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A Marathon In Itself

Twenty-eight-year old German Gernot Kuntze was originally a cameraman who came to Beijing to work with CCTV as a producer. His company, CTVS, of which he is the managing director, is a technical service provider, mainly catering to foreign media in China and Asia. Starting in 2003, with partners in Europe, CTVS is a wholly-owned foreign enterprise, offering everything from camera crews to editing facilities, and studios to its own SNGs.

(click thumbnail)Gernot Kuntze, MD of Technical Service Provider CTVSExplains Kuntze, "Till recently we only had one SNG in China, but because of the Olympics, we now have a second one capable of sending HD signals."

CTVS's original SNG was the first and only foreign-owned dish in China allowed to operate from there. The SNG was used to help cover the Sichuan earthquake in May. Says Kuntze, "The EBU hired our SNG rig, and they booked the Eutelsat W5 satellite via their Singapore office."

Kuntze admits it is more difficult running SNGs in China than in Europe. "Of course, China is opening up, and especially with the Olympic Games there are many more opportunities because there are doors which are open now which were not before."

Klaus Schneider, who works closely with Kuntze, is the Olympic coordinator for Germany's ARD TV, and a production manager for the station on other programmes for the past two years. He set up the EBU office Singapore and later the one in Beijing.

Says Schneider, "CTVS is our production company. Obviously we have our own ARD team, but China is such a big country, we never have enough to cover all that we would like to do."

As regards the Olympic programmes, Schneider says they will of course be produced by BOB — Beijing Olympic Broadcasting — which is a subsidiary of Olympic Broadcasting System (OBS).

(click thumbnail)The CNC Teleport on the Outskirts of Beijing, During a Test Transmission in Early July"This is not a Chinese entity," he explains, "but a conglomeration of several international broadcasters, under the auspices of BOB."

For each of the Olympic events, Olympic Broadcasting, which is part of the IOC, forms its own broadcasting company to cover the games as host broadcasters. They will be using some of their own personnel, along with some from TV stations from around the world which are particularly experienced in some of the sports.

"For instance," says Schneider, "the BBC will cover the equestrian events, NBC is doing basketball, while the Chinese will cover the table tennis. Coming together, they won't be working as BBC, NBC or CCTV staff. As they are skilled in a particular coverage, they will work under the direction of the BOB, and they will help produce the international host signal for everybody. And now that signal is for the first time going to be produced in high definition. The signals are then brought back to the IBC — the International Broadcasting Center — and from there they are sent on to the individual right holders to produce their own programs."

(click thumbnail)Klaus Schneider, Olympic Coordinator for Germany's ARD TVSchneider continues, "The BOB are responsible for getting the signals from the venues to the IBC. They have fibre connections from all the venues, and from the IBC it is distributed to the various countries. For us at ARD, we do this with the EBU, as they have put all the infrastructure in, and they've booked six SDN-1, 155 Mbps fibre connections going into Europe, and then there are backup circuits on satellite as well. Most of the transmission to Europe is done by fibre optic. It's faster, and it is more secure. It depends how the fibre is routed, but generally the latency is in the milliseconds, much faster than with satellites."

Supplementary Coverage
Kuntze notes, "Like any TV company, we will have our own cameras and crews as well, to augment the international official signal coverage, which is exactly the same for everyone. But there will be supplementary coverage — for instance I believe the BBC will have additional cameras in Hong Kong for the equestrian events there. We will have our own cameras in the 'Bird's Nest' for the athletics events. Known as 'unilateral cameras', the camcorders will add to the official coverage."

Schneider adds, "In addition to that, we at ARD, like many other broadcasters, will have ENG crews that will roam from the venues to mixed zones around Beijing, or whatever, to get the 'green coverage' — the news around the events."

But how will these ENG signals be sent out? Says Schneider, "I imagine a lot of it will be brought back to the IBC, and sent out from there."

Kuntze adds, "We do have license applications for the SNG to roam around Beijing as well. Right now they haven't been granted — but we believe they will be, and then we will deploy the SNGs where we need them. However, there are other playout points around Beijing as well. At CTVS, in the studio we have fibre. APTN has connections, as does CCTV, along with BIMC — the Beijing International Media Center. So there are a number of feed points around town."

