Watch TV for a living? At HBO Latin America, yes – they do!
As a child, I am sure there were many times your parents either pleaded or ordered you to go outside and play since all that TV you watch would either make you get glasses early or soften your brains, right? Imagine if you were paid to do so, this is your JOB, 8 hours a day & five days a week?
That is exactly what happens in Sawgrass Mills in Miami, Florida, at HBO LatAm’s satellite transmission centre, where their Sr Operations Manager Tom Hoesten played superb guide to a special group of Caribbean media recently.
The team of bloggers and journalists hailed from Caymans, Trinidad, Bahamas, Aruba, Suriname and of course – Barbados via yours truly!
There are two levels of monitoring, the initial layer looks like something from the Matrix and this Broadcast Output Control where 85 feeds are under constant supervision – not only HBO’s channels to the Caribbean & South America are under scrutiny but Sony’s channels of Spin and AXN are also kept under watch via light meters and telltale alerts if a feed is offline and if a reroute to a standby is needed.
With all of these channels planned for at least 2 days ahead, they no longer use video cassettes but enormous versions of external hard drives which host terabytes on terabytes of visual data, the intrepid engineers via liaising with both Sales and Programming divisions have to carefully select which programmes stay and which ones are deleted!
When you see Live Boxing on HBO LatAm, that’s when the programming gets trickier, which is where the real decisions get made by Master Control where each channel has 3 outputs to monitor… The episode sent out, how that signal looks to viewers plus a simultaneous backup in case the original goes offline or the file is corrupted!
Programming is either added or dropped depending on if the matches last shorter or longer than initially calculated for (boxing can end in a round or two or it can last the full session and judges take long making sure who deserves to win), so promotional material on series to come or behind the scenes interviews are played to either carry viewers to the next scheduled event or these same items are dropped if you need to catch up to the next listed event. These are calculated by a special menu developed by a family called Louth, who eventually sold the system and are now retired in Hawaii.
What also happens on a fight night, is the Sawgrass Mills facility uses the live feed from USA which they call Domestic, and they bring in Spanish and Portuguese announcers to interpret and give revised commentary for South America but make it seem the Latin announcers are at ringside!
The building used to be a jewellery store years ago, but it is now revamped to be as storm-resistant as possible, take a guess what happens if the weather is really bad? Staff stay on, with food and beds… You guessed it, watching TV!
So with all of this happening, you felt the staff avoid TV like the plague when they’re Off Duty? Nope, they record via TiVo and watch their favorite episodes later on! The job is only to make sure no glitches happen, when they’re home they can view like a regular subscriber and root for their heroes and villains and follow their favorite series.