United Kingdom broadcasters deploy advanced tech for 2024 general election coverage

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The 2024 UK General Election on July 4th presented a unique challenge for the country’s major broadcasters. Called unexpectedly early by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on May 22nd, the networks had just six weeks to finalize their election night coverage plans.

Against political uncertainty and pressing national issues, BBC News, Sky News, ITV News and Channel 4 News, among others, leveraged the latest in technology and innovative production techniques to deliver comprehensive coverage to viewers across the UK and beyond.

From augmented reality visualizations to AI-powered data analysis, the broadcasters aimed to turn vote counting (on a night that featured a fast call for the Labour Party) into compelling television. 

As polls closed and the exit poll was revealed, each network’s months of preparation were put to the test. Here’s how the primary broadcast networks approached their election night coverage:

BBC News

BBC News anchored its coverage from Studio B at new Broadcasting House in London with a graphic package full of pops of color and tessellation.

A central hub at Broadcasting House received feeds from constituencies via IP, bonded cellular and satellite technologies – intending to cover as many of the 650 parliamentary seats as possible. BBC had sent each polling location a mobile video kit including an iPhone to provide a live feed for the broadcast. 

Inside Studio B, an augmented version of 10 Downing Street was created, powered by Viz Engine 5 with camera tracking from Stype RedSpy. Real-time data was then layered from Idonix. 

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The BBC’s coverage also extended beyond London, with significant elements of the program produced in Cardiff and Glasgow. In Cardiff, Jeremy Vine presented his Swingometer segment from the atrium of the broadcast center, which had an LED virtual production stage added.  

This stage was fitted with a custom Ross Video Furio camera track with Mo-Sys StarTracker and Newton Stabilised head to allow for fluid movement on-air. 

Sky News

Sky News repurposed Sky Sports’ Studio 4, normally home to “Monday Night Football,” transforming it into a 360-degree immersive space for election night.

The studio featured a large curved LED backdrop from ROE Visual, an LED floor dubbed the “disco floor” and multiple zones for different aspects of coverage. Sky deployed augmented reality (AR) extensively, creating life-size models of party leaders Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, as well as an AR version of 10 Downing Street built in Unreal Engine that wrapped the studio space. 

Sky News used Grass Valley cameras, a jib and wire cam for dynamic shots, Mo-Sys StarTracker for camera tracking and Vizrt for graphics with rendering from the Unreal Engine. The studio’s LED screens, including a high-resolution central display, showcased data visualizations, maps, and live feeds from constituency counts.

For remote coverage, Sky implemented a Digital Camera Project (DCP), deploying 20-30 Sky ENG cameras and 60-80 student operators equipped with cameras and LiveU cellular transmission units. These feeds were routed via the cloud to a network operations center at Sky Studios, where producers managed and filtered the incoming content.

The broadcaster also added automation into its election night workflow, using Ross Video OverDrive for the first time in an election broadcast. This hybrid approach combined automated elements with manual control, particularly for graphics operations. The automation will remain beyond the election and be available for other productions in the studio. 

Sky News set up two production control rooms compatible with the studio to ensure reliability, providing redundancy for potential technical issues.

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ITV News

ITV News, produced by ITN, utilized two studios at Gray’s Inn Road, each with associated control rooms, to provide round-the-clock coverage from 9:55 PM until 6 AM the following morning.

The main studio featured ITV News’ virtual reality setup, adapted for election night coverage. This setup allowed for presentation of results and analysis. The second studio focused on graphic explanations and additional analysis.

ITN employed a SMPTE 2110 IP backbone as the foundation of their technical infrastructure. The control rooms were equipped with Cerebrum control systems, Grass Valley Kayenne vision mixers, and GV multiviewers. Graphics production relied heavily on Vizrt, including Viz Virtual Studio with Viz Engine 5. Audio was managed through Calrec Artemis sound mixers.

For camera coverage, ITV News expanded beyond their usual three robotic pedestals and jib. The election night broadcast included additional cameras, notably a Steadicam and a slung camera for high, wide shots of the studio, along with a Mark Roberts Motion Control Broadcast StudioBot LT.

The production team implemented a graphics workflow involving stringers at each count, call takers in the newsroom, and a database system managed by political data analysts. This system enabled rapid results reporting and instant analysis.

ITN deployed to approximately 50 sites for remote coverage, covering around 120 counts. The feeds from these locations were ingested using various technologies, primarily LiveU Matrix, with additional feeds coming via satellite, Starlink, and Aviwest. 

Channel 4 

Channel 4, meanwhile, aimed for a different, more relaxed coverage style. Led by Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Emily Maitlis, it included a live studio audience with whom presenters could banter and ask questions. Even the cast of “Gogglebox” could join for live hits.

Channel 4 worked with ITN Productions to create a special studio for election night and the coverage, wrapped in large LED walls and LED pillars. Lightbars throughout created an almost “club-like” atmosphere with a dramatic lighting cue for the exit poll reveal.  

Unlike other national broadcasters, Channel 4 opted against virtual and augmented elements and focused on talent and a unique look that ultimately helped double ratings over the last general election. 

Channel 4 also rebranded for the election as Channel 4th, urging people to “be lazy, just vote” in an extensive wraparound promotional campaign aimed at younger viewers. 

While the major UK broadcasters dominated the election night coverage, the event’s global significance drew attention from international media outlets as well. CNN International, Bloomberg, and other global news networks provided their own perspectives on the results, often leveraging their existing studio setups with additional graphics packages tailored for UK election analysis.

Meanwhile, a multitude of YouTube channels, ranging from established political commentators to emerging citizen journalists, offered alternative viewpoints and real-time reactions. 

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