Broadcasting Expo to the World

August 16, 2010 09:59 AM

For the true dairy cattle enthusiast, nothing beats having the opportunity to stand ringside in the Coliseum during the week of World Dairy Expo. 

Diane Nichols, director of the broadcast, chooses among shots and sets the pace. This year's World Dairy Expo will take place Sept. 28-Oct. 2 in Madison, Wis.

Sometimes, though, pressing chores and duties-—either elsewhere on the Expo grounds or back at the home farm or office—make it impossible to catch every show live and in person. For those cases, John Salzwedel and his crew at Token Creek Mobile Television, Waunakee, Wis., offer the next best thing to being there: live television feeds of each of Expo’s cattle shows, broadcast to a worldwide audience via the Internet and to various remote sites on the Alliant Energy Center grounds.

“It’s incredible when you stop and think about it,” says Salzwedel, who founded Token Creek Mobile Television in 1992. “Advances in technology are making it possible to live-stream what’s happening at World Dairy Expo to audiences all over the world. I know from reports following last year’s Expo that we reached people as far away as Australia and Japan. We also heard from the Netherlands, Germany, other countries in Europe and Brazil. We’re expanding the recognition, knowledge and appeal of the show globally.”

Salzwedel and a crew of broadcast engineers start laying the groundwork for the live broadcasts months before Expo begins, attending planning meetings with Expo staff. The week before the show, they install a fiber-optic link between the Coliseum and the Exhibition Hall. “It’s a pretty big challenge,” Salzwedel says. “We rent a lift and string cable from our control truck up the side of the Coliseum, over trees, buildings and barns.”

The fiber optics ensure that a crystal-clear broadcast signal runs between the Coliseum and the Exhibition Hall. “So, if you’re in the Exhibition Hall and want to see what’s going on in the Coliseum, all you have to do is look up at one of the large projection screens that are stationed throughout the hall,” Salzwedel explains. “Then we use portable microwave gear to relay a signal from the Exhibition Hall to screens set up out in the cattle barns. That way, the cattle exhibitors can keep tabs on everything going on in the Coliseum as well. For the Internet, we send an audio and video signal to a powerful computer system server that allows viewers at home to pull the event up on their computers anywhere in the world.”

Starting with the International Junior Holstein and Ayrshire shows on Tuesday morning, a production crew of 14 to 16 people spends 12 hours a day putting the live broadcast together. Four camera operators stationed at strategic locations in the Coliseum are the point people for the broadcasts. One of the cameras is positioned near the center of the first level of seating to capture what Salzwedel refers to as a “center court” view of what’s going on in the showring.

Another camera, positioned in a corner on the same seating level, provides an end-zone type view. For high-angle shots of what’s going on in the ring, a third camera is set up near the announcer’s table on the upper seating level. A fourth camera—wireless and handheld—is used on the showring floor.

“Because of the nature and value of the cattle, we can’t have any cables running out on the floor,” Salzwedel says. “So the camera has to be untethered. The camera operator is free to roam the floor and get those nice close-up shots.”

The high-tech control truck, parked next to the Coliseum throughout the show, is the nerve center for the broadcasts. The truck houses a producer and director, a graphics person and a technical director, who communicate back and forth with the Coliseum camera operators to keep the broadcasts running smoothly. Tape operators in another section of the truck are responsible for punching up different camera angles and prerecorded interviews with dairy industry experts and World Dairy Expo dignitaries. The tapes are aired during “down time” in between cattle shows.

The company first broadcast World Dairy Expo in 2008. Salzwedel notes that doing a dairy cattle show represented a departure for Token Creek. While the company does video production and broadcasting work for many corporate clients, Token Creek’s bread and butter is broadcasting live sporting events, including NBA basketball, PGA golf tournaments and college football and basketball games. “It’s different in that cows don’t run a four-second, 40-yard dash,” Salzwedel says. “Also, because cows are cows, you have some different kinds of concerns about avoiding damage to the equipment.

Diane Nichols, director of the broadcast, chooses among shots and sets the pace.

“We have an ace up our sleeve, too,” Salzwedel notes. “Former Expo Dairy Cattle Show Manager Diane Nichols takes a weeklong vacation from her current position with the American Red Cross to assist us with producing this broadcast. As our director, she helps us determine flattering camera angles and gives us direction when it comes to understanding the rhythm of the shows. She really knows the people and dairy cattle—her knowledge is invaluable to us.”

In another part of the preparations for broadcasting the cattle shows, a producer interviews show judges about what they will be looking for during judging. That information is used by the camera operators and other crew members to map out a strategy for capturing meaningful images from the best camera angles. “We don’t want to just show pretty cow eyes with big lashes,” Salzwedel says. “We want to show the working parts of the cow that the judges are looking at. That’s what the people viewing at home, in the Exhibition Hall and out in the barns really want to see.”

In many respects, Salzwedel says, broadcasting a cattle show isn’t much different from telecasting a fast-action sports event. “You bring the same skill set to it. You need to know how to frame a shot, and you have to have good communication between the camera operators and the people in the truck. And, even though this is slower, you have to understand there is still a pacing to it and that your job is to convey that pacing to the people who are watching the broadcast.”

Broadcasting at World Dairy Expo has quickly become one of Salzwedel’s favorite work assignments. “With a lot of the stuff we do, it’s just another day, just another show,” he says. “But this is different, and it’s absolutely great. I grew up in the country in Dodge County, Wis. [about an hour’s drive northeast of Madison]. I’ve been around farms my whole life. My in-laws farmed all their lives, and I worked on farms from the time I was 13 years old until I got out of high school. So I know and appreciate the work ethic farmers have. I enjoy being around them.”

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