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The story behind Times Square NYE Countdown

By Rajiv Raghunath - December 23, 2021

Rafale Chang, CEO of Tiger Party provides a detailed account of what it takes to manage the synchronised New Year countdown on Times Square billboards, which the company has been managing over 11 years now.

Rafale Chang, CEO<br>Tiger Party Tiger Party has been handling the synchronised New Year countdown on Times Square billboards for 11 years. What are the different innovations that you have introduced to make the countdown highly engaging for the audiences? If you could share your thoughts on both -- the frontend display that wows the audiences, and the back-end tech solutions that make the synchronisation so seamless.

As one of the DOOH operators who manage the biggest interactive billboards in Times Square New York, and executed the most interactive campaigns in the world, we feel honoured and proud to share the behind the scenes story with you:

We operate seamlessly on different kinds of creative and live feeds that allow the audience to have the lifetime moment and see themselves on the big screen with a countdown clock!

To provide the on-site audiences with the opportunity to actually see themselves on a billboard that leads to a different level of engagement and to spark their curiosity, anticipation, engagement, excitement, and joy is our mission.

The front-end display

As you may also know, how important punctuality is when it comes to NYE countdowns. Any latency, even 0.5 second, is going to critically affect the audience’s viewing experience. The engagement and excitement will be interrupted if the countdown numbers on each billboard do not match. Therefore, our system is accurate down to 1/60 second, to make sure that the countdown clocks on different billboards are synchronised with the ball-drop without any delay. Moreover, our software’s cue-based live control feature allows the show producers to switch to live-streaming when something special happens during the event while the other screen keeps on displaying the scheduled content.  

The back-end tech solutions

Every second is crucial during a huge live event like Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration. Therefore, to avoid any latency or delay in transmitting, we chose Websockets over Long Polling connection. Although Long Polling enables more stability, Websockets provides a real-time full-duplex communication channel, which is very essential for a live event like Times Square NYE Countdown.

Typically, what kind of preparations are required, and what level of coordination is required with the screen owners, advertising brands, and others.

Coordination with the Times Square Alliances, Dick Clark Production, NYPD, media agencies, billboard owners and operators, event sponsors and even the Mayor’s Office has already become our daily task while preparing for the NYE countdown event. 

When most people in New York and the States are enjoying their holidays, on the other hand, the holiday season is our busiest time of the year. We are often jumping from meetings to meetings in the morning, con-calling with international sponsors at night. We did a rough estimate internally, as a joke, that we have exceeded 200 hours of preparation meetings in December 2020 for the NYE event.

Do you think such a spectacular event is replicable in any other city, and whether you have explored having similar engagements anywhere else?

In my opinion, similar engagements can indeed be replicated in any other places, with the right kind of software and hardware. In the past, we have successfully synchronised billboards in different cities.

In NYE 2016, we managed to synchronise the Countdown celebration in Dubai with Times Square via satellite. Dubai celebrated the New Year nine hours ahead of Times Square; therefore, with the synchronisation, revellers in Times Square were able to experience the Dubai New Year at 3PM.  

We have also synced billboards across the globe in Taipei, Taiwan with Times Square for another campaign. Participants across the globe were able to wave, smile and interact with each other through the billboards. I personally think it was very cool that people across two cities were able to share the same experience together. 

The software we use to manage all those interactive experiences in Times Square, the GOTIGER, can be deployed at any kind of digital screens anywhere. With GOTIGER, I am confident to say that we can show the Times Square magic anywhere else. 

How the build-up to the big event coming up on the back of two tough pandemic-hit years?

This New Year is the first NYE celebration open to the public after the pandemic and we couldn’t be more excited to see revellers coming back to Times Square for the New Year Countdown event. Last year, we witnessed the first-in-history virtual countdown in Times Square. Under COVID-19 guidelines, the Tiger Party production team had to work entirely outdoors for the first time, which required all signals to be transmitted through radio and antennas instead of optical fibre, as optical fibre is only available indoors. Therefore, we started our pressure test two weeks earlier than usual to avoid any possible glitches and to make sure everything go perfectly on the event day. 

In addition, there were only a few essential vendor teams that were allowed in the Times Square “safe zone bubbles”. The safe zone bubbles were three layers, each layer with a more restricted COVID guidelines. To operate on the billboards, our team was one of the very few allowed in the most restricted layer of the safe zone bubbles. To enter the layer, our members had to take the PCR tests every day until the event night and ID badges to pass through very strict security measures. 

Our working time was longer than previous years because we had to spend extra time taking the PCR tests and passing through security. All these may sound very difficult but we were glad that we were able to pull off the first-ever interview via billboards with President Biden and his First Lady and the countdown event went perfectly. 

This year, all essential vendors and workers for the NYE event are still required to be vaccinated and masked. Safety is still our first priority. We also started our pressure tests early this year, since everyone is so excited to be back in Times Square and we want to create more engagements and laughter for the revellers.

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