IGBS Preps for Asian Winter Games in Kazakhstan

Andy Stout, editorial director of SVG Europe, takes a look at the challenges of providing host broadcast services for the Asian Winter Games, which start Saturday in Astana, Kazakhstan.

When the Opening Ceremony of the seventh Asian Winter Games is held Jan. 30 at the newly built indoor football stadium in Kazakhstan’s capital city, it will mark the end of seven months of planning by host broadcaster International Games Broadcast Services (IGBS) for the eight-day, 10-venue event.

IGBS, formerly Doha Asian Games Broadcast Services, is a joint venture of HBS and IMG Media and was set up in 2004 to provide host broadcast services for the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. It has since provided production teams for last year’s Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, and, although this is its first Asian Winter Games, it brings a wealth of germane experience to the project. It also, more prosaically, brings more than 800 staffers and 130 tonnes of kit into the Games’ two cities, Astana and Almaty.

“We’re bringing everything and everybody into Kazakhstan, and that’s always a challenge, but it’s one we meet on a regular basis,” says Peter Angell, project director, Overall Management, for IGBS. “You’re just a long way away from your support services and your rental houses, so you have to be fairly clear about what you’re doing, what your targets are, and how you’ll maintain enough redundancy and have enough spares to keep yourself going.”

With every event being captured in HD, Angell describes the kit list for the Games as the “standard selection” of HD equipment: a mix of Sony 1500 and Grass Valley LDK camera channels, some Philips units, Sony and Grass Valley vision mixers, and EVS servers. Two main subcontractors have provided most of the OB kit: NEP Visions, supplying 28 EVS servers and 100 camera channels alone, is setting up in mountainous Almaty, and CTV and Broadcast Solutions are working in tandem at the indoor venues in Astana, which is also home to the International Broadcast Centre (IBC).

“Astana is the new seat of government and the new capital city, with Almaty being the traditional one,” explains Angell. “Almaty is, though, in the mountainous region so the planning for the Games started off there, and, gradually, they decided to add some venues to Astana to reflect the importance of the capital.”

The upshot is that the venues in Astana, apart from the ice-hockey stadium, are all shiny and new. Besides the football stadium, there’s a dedicated speed-skating track and a new velodrome with an ice rink in the centre (cycling, of course, being a fairly major sport in Kazakhstan).

“Most of the outdoor facilities here have only just been built, too,” says Angell. “So, in the final design process of the Alpine ski course or the Cross-Country Biathlon course, we’ve been able to really work with the organisers to find the best camera locations and plan out the coverage that we want rather than rely on historical camera positions as we have to elsewhere in the world.”

The Alpine courses have been a particular challenge, NEP Visions alone running 75 km of fibre (mainly) and triax to cover the events. “Snowcats, Ski-Doos, and snowmobiles will find your buried fibre, and it generally doesn’t survive the process,” Angell says. “You need to plan and install your cable pathways carefully to make sure they’re robust enough to deal with the sort of encounters they can get on the side of a mountain.”

With temperatures regularly plummeting to -30 C, winterising the kit and taking care of the people have been a priority. Equipment is usually left switched on to prevent undue temperature fluctuations, and care has also been taken in planning the climate control. “The last thing you want,” he points out, “is for someone to open a window and have a lot of humid, cold air rushing in and causing all sorts of problems with the electronics.”

Beyond that (and 72 hours before the Opening Ceremony, with the temperature a positively balmy -10 C), all is ready. The general production plan calls for 13-32 cameras to be deployed at individual events, supported by the usual complement of speciality cameras.

“We have a Cineflex gyro-stabilised helicopter camera; we have a tethered blimp, which is looking out over the Biathlon course, plenty of super-motions and ultra-motions, jibs — all the usual toys really,” says Angell. “We call them toys, but, if you think back to some of the most iconic shots of recent Games, they tend to come from the ultra-motions, from the aerial cams, from the POV cams that are in difficult-to-get-to locations that have perhaps never been seen before.

“We were lucky to have an ambitious organising committee, and they were prepared to spend the right budget to get these Games up to Olympic-level coverage,” he continues. “We’re going to be able to get some pretty spectacular production value as a result.”