What Tape Formats will be Used?
Says Kuntze, "Beta SX, Digibeta ... anything and everything. I heard BOB will be using Panasonic's DVCPRO HD, which has the tape format for recording in the venues and also for editing. I believe that some stations will be using Panasonic's P2 which is also DVCPRO HD, while we ourselves will be using everything from Sony's SX to HDCAM."

Kuntze says the proliferation of different formats doesn't make his job any easier. "We will need to have every format available for playout on the SNGs, or on the OB van. For each format on the playout point of course you have to have the right VTR. And with backup machines too, that's quite a big investment."

The KitGernot Kuntze says CTVS will be using a variety of different formats to cover the Olympics in Beijing, depending on the broadcaster's requirements.

"We still use a lot of Digital Betacam equipment (Sony DVW-790WSP and DVW-970) as well as SX (Sony DNW-90WSP) which, even though it is no longer made, is still quite popular in Asia.

For ARD and the EBU, he says, "we will be using Sony's IMX MSW-900P cameras, and MSW-M2000P VTRs. Also, since BOB is using DVCPRO HD, we will have some decks for ingest and editing. But currently none of our clients are using DVCPRO HD.

Regarding HD, Kuntze says CTVS will use Panasonic's P2 camcorder, and Sony HDCAMs, models HDW-750P and HDW-F900R.Schneider adds, "The original signal from BOB will be in HD, but not all broadcasters around the world will transmit in high definition. NBC and NHK will, and I think the BBC will have some HD channels. ARD won't — we decided a couple of years ago not to go to HD, so we will down-convert to an SD signal at the IBC. The BOB signal only goes as far as the IBC — from there on, each right holder does with the signal whatever they need to do."

Each station or right holder will have their own MCRs at the IBC, where they can switch the signals directly. There will be around 10 to 12 thousand people working for the right holders, with something like 3,000 producers there. The rightsholder for Europe is the EBU, which represents 71 European stations. NBC has the American rights, CBC has the Canadian rights, while the ABU — the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union — has the rights for its Asian members.

CTVS has five full-time camera crews. Says Kuntze, "We have multi-camera set-ups, and editing facilities which are either stationery or mobile. We have everything a producer needs for a TV production. Editing-wise we have an Avid Mojo SDI, which is MediaComposer on a laptop. And we have a small breakout box so you can fit everything into one package. Here in the studio we use Avid Adrenaline, which is the big brother to MediaComposer. They run on PCs, although some producers prefer Final Cut Pro, running on a Mac, and we have that, too."

What other equipment has CTVS brought in to China?
Kuntze says, "We have a second-hand compact five-camera Sony OB van. This is 16×9 SD and has editing facilities inside — three VTRs, and separate video and audio compartments. But what is installed inside depends on our client. For some corporate clients we use Digibeta, while we have some TV clients who want to use IMX."

He continues, "Even though the cameras are no longer being made by Sony, most of the productions we do are still in SX, which is not that well-distributed in Europe. But here, because of the SX laptop editing systems, it is very popular, and so a lot of stations are still using it. Soon we will have to move to another format — but what that is, is really up to our major client, ARD — and they aren't saying yet…."

How has the business changed in the past few years?
Says Kuntze, "In China, it is rapidly developing — we have more and more work to do nowadays. There are more reports going out from China — and not just connected with the Olympics. Till six months ago we weren't doing anything connected with the Olympics. It was business, cultural events, documentaries and features.

"Because of the digital revolution and because of the digital channels that are available in Europe and America, there is more demand for more content. And there's definitely much more interest in China nowadays, what with Tibet, the Olympics, the torch relays, and the Sichuan earthquake.

"A lot of people are saying that the Olympics is just piquing people's interest, which of course it is, but China will become — in fact is becoming — a new world power. The economy and the infrastructure are developing, and this means that there are so many things to report about. And with the developing infrastructure it is also easier to cover stories here nowadays."