SEA Games Provide Insight on International Production Issues
By Mark Siegel, President, Advanced Broadcast Solutions
Myanmar (also known as Burma) has been closed to the world for the better part of 40 years. In December, the 27th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games offered an opportunity for the Myanmar government to showcase the country and its people. It was the first time the Games were hosted in the country since 1969.
You may not have heard of them, but the SEA Games are a pretty big deal overseas. Last year, more than 4,000 athletes from 11 countries competed in more than 30 sports, with some of the track and field contests serving as pre-qualifying events for the Olympics.
Competitions took place in 29 venues across Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon, Mandalay, and Ngwe Saung. According to SEA Games officials, the Games were covered by approximately 2,800 members of the media from the 11 participating countries and beyond. My firm, Advanced Broadcast Solutions (ABS), worked with Megalink Advanced Technologies, a telecommunications company based in Yangon, to provide AV technology for the International Broadcasting Center (IBC), based in the Maniyadana Jade Hall in Nay Pyi Taw.
For an event like the SEA Games, Myanmar was handicapped by a minimal knowledge base in technology, particularly broadcast technology. There are only a handful of television stations in the country, all controlled by the government. MRTV, operated by Myanmar Radio TV, served as host broadcaster for the event but had never attempted an event on the scale of the SEA Games.
ABS was on location for almost three months, tasked with designing, building, and supporting the IBC for all media personnel, including print and broadcast. We also produced video coverage of almost two dozen track and field events. We handled it all with an international crew of about 60 people, including video professionals from the U.S., UK, Australia, Singapore, and the Philippines. Additional crew was added when we produced the broadcast for the multimillion-dollar Opening and Closing Ceremonies.
Also, about a dozen people from MRTV were assigned to the IBC. From the day we started until the end of the Games, they were very committed and willing to learn and took tremendous pride in hosting the SEA Games.
Without the support and project management of Grass Valley, specifically Dennis Breckenridge and his Singapore-based team, I don’t think we would have accomplished our goals. Grass Valley equipment was the foundation of our solution, including LDX Series cameras, Kayak and Kayenne production switchers, and the GV STRATUS toolset. I also need to acknowledge Exterity, which provided the technology to distribute IPTV throughout the IBC, Clear-Com and RTS for communication systems, Tektronix for test and measurement instruments, and Wohler for video- and audio-monitoring tools.
Although Myanmar broadcasts in NTSC/50Hz, SEA Games coverage was produced in HD (1080i). All ingest, playout, routing, and scheduling of content was managed through the IBC master-control room. Bidirectional fiber links connected master control with most venues; five venues provided signals via satellite. Feeds were ingested into Grass Valley K2 Summit transmission servers and recorded on a Quantum archive unit. Streaming content was limited by poor connectivity, but the majority of the feeds were uplinked for distribution.
For visiting media, we offered SD and HD satellite uplink/downlink, equipment rental, and highlight-video packages (edited on Grass Valley EDIUS), which were available each day for each sport. Broadcasters could also rent private offices at the IBC, equipped with a network connection, router, and GV STRATUS. Plus, the IBC featured a three-camera TV studio and control room with an interview set and standup area, which was used by a handful of visiting media outlets.
So, you want to head overseas and be part of the video production for a multinational event in a developing country? While it was rewarding — I’d certainly do it again — there were some potentially serious roadblocks. The language barrier, for example, can be a big issue. You must understand the culture and the customs of a country you are entering. Within Myanmar, there was a very clear chain of command, and no one ever seemed to question a supervisor (at least, not in front of us). As a result, things often happened at a snail’s pace.
Make sure your visas and official documentation are in order. Logistics were a nightmare. Given the security issues, getting equipment in and out of the country, not to mention the venues themselves, was always a challenge. Customs was its own brand of aggravation, but Megalink is an established importer and exporter in Myanmar, which helped with access.
We had to be politically savvy, because we often received conflicting direction from different government ministries, which did not work together or communicate. As a result, it was very difficult for us, as well as for visiting broadcasters, to move around and work efficiently.
The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were not well coordinated for television production. Some government officials felt the production was really designed for the enjoyment of the 12,000 people in the stadium, not the international broadcast audience. As a result, three of our camera operators were actually removed by government officials during the Opening Ceremony, leaving us with fewer cameras to cover the event. Although we avoided arrests in the Closing Ceremony, we still had issues during the production.
Considering the obstacles we faced, the SEA Games went incredibly well. Because of scheduling conflicts with some venues, some events were held early — several days before the SEA Games officially started on Dec. 11. Fortunately, we were ready to go. Following the Closing Ceremony on Dec. 22, we broke down the IBC in one continuous 24-hour shift, and I made it home to Washington State on Christmas Eve.
The SEA Games required tremendous patience, coordination, and teamwork. It also made me appreciate the advanced technology that is readily available in the U.S. That said, it was a great experience. Along with Megalink, ABS pulled off a huge event with very few core people, and I am very proud of that accomplishment.