If it takes a village to raise a child, what does it take to raise a village? We sneak under the security fence and snoop around in Sky’s purpose built Olympic village, the hive-like facility that will bring you the 2012 London Olympics. Join us as we poke around what will be home to more than 200 staffers who will eat, sleep, dream and nosily slurp Olympic-flavoured coffee to stave off fatigue for the next month.
For we viewers, the summer Olympics is a quadrennial Christmas stocking stuffed with two weeks' worth of sports, both popular and obscure (sadly, poodle grooming was clipped from the line-up back in 1990), but for the people who bring the world’s most watched sporting extravaganza to our screens, the planning is years in the making.
Sky TV’s Project Director Kevin Cameron, who was also involved in producing the recent Rugby World Cup, plans to "have a cup of tea and a lie down at the end of this year" after the London 2012 Olympics.
"The Olympics is a pretty unique sort of event where you just live and breathe it really for almost 24 hours a day. You might get a few hours sleep, if you’re lucky, before you’re on to the next day."
It takes a lot of staff, dedication and cash to get those teeny tiny athletes into our TVs. Sky TV will have a total of 70 staff at the Olympics - 50 from its own office, with an additional 20 temporary staff, mostly camera people, coming on board in London.
While it sounds like a large contingent, Kevin says by international standards it’s a pretty lean team, with American broadcaster NBC sending a retinue of 2,500.
Kevin will oversee Sky’s eight Olympic channels, plus a dedicated Olympics mosaic channel and an Olympic news channel over 17 days of Olympic coverage. Sky Sport 1 and 2, meanwhile, will continue with "business as usual".
Fortunately for those who don’t have Sky, Prime is offering an unprecedented 23-and-a-half hours of Olympic coverage a day. That half-hour break is not to give the satellite a well-deserved rest, but for a condensed version of the existing 5.30pm news, which Kevin admits will probably have "a few Olympic stories in there as well".
For the first time, iSky, Sky’s online portal usually only available to Sky subscribers, will also offer Olympic coverage free to all New Zealanders.
Having produced the Olympics for TVNZ during the 1980s, Kevin has witnessed how technology has changed the landscape of sports broadcasting, with "the sheer volume of cameras they have now compared to how it was back in the '80s" truly staggering.
"There’s always new things that are introduced, and quite often they bring them out at events like this. You probably recall the excitement there was last year at the World Cup when we introduced spider cam, so there’ll probably be several spider cams I’d say, in London, doing the same sort of thing, and who knows what other technology they may introduce.
"I’m sure there will be some ultra motion cameras in the mix as well, which is even more dramatic and clearer. It’s just super, super slow - we introduced a couple of those for the World Cup finals as well.
"These cameras have got 101x lenses, so you can get the emotion and the drama and the faces of the athletes, the happiness, the tears."
Located in Sky’s backyard is their very own 'Olympic village', which more closely resembles an army barracks (now we know where they keep their Rugby World Cup 'Match Fit' drill sergeant).
This collection of portacoms has been shipped in from Calgary specifically for the Olympics and will be disassembled and sent back post-broadcast.
As well as importing a ton of equipment, Sky has also brought on board ex-TVNZ7 staff and several media school graduates, who On Air Services Executive David Elder says are champing at the bit to get cracking on their first assignment, especially one as prestigious as the Olympics.
The interior of Sky’s Olympic Village resembles NASA mission control, and the operation of this array of equipment is probably no less technical than a missile launch.
Inside the village labyrinth lurks no minotaur, but the tower of power, a massive column of monitors screening an endless breadth of footage which the Sky staff must filter from 13 different channels from the satellite feed, pull apart and squeeze jigsaw-like across the eight different Olympic channels offered.
Olympic broadcast veteran Keith Catchpole will use his extensive experience and expertise (he’s been involved in New Zealand’s Olympic coverage since 1974!) to keep the operation running smoothly, but with a spectacle of this scale, the programmers are at the mercy of outside influences i.e. the host broadcaster, satellites, space junk, game delays and/or overtime and the elements.
There’s a lot that can go wrong and mere seconds to rectify it.
"You live on adrenaline when you do these things," Kevin says.
Due to the time difference between New Zealand and England, many of the finals will be broadcast in the morning, local time. Not only do our TV watching patterns change during the fortnight of Olympic revelry, so do our work schedules.Sky TV publicist Kim Taylor warns that the "normal 6.30am, 7.00am rush will be delayed a little bit I think in two weeks’ time", as we all cram around the TV to witness our athletes in black take on the world.