Even though Times Square was nearly empty this New Year’s Eve, an estimated one billion still had their eyes on New York City for the annual midnight countdown and ball drop. On December 31st, Rafale Chang was working behind-the-scenes to make sure the countdown was spot on. The Taiwan-born Chang is the co-founder of Tiger Party, an interactive agency that manages some of Times Square’s biggest billboards. For the past eleven years, Chang has also been the man in charge of the countdown clock which is beamed live on three Times Square billboards and then transmitted all around the world. In the video below, find out how Chang synchronizes the clock for a perfect countdown and see footage of a nearly empty Times Square!
New Year’s Eve. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, spectators were not allowed to gather for the ball drop. Instead, a select group of frontline and essential workers and their families were invited to visit Times Square and watch the ball drop from socially distanced pens. This year was the first time crowds were banned since the first ball drop in 1907 (fireworks were used in the first few years, atop the New York Times building which is now One Times Square).Video Courtesy of Tiger PartyIn the video, you can see that Chang is one of a very small group of people who were allowed in Times Square on
Despite the lack of crowds, the midnight countdown for the ball drop still needed to be perfect for viewers at home, and COVID-19 restrictions brought new challenges for Chang and his team. They needed to come up with a way to work completely outdoors while synchronizing the countdown clock with Times Square’s billboards. Under COVID guidelines, his production team needed to work outdoors this year and this required signals to be transmitted by radio and antennas instead of optical fiber which is only available indoors. Each billboard has unique specifications with varying screen shapes and aspect ratios that need to be accounted for when displaying the countdown. With the changes and the added attention this year, Rafale and his team started to run “pressure tests” on the system and doing dress rehearsals two weeks earlier than past years to make sure the countdown clock would work “no matter what.” His team was doing COVID tests every two days.
Tiger Party also manages the American Eagle digital signs, the curved ABC SuperSign and Disney Store sign in Times Square which are the three main countdown clocks for New Year’s Eve. See how it all comes together! in the video above!