2013 – present
(Revised December 2020)
In case you missed the sign on the roof, this cluster of buildings is called Here East. Up until March 2014 it was known as iCITY but this name was not thought memorable enough so some genius came up with – ahem – ‘Here East’.
The largest unit was originally the International Broadcast Centre for the 2012 Olympics. BT Sport occupy the left hand end of the building. Behind it can be seen the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The building with the curved roof is the London Velodrome, the site of many spectacular GB medal wins in 2012. The brown building on the right is the Copper Box Arena. The Olympic stadium is off this photo to the right.
Here East (great name isn’t it) has been in the process of redevelopment since 2014. The scheme includes a data centre, educational space including departments of Staffordshire and Loughborough Universities, office space, ‘studio and accelerator space’, shops, cafes and restaurants and a convention centre. There are three main buildings involved – the huge 650,000 sq ft building that contains BT Sport, a 300,000 sq ft ‘innovation centre’ and the third houses a 750 seat auditorium for business conferences.
Around 2016 there were rumours that ITV were planning to leave their studios on the South Bank and move here. It is possible that they did consider this but of course they simply closed their studios in 2018 and moved their Daytime operation to Television Centre.
In December 2020, Quartermaster (also intending to open studios and film stages in Purfleet and Birmingham) announced that they would be opening some TV studios here in 2021. These plans sadly did not appear to come to fruition and have now been removed from their website.
I worked there for a few days in the autumn of 2013 to get a sense of what it was all like. Below are some pics I took – the Olympic ‘International Broadcast Centre’ logo still proudly displayed. The doorway behind the tastefully arranged plant pots was the temporary main entrance to BT Sport. It all looks rather different now.
In 2012 BT, rather surprisingly to some (probably including Sky), won the rights to broadcast about half the Premier League football matches starting in August 2013. They also planned to cover women’s football and other leagues around the world as well as the FA Cup. Other sports they now show include rugby, tennis, boxing, baseball, NASCAR, IndyCar and Moto GP. In November 2013 they outbid ITV and Sky for the following 3 years’ UEFA Champions League matches with a jaw-dropping £900m. They clearly meant business.
BT decided to create a new studio centre that would enable them not only to link the various matches and have sport-related discussion programmes but with sufficient space to produce large scale TV programmes that would have an entertainment element as well as sport. In any case, they had to produce material to fill three channels – BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN. What they created in just 14 months was extremely impressive. In fact, they were only given the keys to the building 20 weeks before going on air.
They looked at taking over existing studios at dock10 in Salford and at Pinewood but opted to build new facilities within the shell of the International Broadcast Centre on the Olympic Park in East London. They took over about an eighth of this huge building (80,000 sq ft) and constructed two linked TV studios of 3,500 sq ft and an astonishing 10,000 sq ft. The larger one is about the same size as TC1 at TV Centre.
A third studio of about 2,000 sq ft opened in the summer of 2015. There were originally seven gallery suites, each of which could be routed to control any of the studios. Two of these are visible through huge windows on one wall of studio 1. One other is also on the ground floor near studio 3, the others surround the MCR on the first floor. In 2015 two more production galleries were added, bringing the total to 9.
It is possible therefore now for BT to transmit 8 matches simultaneously via their various channels and red button services plus on Champions League nights, The Goal Show .
For the first five years the two biggest studios were linked via a large permanently open doorway that was the full width of the smaller one, forming a giant L-shape. Therefore, the studio activity in each studio could be seen from the other in the background, making everything seem even bigger and more dynamic. It was a unique way of working and did cause some operational issues of course but nevertheless looked great on screen.
The USP of studio 1 was a large ‘sports pitch’ at one end of the studio. The floor of this was initially green toughened ground glass – beneath which were a number of channels containing LED lights, which could be instantly switched on to form various pitches such as football, rugby, tennis, basketball etc. In 2015 this was updated with smoked black glass.
This area was used for various demos regarding tactics, formations, techniques etc and for doing anything that might just be a bit of fun. Footballers demonstrated how to take or save a penalty – rugby players showed how a line-out works. A guest might try a bit of archery perhaps or ride on a snowboarding simulator. The huge area and very flexible lighting rig meant that almost anything was possible.
Around the walls were a number of LED display panels which were added to in 2015 along with Augmented Reality technology enabling 3D graphics in the studio.
