When The Webcast Cuts Out
"Cut! We missed that Gabriel. Can you back it up and when the camera starts rolling again stick another inverted slob? Julian you're on stand-by."
The Quiksilver Pro France was a memorable contest both for the fact it was won by Gabriel Medina in only his third World Tour competition and also for the quality of surfing, especially from Round 5 onwards. Medina beat Julian Wilson, himself a WT rookie, in a final that reset the template for high performance surfing. It was that good.
The webcast for the contest also set a high standard of functionality and production, unfortunately though it's doomed to be remembered for a technical mishap that happened at the most inopportune time.
With three minutes to go in the final Wilson was leading on 16.10 points with Medina needing an 8.28 or better. Plenty of waves were coming through with scoring potential. Wilson used his priority on a smaller wave leaving the young Brazilian alone out the back. A good sized left reared, webcast viewers tensed as he took off....and then everything went black. No sight, no sound, nothing.
Moments later, and for just one split second, vision returned and the sight of Julian Wilson holding his head in his hands appeared. But what did that mean? Was he overcome with joy? Distraught? For the next ten minutes I sat staring at the box, vigourously pumping the refresh button and letting loose with a late-night verbal tirade as I tried to find out the result.
At the same time viewers across 24 time zones were finding relief on the competition's Facebook page. I'm hopelessly monolingual except when it comes to blasphemes and I learnt a few new ones that night.
It's been fifteen years since the first surfing webcast but it's only in the last five that technological progress has allowed for consistently enjoyable viewing. They've since become incredibly popular – Quiksilver reached approximately 800,000 unique viewers in France – and webcasts are now the primary way that fans watch competitive surfing.
In one way webcasts are like the early days of live television; the crew – both commentary and production - have to wing it through unscripted moments and technical hitches. It's thrilling and tense. Add to that remote locations, often with limited and temporary network connections, and the best laid plans often go awry - which they did in France, big time.
Mark Warren is the Sports Marketing Manager for Quiksilver International. He plans and oversees many of their webcasts. Warren is no stranger to live broadcasting having done stints in front of the camera for every major television station in Australia, though most would remember him from Channel Nine's Wide World of Sports where he often shared the stage with Mike Gibson and Ken Sutcliffe.
Warren explained the reason the French webcast lost connection was due to a wider connection problem in the region, "There was a huge network cut in Bordeaux that affected the whole south-west area of France. This usually never happens, but the entire area suffered this three minute black out."
When the production team realised what the problem was, and that there was nothing they could do about it, Warren said they focussed on getting the Heats on Demand online as quick as possible so viewers could see the result.
Part of being a pioneer is making mistakes for the first time, but being successful means devising solutions and Warren nominated two possibilities. The first would be to install a back up line on a different network hub routing to another region, the second having a satellite back up sending a video feed to a different location.
Stung by the French faux pas Warren assures me his team has future proofed themselves against similar webcasting problems. "For next year we've already booked a back up line that comes from Toulouse, another major network hub."