From the set of “Signs & Wonders”. The inner workings of a live TV show . . .

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit our studio in Cyprus and get an insight into what it takes to run a live TV show. Here’s an example of what we do to get a live show onto the screens of our viewers . . .

Before the Show

About an hour before the show begins there is a variety of set up taking place. Sorting out the four cameras that will be used on the show, checking the lighting, applying make up to the presenters, etc.The team also test the network connection to our outsourced Master Control Room in Slovenia. The signal gets to our viewers like this: we use the cameras and a switcher in our studio to mix the signal here. We apply our own graphics locally in the studio (like SMS messages, contact details for the show if people want to call in, etc.). We then compress the signal (using a very clever encoder from Tandberg) and send it over the public Internet to STN, our partner in Slovenia. They receive the signal, incorporate it into our broadcast stream, and send it out live onto two TV channels on two different satellites. They send one directly up to the AB7 satellite, and the other they send over a managed network to a different provider who sends it to Paris and beams it up to the Hotbird satellite.

So we start broadcasting to STN about an hour before the live show begins in order to test the signal and the audio. Because we use a fibre network instead of a temporary satellite to send the signal to STN it does not cost us any more to send for longer and as a result we save a lot of money each month!  Using Skype the MCR then count us down 30 mins before, 15 mins before, 2 mins, 1 min and then a full countdown from 30 seconds.

I found it quite confusing watching the countdown as I heard STN say 30 seconds, then immediately after one of the control room team in Cyprus would alert the studio that there were just 15 seconds till the start, and began counting down 15 seconds ahead of the team in Slovenia. I realised of course that it must take about this length of time for the encoder to compress the signal, to send it over the Internet, and to decode it at the other end – and therefore that we start (and finish) 15 seconds early in order to avoid a 15 second black screen for the viewer!

Directing the show

At the start of the show the team run the Intro Titles and music from a file in the control room. The presenters are in place on the set and gathering their thoughts before the camera cuts to them. My Egyptian friend Joe is directing the show from the control room and giving instructions to the cameramen about what he wants them to do.

He has an array of monitors in front of him – one for each of the four cameras, and one for the  output that we are sending to the viewer. He lines up the camera he wants to move to next (usually giving advanced warning to the cameraman that he is about to move to) and at the right moment switches across. There are also lights on top of the cameras and these indicate which is broadcasting at the moment and which one will be switched to next (this is to help the presenters to know where to look).

Interacting with the Viewers

Also in the control room, another of our team – this time a Syrian – adds the graphics to the screen. Sometimes an SMS that a viewer has sent in and other times just the logos and graphics for the show that tell people how to contact us. The SMS are received up in the control room, edited for broadcast on the screen, and also shared with the hosts of the show via a shared Google document on the Internet. This allows us to get messages to them in a really cost effective, timely and efficient manner!

We have 2 breaks during the 90 minute live show which gives the presenters a chance to relax for a few minutes, to have their make up touched up, and also to grab a quick drink. The break also affords me an opportunity to run downstairs, through the set of the show and into the kitchen, which is where the Audience Relations team are fielding calls and SMS from viewers.

All the calls get answered by a team of Arabic speakers at the studio. They take the callers names and numbers, and pass a number of the viewers on to the control room who prepare them to speak with the host of the show live on air. I’m told that we do occasionally get callers who want to cause trouble on air, but in the vast majority of cases this is not so – but we do try to filter them out before they get to air.

We don’t get viewing figures for individual shows but we know that the live shows are favourites of our viewers – it is likely that there one or two million viewers for this show, but probably a whole lot more. This is no doubt because they can interact with the hosts and feel a part of the show. It seems strange to me being British, but these live shows are a life line to Arabic speakers across the region – they feel connected with other Christians, and it clearly means a lot to them. We also know that many others are watching across the region who are not followers of Jesus and that shows like these are a powerful witness.

It was another day that made me feel proud to work for SAT-7 as I watched the quiet efficiency of the team and admired the professionalism that they brought to this production. Do pray for them as they work on these shows each Friday night, that God will use them to have a powerful impact on the people of the Middle East & North Africa.

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