Behind the Scenes at Rugby Tonight

Situated in the former International Broadcast Centre of the Olympic Park, the BT Sport studio complex covers a staggering 80,000ft2, a number made all the more impressive when it transpires they built the facility from the ground up in five months. It’s an astonishing feat of engineering.

So when TTT got the opportunity to visit the studio, alongside Loaded Deputy Editor Scott Walker, to learn how the channel operates and see how an episode of Rugby Tonight is pieced together behind the scenes, we jumped at the offer.

Loaded's Scott Walker (left) and yours truly take to the Rugby Tonight presenting desk

Loaded’s Scott Walker (left) and yours truly take to the Rugby Tonight presenting desk

When it comes to output, BT has various production companies based on site responsible for different programming. Sunset+Vine, for example, are behind the live rugby & football coverage and S+V’s Executive Producer responsible for rugby, Titus Hill, showed TTT round the complex including the production offices, 20 edit suites, 10 dressing rooms … the list goes on.

As you’d imagine from a 24 hour sports channel, the amount of information flowing through the building is mind-boggling and everything goes through the building’s Main Control Room, before various feeds are packaged and sent out through the different channels. The whole building is tapeless, with all content passing through a special logging dept to allow easy access and stored on countless terabytes of hard drive.

Impressed yet? There’s more … BT’s pièce de resistance lies in the main studio itself, which covers 14,000ft2 (the size of 4.5 tennis courts), making it the biggest studio space in Europe. BT pride themselves on their ground-breaking ‘point of difference’, which is a 20sq-m green fibre-glass floor which has changeable LED lighting running underneath that can illuminate different pitch markings, allowing live re-enactments of match incidents involving the live studio audience. Compare this to Will Greenwood standing in front of the Sky touch screen!

BT Sport's unique LED under-lit, in-studio rugby pitch

BT Sport’s unique LED under-lit, in-studio rugby pitch

The weekly rugby preview/review show Rugby Tonight takes this format of being broadcast live in front of a studio audience, with local clubs able to apply to appear on the show and help with the demos.

Watching the show go out live from behind the scenes is a fascinating experience, bearing in mind the precision required in terms of timings but the production team – consisting of [deep breath] director, producer, vision mixer (which camera to go to), a separate vision mixer for the 27 LED screens in the studio, autocue writer, graphic designers, chap responsible for the EVS system (basically the slow-mo / replay mechanism), sound guy (responsible for 6/7personal mics as well as several floating mics) and probably several other people I’ve missed – have it covered.

Rugby Tonight's sizeable production operation

Rugby Tonight’s sizeable production operation

For presenter Lawrence Dallaglio, the show aims, “to cover as much as possible, to be informative and to try and bring to the viewers something that perhaps that they haven’t seen. Rugby is a game that’s to be shared amongst everyone and the idea of Rugby Tonight is to be as inclusive a show as possible.”

Big Lol also gave us the inside scoop on the team’s preparations for the show: “We get here at one or two o’clock and start rehearsing. We look at the shape of the programme, having been through the running order on Monday and Tuesday as well, because it’s a live show and there’s obviously updated rugby news to deliver. There are Premiership highlights to look at, who’s hot and who’s not, the talking points as we get close to the England games.”

Ultimately, Dallaglio assures us, the show is about having fun and one thing is for sure;  whether it’s chasing an otter round the studio, shaving audience members’ heads or Matt Stevens belting out Frank Sinatra, there is never a dull moment. Throw in an interactive tackling challenge (the ‘Smash-O-Meter’) and few close-to-the-bone references to beavers and bishops’ helmets and you’ve a recipe for success in TTT’s eyes!

Derek the Otter, of the Exeter Chiefs, tries his hand at the Smash-O-Meter

Derek the Otter, of the Exeter Chiefs, tries his hand at the Smash-O-Meter

Rugby Tonight is live on BT Sport 1 from 8pm on Wednesdays. For more behind the scenes photos, pick up the new issue of Loaded.

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