This week I went to visit CUTV in Cardiff for FreshersTV. It was a great chance to meet a station and see how they do things working on a large live broadcast that really pushed them to their limits. It was also nice to get back into student TV and be in front of a camera again as I have recently started working full time for an outside broadcast company.
FreshersTV is one of the most challenging broadcasts of the year, not only do you have to make sure your own content and live stream are running smoothly but also have to work with live streams from other stations. The past few years have seen hosts (including myself with LA1:TV in 2013!) struggle with syncing issues when switching to live streams, live streams dropping out or having significant problems (stuttering or no sound) and CUTV knew they would be in for a challenging day, especially with their limited experience in producing live content.
When I arrived in Cardiff on Sunday evening preparations were in full swing, the running order had been finalised, all of the VT content from other stations received and tested and testing on live stream links was under way. However there were some problems with the technical setup, primarily no way of communicating to with presenters during the broadcast via either an autocue or earpieces. There were also concerns about a single ageing mac mini coping with the demands of delivering audio from the main audio mixer into the vision mixer along with VT and live streams using VLC. After some phone calls to LA1:TV for tech support their current and former stations managers, Ben Kay and Josh Hodgson decided to come all the way down to Cardiff and help with the broadcast with a car full of equipment. This provided us with solutions to the technical problems but meant that none of the station members would be familiar with some of the equipment and the rig time would be shortened as they would not arrive until lunch time!
On the day of the broadcast Station Manager Charlie Knights looked after the production side of the broadcast, preparing the venue, briefing the crew and liaising with union staff whilst CUTV head of tech James McNeill and myself started setting up with the more technical members. We soon had as much as we could setup and when the LA1:TV equipment arrived it was all hands on deck to finish the tech rig and test the live streaming in the venue.
By our scheduled start time of 6pm CUTV were nearly ready to broadcast but ended up delaying the start slightly whilst they received final confirmation of some changes to live stream details to ensure a smoother broadcast. Then the countdown started and we were live! There were 7 presenters, some were freshers who had never presented before and most of the more experienced ones had not done live presenting before but they all coped very well. Using the hastily arranged ear pieces the director (on his directing debut) was able to guide the presenters throughout the show and really helped make them less nervous. There were some fantastic performances from two choirs and I’m really looking forward to the musical talent CUTV can find for NaSTA Vision in March.
We had a few problems with the incoming live streams (just after I said that we would have problems live on air, sorry for jinxing it!) with stations streaming to both the JISC and LA1:TV servers. We don’t yet know what caused these but they are being looked into so they will be solved before the next NaSTA broadcast. Other than that it was a pretty clean show and an amazing achievement for CUTV. The crew enjoyed themselves and learnt a lot of new skills which will help them in their next broadcast. I would like to say a massive thank you to Ben and Josh from LA1:TV, without them the broadcast would have been a real struggle and the presence of two people experienced in live broadcasting helped calm everyone down a lot. Ben assistant directed and looked after the gallery crew whilst Josh did sound and communicated with the other participating stations.
Hosting FreshersTV was an amazing achievement for CUTV and they did a great job. I think the two biggest lessons to take away from the broadcast are the importance of production planning and communications. As they had a very new crew they did not have set roles in the broadcast. This is to be expected with FreshersTV but makes it very difficult to have a call sheet with roles and required times so you know exactly when all of your crew are arriving and when you need to train or brief them. I will be uploading a guide to call sheets and planning in the next few weeks along with some example call sheets and planning documents for stations to use. The communications to the presenters were vital and a bit of an afterthought in this broadcast. They allowed the production team to feed questions and information to the presenters when they had to fill time and tell them to wrap up smoothly when time is short. Setting up communications to the whole production team and presenters is very difficult on large broadcasts but is well worth it, and will be the subject of a another guide later this year.
Once again a big congratulations to CUTV, I hope to see you again soon and in the meantime keep an eye out for information about NaSTA Vision.
NaSTA Development Officer 2016-17