Inside the OB van of the host broadcaster, a small timer has just started, counting down to zero from 30. It looks like one of those clocks you see before big rocket launches. But the screeching voice is absent. There is total silence. That’s how Zaffarul Hadzrami Mohd Zain prefers it to be.
The next 10-20 seconds could make or break the live broadcast even though it hasn’t yet started. A perfect segue from standby mode to action and it’s a job well done. A small disturbance though, and they run the risk of becoming memes on social media. Once the clock is run down, no more dry runs are possible. They are ‘live’.
The whole process sounds simple enough but Zaffarul, director of live sports (outside broadcast) at Astro, says it’s anything but. Having everybody on the same page is essential as the infamous ITV example showed. During the FA Cup fourth-round replay between Everton and Liverpool in 2009, the broadcaster cut to an unscheduled advert two minutes before the end of the game. The Blues scored the winner in that time.To avoid gaffes like that and to run periodic checks, Zaffarul’s tournament begins three months before the actual opening day. “For this event, I make the first trip in January. I made six trips in the last three months to make sure everything was in order.”
The trips from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh has another question to answer — what to incorporate to make the event a spectacle for the watching millions. “We first have discussions about whether we can add anything and we pass recommendations to the organising committee. They have a steering committee of which I am also part of when it comes to broadcast. This year, we decided to have Point of View (POV) cameras inside goal posts. This was something unique, as no other broadcaster had ever done that before.” For this innovation, they opened an email and a WhatsApp group and kept at it for the last three months.
The 53-year-old also decides what to cut. An on-site studio was removed from this year’s programme. “Last year there were 18 cameras as we had a studio.” This year they decided to do away with the studio as it was difficult to control it along with the world feed.
Given 11 countries (not to mention dodgy streams) have access to live action, there is decent interest. But when India play the numbers, predictably, makes a difference. “When Star India took the feed I was informed there were millions of viewers who watched India and Pakistan. Locally, it depends on how Malaysia does.” India alone generates millions of viewers. Malaysia gives a shade under a million.
A world of difference to 2010, the year Astro became the host broadcaster. “The roof of the stadium wasn’t there. In the earlier days, umpires would signal play only after players were ready. Now, umpires start at a set time.” This means all broadcasters know what is happening when.
People watching at home, though, will take a few more seconds to know because of the delay in transmission. “The average is about 5-7 seconds for somebody watching in the UK. It depends on how many satellites we bounce off. The UK, for example, will have one bounce in the Middle East before directly going into BT Tower in the UK,” Zaffarul, who will take care of badminton at next year’s Commonwealth Games, says.
The time ticks past 3 pm MYT and the nine cameramen, who will have to be in position for the final check, slowly gather around their director for one final briefing.
In exactly 14 minutes, it will begin again.
What happens behind the scenes in the last hour as the host broadcaster gets ready for a global audience
A final fact check done 45 minutes in advance so there is time to rectify if systems are not in place.
15.15 to 15.50
Once director gives all clear, the operation is in standby mode. Commentators and experts are briefed. Systems ready 10 minutes before live broadcast begins.
Camerapersons are in position along with director and producer.
The feed is now ‘live’ to broadcasters around the world. First, a montage comes up before an in-house graphics is rolled out. Then team line-ups, after the director instructs floor manager to release it.
* Malaysia Time (MYT) is GMT+8. So 15.15 MYT is 12.45 pm IST and so on.
Number of cameras at this year’s tournament.
Average delay (in seconds) between action seen at the stadium and the same being seen on a TV.
Number of crew at this year’s meet, from director to driver.