Asian Games rival Olympics in scale, scope of TV coverage

By Ken Kerschbaumer

More than 2,000 hours of TV coverage. A 10,000 square-meter International Broadcast Center. Nearly 650 cameras covering sports in 40 venues with the help of more than 200 miles of cabling. The Olympics? Think again: those were just some of the massive technical requirements found in Qatar to deliver the 2006 Asian Games from Dec. 1 to the 15th to 20 rights holders around the globe. And Host Broadcast Services (HBS) followed up its stellar performance at the 2006 World Cup in Germany with another massive technical success.

“This was the first year that the Asian Games really registered on the world map,” says Peter Angell, HBS director of production. “And Qatar spent literally billions of getting an infrastructure in place that would raise the games to an Olympic level.”

Also helping HBS out was IMG Media and NEP Visions, which provided the HD gear and production equipment to build 12 production galleries that fed material to three SD and one HD control room. Equipment included Grass Valley nine LDK 6200 cameras, 30 LDK 6000 Grass Valley Super SloMo HD systems, eight Grass Valley LDK 23 and 42 LDK 200 Super SloMo SD cameras, 10 Sony HDW recording decks, three Sony DVS 7350 production switchers, two HD Grass Valley Kalypso production switchers, 14 HD EVS XT units and 15 SD EVS XT units, and 12 Yamaha MC7L 48-input audio boards, 1,000 monitors and 270 microphones. And Riedel Communications supplied more than 24 tons of communications systems, including an Artist digital intercom with 45 Artist 64 mainframes serving as an intercom.

The massive undertaking exceeded the Olympics in one regard: number of sports. With 39 sports the Asian Games eclipses even the Summer Games. And those additional sports put extra demands on host feed providers as they attempt to keep up with the action on 52 fields of play.

“We basically had 34 complete production facilities that would simultaneously cover events,” says Angell. “We had just under 1,950 people working on the games. That’s not quite as many as the World Cup but is still a lot, especially when there are very few available to work in the region.”

More than 50% of the production crew, however, had an Asian background as the goal was to have camera crews and directors who were familiar with the sport. “That helped us get the best out of our technical facilities,” says Angell.

An important saving grace of the effort was Qatar’s fiber infrastructure. A DWDM fiber network connected all of the venues together and was able to carry all of the signals uncompressed along with voice telephony. “We were able to run 32 simultaneous feeds on the same fiber and it was fully redundant,” says Angell. “We didn’t come close to pushing the limit of the bandwidth.”

Construction of the IBC began in late August with the facility operational as of Nov. 1. “We had everything from six-camera SD packages for ENG needs to 30-plus cameras in HD for the opening and closing ceremonies,” says Angell.

Swimming and diving was also all in HD with specialty cameras on hand to track divers as they plunged into the water and also a Skycam over the pool.

“We actually used the Skycam for our main coverage of the backstroke, following the lead swimmer down the pool,” says Angell. Shots of the lead swimmer looking straight into the camera as he moved down the pool proved especially memorable.

But it was the ASPIRE Sports Dome, the world’s largest covered dome in the world, that really shined during the games. The dome houses a full-size football pitch, a 200-meter athletics track with other track and field facilities, the swimming and diving pools, the gymnastics hall, eight fencing strips, two squash courts, and three contact sports mats. In fact, it was so large an indoor hybrid balloon blimp was used to cover events on the seven fields of play.

“That was the big story of the games,” says Angell of the system known as ICE: the Indoor Camera Envelope. “The camera is half-mounted in the sphere and can pan-and-tilt. Boxing, wrestling, badminton and gymnastics were all covered there.”

All told more than 600 tons of broadcast equipment was flown into Doha to comprise the 36 TV production units in fly-away kits and two OB vans. The amount of co-ordination and prep work between the host country and the host broadcaster, however, is a blueprint for how large multinational events should be done.

“Any country that takes on a modern sporting event has to make sure the financial commitment and organizational needs are second to none,” says Angell. “And it’s important because we’ve been able to leave a legacy behind as we trained a lot of Qatari residents so they can take away real knowledge of the industry.”