The stakes are always high when producing live event television – but rarely more so than for the Eurovision Song Contest, the world's biggest and most watched song competition.
A global audience of 161 million people tuned in this year to watch Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra narrowly beat UK singer-songwriter Sam Ryder in the grand final.
Those kind of viewing figures are something we try to put to the back of our mind at dock10 studios, from where the UK television coverage of Eurovision was produced and broadcast for the first time this year.
In the last few years, dock10 Studios has become the broadcast home to some of TV's biggest live events – from Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics through to Children in Need and Comic Relief.
We are used to handling shows with a large audience – but rarely do we broadcast to the world as for Eurovision.
For the first time ever, the voting results of the UK jury were transmitted not from London – but from Salford.
Unlike viewers at home who cast their votes during the live grand final on Saturday night, the UK professional jury gathered in one of our green rooms on the Friday to watch each Eurovision act perform during that evening's dress rehearsal. They were provided with a feed from Turin without any commentary so as not to influence their decision-making.
Presenter AJ Odudu announced their verdicts to the world during the live grand final TX from a dock10 green screen studio, against a keyed background image of the MediaCity UK campus. AJ's broadcast was delivered back to Turin via a dedicated output from our gallery.
The voting spokesperson was just one element of this multifaceted production that the BBC team – led by experienced multi-camera studio and outside broadcast director Stephen Neal – was responsible for across almost nine hours of live output from our HQ3 gallery, spanning the semi-finals on BBC Three and the final on BBC One.
Stephen has worked on Eurovision many times before. He is a massive fan and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the contest, so although this was the first time Eurovision had come from dock10, we were able to engage with Stephen and his team during the build up to ensure that all production requirements were catered for and that the transition to Salford was a smooth one.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) provide the host Eurovision feed from Turin. This was made available via an EBU fibre and as three satellite feeds which were downlinked across several BBC sites and used as our back-ups. All feeds were initially received by BBC Master Control Room (MCR) where the Dolby E stream was decoded to six channels of 5.1 audio and then delivered to dock10 via existing BBC infrastructure. We worked closely with BBC MCR throughout the week to ensure the nine incoming and outgoing vision and 12 audio circuits were fully lined-up and routed as expected, working together to fault find where any issues were encountered.
Also coming into the gallery were the contributions from our UK commentators in Turin - Scott Mills and Rylan for the semis and Graham Norton for the final. These were brought in via a Riedel SIP system and audio circuits from BBC MCR.
We also made use of an EBU-provided stand-up position in the arena for interviews with performers and pieces to camera with Rylan and Scott which we then incorporated within our programme. We facilitated a live two-way into the One Show from this position. The Salford TV gallery also delivered the international sound feed used by BBC Radio 2 for the grand final as this provides them with resilience in case of circuit issues.
For the UK broadcast, we added UK-specific graphics to the host feed, including the UK phone numbers so viewers could vote. The fibre version of the host feed is clean of any sponsorship graphics but during rehearsals we check the locations of any sponsor logos present on the satellite feeds so that we can cover these up should we need to use the back-up vision routes during the TX.
The audience vote during the live TXs are an important part of the contest – this was made evidently clear by the effect these points had on the final leader board this year. To ensure that the UK's voting was fair and valid, the BBC's Interactive Technical Advice & Contracts Unit (ITACU) had a base on site at dock10 throughout the week.
The staging of many of the acts made extensive use of flashing lights, so during the dress rehearsal stage we ran a Harding test (to test for photosensitive epilepsy (PSE) provocative image sequences) – and then added visual and audible warnings before the necessary performances on the night to ensure that any viewers who would be adversely affected were made aware.
Among other challenges, Eurovision is broadcast in 5.1 surround sound. It's obviously an improvement on stereo, but that comes with added complexities – we had to maintain coherency of the 5.1 audio stems throughout the broadcast chain and monitor the LoRo (left only / right only) downmix to ensure a high-quality experience for those viewers with a stereo-only setup.
The dock10 Media Hub team were also kept busy creating fast turnaround viewing copies with BITC (burnt-in time code) of dress rehearsals and TXs for the production team to review and delivering AS11 copies of the transmissions to the BBC archive.
Expectations are always high for a major event like Eurovision - and so too are stress levels for everyone working on the show. But it wasn't all about big challenges on the night. There's something unique about working on Eurovision – throughout, there was a great atmosphere in the gallery, boosted by the fact that Sam Ryder did so well for the UK.
I only wish that I had been warned in advanced just how many times we would be listening to those catchy Eurovision tunes across the week of rehearsals and TX. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to get the earworms about banana eating wolves, the train from Chisinau-to-Bucharest and a Space Man out of my head. Well, not until Eurovision 2023 in any case...