MUMBAI: At a time when presentation matters as much as content if not more, news channels are leaving no stone unturned to better package their coverage of the elections, ahead of counting day on 16 May. According to insiders, channels are investing close to Rs 1 crore to Rs 1.5 crore in graphics and technology depending on their own internal resources.
“There are two parts to it: pre-counting day and counting day. In the former, you have to effectively cover all constituencies and make people understand while in the latter, the emphasis is on graphics as well as synergy between getting the information and putting it out instantly,” says NDTV CTO Dinesh Singh. Simply put, maximum energy goes into ensuring that data is collected from multiple sources and punched in quickly to be flashed on your TV screens. More precisely, revamping studio sets, making graphics more elegant, and inflating backend support in terms of OB vans, cameras and servers are all part of this exercise.
“Satellites, lease lines or 3G supported systems are used to send pictures and videos from the ground to the studio while historical data is put on air through graphics. This can be done either virtually on a green screen or in a real set with virtual graphics,” says Live India head of technical operations Johnjit Singh Ahluwalia. A case in point is Times Now where one can see editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami, belting out statistics in his swanky new studio with the graphics playing out in front of him. CNN-IBN, on the other hand, has tied up with Microsoft for presenting historical data of more than 60 years.
Speaking of ABP News, the channel put in six months of effort to hire OB vans and extra manpower along with backpack units for larger coverage. New shows have been set up with multi camera facility, apart from extra microphones, cables, connectors and servers. Various mechanisms such as OB vans, leased lines, FTPS and back pack units like Live U and TVU that work on 2G/3G/4G and are equipped with a variety of data cards are used to receive data at the office. “We also focus on error-free transmission and so far, have achieved it. High end studio cameras are hired with a triax setup for outdoor shoots,” says MCCS marketing manager Vikas Singh.
Network 18 has roped in AC Nielsen as the agency to handle raw counting day data. Planning was done eight months in advance, keeping in mind the pre-polling stage, the polling period, post-polls, counting day, and the results. “Technology plays a key role in the elections. From programmers to data analysts to statisticians, every specialist plays a key role. But more than playing an individual key role, I think the ability to maximise the relevance of technology and to be able to bring all of them together for a common deliverable is the key for in depth elections coverage,” says CNN-IBN and IBN7 managing editor Vinay Tewari.
NDTV, with a developer team of 21 engineers and around 40 people in the graphics department, started preparations around three months in advance. “Earlier, counting used to be for three days and now, it starts in the morning and ends in the afternoon so the on-screen graphics need to be attractive and studio swanky,” says Dinesh Singh.
ABP News has divided itself into teams of eight to 10 for production, camera editing, satcom, working for programmes etc. that report to line managers, who in turn report to the main head. Ahluwalia agrees about the importance of technology in election. “These are crucial five or six hours within which you either swim or sink. Most of the investment goes in the actual coverage from the ground and then on the presentation of that data. With little resource, give high quality,” he says.
The crux of the election is to ensure that you have a good backup for everything in case anything goes wrong. “At various locations, we have a back up like another OB van or a Live U unit, stand-by cables, camera etc. in case of any equipment failure. We had contemplated each and every aspect of technical failure and have been thus able to avoid that. Equipment redundancies are built at various levels of production and post production, including the programme transmission,” says Vikas Singh. Ahluwalia says that most news broadcasters have seen at least one election that redundancies are built into the system with complimenting hardware, servers and machines to give seamless on-air transmission.
With less than a day to go for counting, channels are all set to turn up some serious heat with not just the information but also the graphics. So, prepare to sit back and enjoy the game...