The aim was clearly to make sport more easily accessible to those who might not consider themselves sport fans – thus increasing the viewer numbers. This included having shows that were perhaps more entertainment than pure sport – for example, Danny Baker had a Friday night ‘Vaguely Sport-related Phone Out‘ show that was perhaps more comedy than sport that ran from 2013 up to May 2015. (I worked on a couple of these to find out what these studios were like and I really enjoyed this show!) Clare Balding had a regular chat show with well known celebrity guests that was repeated on BBC2 and another show – Life’s a Pitch – had a regular live music slot.
The flexibility of the studios meant that the camera crew in, say, studio 2 could move into studio 1 and use the pitch for a demo or a chat. This obviously affected what was happening at the time in studio 1. Not least, the lighting. The two lighting galleries are linked and there was a great deal of calling out between the two console ops as one handed over half the lighting rig to the other for the duration of the pitch invasion. It sounds chaotic but thanks to a very clever lighting rig – and the fact that the freelance lighting crews all know each other very well – it did seem to work. Incidentally, all credit is due to lighting director Dave Gibson who designed the rig for these studios, knowing almost nothing of how they would in fact be used. His rig turned out to be incredibly flexible, enabling last minute changes to be carried out on live shows every day.
Studio crewing is a departure from the way Sky operate. Sky use their own staff who only therefore work in their studios on their shows. The running of these studios is carried out by Timeline TV. They use experienced freelancers who regularly work on all sorts of complicated and demanding entertainment shows all over the country – filling in the gaps in their schedules with a few days here and there at BT.
As well as the three main studios there is a small mezzanine studio in the corner, overlooking studio 1. This has a permanent desk set-up enabling discussions and links to take place. This little studio is often used for BT Sport 2.
The main studio has a permanent set within it which consists of a huge round tower or hub with LED lighting within it and large graphic screens around it. At its base are computer terminals for researchers who sometimes get involved in the live shows.
Studios 1 and 2 opened with 15 Sony HDC-2400 cameras but there are CCU slots for a total of 24. The building also contains more than 20 edit suites, 8 voiceover booths and a dubbing theatre. All the facilities are 4K capable, and in fact in June 2015 BT announced that they would be launching the UK’s first Ultra HD channel in August.
The facilities were from the outset of course tapeless. The channels are routed to Ericsson (Red Bee) for transmission from their White City facility at present but this may change as Ericsson is said to be planning to move to Here East. It is possible that all the BBC’s, ITV’s Channel 4’s and UKTV’s channels will play out from one facility at Here East within a few years.
BT’s channels are broadcast on Sky as well as all the other main distribution systems. Those with a BT Broadband package are able to receive the channels for free. This is essentially why BT entered the TV market – in order to compete with Sky who offer combined TV subscription and broadband packages, thus attracting customers away from BT. BT are now able to offer something similar.
The facilities are sometimes rented out to other broadcasters – for example, the submix for the 2014 New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna shown on BBC2 and BBC4 was done in one of the large galleries here. One assumes it would previously have used a TV Centre gallery. Also, the BBC’s live Sport Relief programme in March 2014 (the events came from the Copper Box, Aquatic Centre and Velodrome) used the local connectivity and BT’s lines from here to the Telecom Tower.
Other bookings have included the following: NFL (C4), Capital One Cup (C5), Boxing on 5 (C5), IPC Athletics (More4), Race to Superbowl 50 (BBC2), Law and Disorder: The Live Debate (C5) and A Right Royal Quiz.
This is clearly a very impressive facility, particularly with its very large studio – and the programmes made here have been much more exciting and dynamic than the kind of sports programmes we were used to before. Interestingly, within a few months of BT Sport opening, Sky completely refurbished their Sky Sports News studio, making it look much bigger even though it was only a couple of years old and they regularly now use their largest (5,500sq ft) studio with a standing audience for football shows.
In September 2018, BT announced some changes to the studios. In a wish to market them more widely, they have done away with the glass floor in the big studio and like the others it now has a normal resin TV floor. A sound-proof partition has been installed between studios 1 and 2, enabling them to operate completely separately. Also, new audience handling facilities have been introduced as well as improvements to dressing rooms, green rooms, production offices, galleries and post production facilities. The studios regularly host sport-related shows for both ITV and the BBC but they are also now attracting some comedy shows and quiz shows.