COURT ON CAMERA
November 2004 saw cameras allowed into an English courtroom for the first time. A six- week experiment, funded jointly by the BBC,
ITN and Sky News, saw Bow Tie Television install four robotic cameras in two rooms in Central London’s Court of Appeal.
The footage recorded was never intended for the air, but was instead used to show how the content could be packaged in various ways to provide details of cases heard by the judges.
That experiment subsequently led to cameras being allowed into the Supreme Court, located opposite the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.
Towards the end of 2017 Bow Tie, now part of NEP Media Solutions, was awarded the five-year contract for broadcast and audio-visual maintenance, plus managed services for the Supreme Court.
“The nature of its operations and remit for transparency makes the provision of audio visual services a high profile and important feature of the court,” explains Duncan Davidson-Smith, managing director, NEP Bow Tie. “Its broadcast and audio-visual systems are intended to enable the Supreme Court to record and distribute high-quality footage from each of the courtrooms in several ways.”
HIGH PROFILE CONTRACTS
The company is well placed to deliver the hours of non-scripted output. As well as the Supreme Court, NEP Bow Tie is the current holder of the managed services contracts for the National Assembly for Wales, the vision, sound and AV operation and maintenance contract of UK Parliament, and the broadcasting and AV managed services contractor for the Greater London Authority in addition to
a number of prestigious corporate bodies and government departments.
“We pride ourselves on delivering broadcast quality coverage of proceedings by the best directors, operators, technicians and engineers in the industry and feel this is why the Supreme Court has chosen to work with the team at NEP Bow Tie,” explains Davidson-Smith. “Of course, we are all security cleared and are well used to working in secure environments.”
He continues: “We are contracted to provide a whole range of services. Alongside the coverage of the live proceedings in all three courts, we handle content capture, transcoding of files, post production for the web versions of the output and are responsible for sending footage to the National Archive.”
The live coverage is made available to the major broadcasters for their use as part of programming requirements. In addition, there is a live stream available through the Supreme Court’s own website. Complementing that service is an on-demand archive of past hearings that enables lawyers and anyone interested in the workings of the highest court in
the land to review hearings of cases over the preceding 12 months.
Generally speaking, only two courts are in session at any one time. Control of the live coverage is from one long gallery equipped with three similar operational areas. Two of the positions have Panasonic AV-HS400 AE vision mixers, while the third is equipped with a Blackmagic Design ATEM Studio 4K switcher.
“The Blackmagic mixer was selected because of its Skype for Business capability,” says Davidson-Smith. “In the first few days of our contract, we used that facility to allow an advocate based in the Caribbean to be part of the proceedings in the Supreme Court.
“This was the first time that such a link up has been created. “It is an exciting addition to the operation and saves the expense of flying legal professionals to London. The remote advocate can be seen on a monitor in the courtroom and can be cut up as a source to the output.”
“Audio is handled by Yamaha LS9 consoles, but behind them – and this is quite clever – is a Polycom SoundStructure C16,” Davidson-Smith continues. “What that does is provide auto-gating. The microphone levels are set up using the faders on the desk and left open, as it were, and then there is the software managed by MX. The sound is automatically switched according to audio levels. Obviously, if someone coughs, the fader has to be operated. So, the broadcast feed is auto-gated, with manual intervention, if necessary.”
This set up means that sound for the public speakers in the courtrooms can be handled at the same time as the broadcast audio output.
Each of the three courtrooms is served by four Sony BRC700 cameras, which are linked to the associated Sony controllers. “Having similar equipment across the production workflow means that switching from one court to another presents no problems to our multi- skilled operators,” states Davidson-Smith.
“As you would expect, there are rules of coverage which determine just what can and can’t be shown, and all our operational staff are well aware of the procedures.”
Those same operators handle the post production element of the contract. Using an Adobe Creative Suite and an Adobe graphics system, content is packaged ready for sending to the National Archive in Surrey.
Since starting the contract, NEP Bow Tie has utilised its experience to upgrade the workflow of the existing Cantemo MAM system with its ToolsOnAir onCore system for ingest. “Associated with that is a CyberStore archive which looks after file conversion and transitions of content to the National Archive,” says Davidson-Smith.
“And we have just passed the IS27001 – the specification for information security management system (ISMS) – that provides added confidence for our clients.”
“We anticipate the post production side of our work may increase,” reveals Davidson-Smith. “Recently, the first female president of the Supreme Court was sworn in as the UK’s most senior judge. Baroness Hale of Richmond is keen to promote the activities of the Court through the televised coverage and has already completed several pieces to camera that have been uploaded to a YouTube channel. We can provide the necessary PSC units to help Baroness Hale achieve
her objectives.” Although the operators can carry out regular
maintenance tasks, NEP Bow Tie has a pool of London engineers who are available as required. “Our focus is very much on proper preventative maintenance because, as with all our contracts, there is no room for things to go wrong.”
“And that’s important to stress. We want to always make sure we are providing the very best service. Since we took over the contract, we have been auditing the workflow procedures and adding to the support that we can provide for the Supreme Court.
He concludes: “We’re very much looking forward to working closely with the Supreme Court officials and their teams, and our aim is to enhance and support the valuable work that happens in that prestigious environment.”