World Curling TV (WCTV), the media arm of the World Curling Federation (WCF), screens games from elite competitions such as the World Championships, World Juniors – and the Europeans in Esbjerg which took place last week.
I spoke to Joanna Kelly, media relations officer at the WCF, about the organisation and its operations.
WCTV has been going since 2004, and Joanna got involved just one year after that – beginning with the 2005 European Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
She said: “I’m the broadcast manager, and I’m responsible for overseeing the setting up of the production and our relationships with our broadcast partners – ensuring that what we put to air corresponds to what they would like.
“Sometimes they have crews on site, so we have co-productions. Essentially I convert paperwork deals into action.”
WCTV has no staff – everyone working on productions are freelance, including Joanna herself – but as a team they plan months in advance, with the World Championships now coming onto the horizon as qualified nations are confirmed and so broadcast deals can be worked out.
The people working on major championships such as those in Esbjerg are skilled professionals, with many, many years in the industry and many years spent together covering these curling events.
They range from Richard, the director, to Randie (who also happens to be the skip of the Chinese Tapei men’s curling team), who puts together the graphics like scores and player names we see on our screens.
Then there’s Len. We’ve heard a lot about ‘joystick’ curling in the last couple of months – but that’s what his job is. Sat up above the action, he rotates cameras to get the best angles, having been working in curling coverage since the 1970s.
Director Richard is in constant communication with his cameramen, both up on the gantry behind the coach and media benches, and the three down at ice level.
He does so from the truck parked outside the Granly Hockey Arena, the vehicle being hired from a Dutch firm, who also kit it out and provide some on-site staff for the championships.
Joanna took me round the van during the bronze medal matches, where I saw live action being scrutinised, replays sourced, streams correlated so that viewers could hop between the two games – and the sound kept in check too, so we wouldn’t hear Nielsen when we should’ve heard Ulsrud.
It’s a huge operation – and that’s just covering two coinciding games, as opposed to five during round robin play. To someone not used to TV production, the vast array of booths, screens and control panels was a little mind-spinning (see top photo).
Fifty-five people in all have contributed to the WCTV project in Esbjerg, Joanna tells me.
It’s an increasingly professional operation, which is reflected in the rising viewer numbers – now more than 444 million people, according to the WCF’s 2014-15 annual review.
Why is that? Joanna explains: “Viewing numbers are boosted by the performance of Asian teams, and also the fact we’ve got some terrific athletes out there who are great to look at and people like watching them.”
Expansion-wise, WCTV is also looking to help out member associations with other events beyond the major international competitions – as they did at the Stockholm Ladies Cup – and work on feature pieces like this one on the Dutch men’s team in Esbjerg:
Finally, I asked Joanna for the biggest challenge in her role.
“Constantly adapting to broadcasters’ last-minute changes or modifications,” she said.
“That, and trying to get people outside of our sport to understand it. That has been helped by the change to the semi final system for example [straight knock-out instead of page playoffs].”
And the most fulfilling part?
“One of the undoubted rewards is working with this team of people who are just fantastic, and working with a sport that has brilliant athletes who are trying to promote [what they do].
“The games we’ve seen [in Esbjerg] have been top class, and have been worth all the work we do for the coverage and to get people to take the sport seriously, as increasing numbers of people are doing.”