, I'm responsible for the production of BBC TV's World Cup coverage. This involves all sorts of things, from deciding what technical feeds we'll need for a match to set design and what Gary Lineker's chair should look like.
I know that some of what we do on TV carries an element of mystery with it, so I hope to use this blog to explain what we're doing, why we're doing it and to answer your questions along the way.
This year's World Cup is the first to be held in Africa and will be a truly historic event. We'll be doing our best to cover both the tournament itself and the diverse cultural and political aspects of Africa. World Cup 2010, like no other football event before it, is about more than just what happens on the pitch.
We are less than 100 days away from the big kick-off, but my planning began in 2007, working throughout with our editorial, production and technical teams.
From the outset the most difficult decision was where to base the BBC's main TV studio.
We try, where possible, to present from the host country because feedback tells us that our audiences expect this kind of closeness to the action and that it adds to your enjoyment of the whole event.
Past studios - remember the Brandenburg Gate in Germany 2006 or the one in Paris for France 98 - helped us to create programmes that left TV audiences feeling immersed in the tournament. I believe this will be more important than ever in South Africa.
One option was to broadcast from Television Centre in London. This would have detached us from the action and would have diminished our ability to cover stories on the ground. Programmes would have arguably not been as engaging and would have been devoid of the atmosphere that is so crucial to a World Cup. I felt we had that issue in 2002 when much of our early programming came from London.
As importantly, however, our studio in TV Centre does not have the facilities to broadcast adequately in high definition, which I think would have disappointed a lot of people, given the profile of the event.
So to maximise audience engagement and enjoyment of the tournament we agreed that we should be based in South Africa.
Table Mountain will provide a spectacular backdrop for the BBC's coverage
The huge distances involved made the prospect of hopping from ground to ground impractical and ridiculously expensive. So we opted for one fixed base and it came down to a straight choice between two cities: Johannesburg or Cape Town.
After much debate, we went for Cape Town and our studio will be on the roof of a hospital, with great views of Table Mountain.
Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for so long, is also visible and downtown Cape Town, where Mandela made his historic address from the balcony of City Hall following his release. This year is the 20th anniverary of that address.
We chose those views because we believe they are the ones that will resonate most with UK viewers. But we are perfectly placed for the football as well. Cape Town Stadium (formerly Green Point) is just a few hundred metres away. As many games will be played there as at the venue for the final, Soccer City. England will play there against Algeria and could potentially return for a semi-final (here's hoping!).
This one venue ticked all the sporting, political and cultural boxes we felt needed ticking. No other location came close.
We thought long and hard about hiring a main presentation studio at the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) in Johannesburg, but Cape Town's backdrop won the day. The IBC is sited near Soccer City stadium, in a former mining area with the city skyline in the far distance.
Once the competition is over, the Cape Town studio will be flat-packed with a view to reusing it at other events.
As far as staffing goes, I'm pleased we have been able to reduce numbers compared to 2006. In terms of TV Sport, we'll be sending a total of 190 to South Africa compared with the 210 staff who travelled to Germany. For Radio, the numbers are 48 compared to 69 and News will also send fewer staff than the 57 they had at the last World Cup. This is despite the fact our output will have grown since then and we will be working in a much more logistically challenging environment.
We will be on air for many hours on TV and, as you'd expect, will be offering extensive services on radio, online and on the red button and across the BBC's News outlets.
We will be covering 32 games live on BBC TV and showing highlights of all the others and will have around 110 hours of domestic World Cup coverage across BBC1, BBC2 and BBC3. There will be over 100 hours of red button coverage and also over 100 hours of content on the BBC Sport website.
The website team in South Africa will also be providing live text commentaries, match reports, blogs, interaction with site users and also hosting Q&A's with BBC Sport pundits.
Radio are covering all matches live and total radio hours will be above 250, taking in all the 5 Live programmes being presented from South Africa during the World Cup. News will be providing coverage from 5.00am until at least midnight each day across all its outlets and platforms.
Current holders Italy begin their defence against Paraguay in Cape Town on 14 June
I'll go into more detail about scheduling in a future blog, but it is probably worth noting that a number of the people working on these services will be returning early or staying for a short duration.
We are satisfied that this number of staff is not large for an operation of this scale, in a country this size and with issues around transport and security.
The UK is regarded as one of the major World Cup players in broadcasting terms, yet some of our colleagues from Europe and South America will send many hundreds of people to the tournament, in excess of the numbers for the BBC and ITV combined.
I therefore believe the UK broadcasters run a pretty lean operation given the complexity and enormity of the event..
Don't get me wrong, it will be a privilege for all of us going to work in South Africa and we can't wait to get started, but there's plenty to do.
Before the event I will outline the sorts of things the different areas of the operation are involved in so that, hopefully, there's more information and background available.
If you have any coverage ideas, I'd like to hear them and if you have any questions, I'll do my best to get answers.
Next time around, I'll update you on how the host nation is preparing itself and what the stadiums are looking like......