Don’t just stream the game, tell the story

I wrote a post last year about how The Day, a small daily newspaper here in Connecticut, produces live streaming webcasts of high school basketball games with a small crew and a smaller budget using Wirecast software and BlackMagic Design hardware. While the technical details are interesting, I think (or at least I hope) what sets us apart is the way we tell the story of the game outside of the action on the court.

For each basketball webcast, we produce at least two features on each team and a video open that sets the stage for the game. For football games, when we work with a larger, outside crew, we do even more features. The idea is to let our audience get to know the players and the coaches, establishing a connection and hopefully increasing the number of people who care about seeing the actual game action.

For a lot of high school games, it might initially seem that the potential audience is rather limited, and a limited audience could mean limited interest from potential sponsors. We’ve been lucky to have some games of statewide importance right in our backyard, including a football game and basketball game that both were decided in the final seconds. For other, less extraordinary games, students, parents and immediate communities of the two schools participating might care, but how do you get a larger audience to watch?

We run the video features during our pre-game and halftime shows, but we also publish some of them on our website before the game. We look for stories that are more about who the players are as people rather than just focusing on their athletic achievements. We’ve profiled the offensive linemen who sing in the chorus, the basketball player whose late father is the inspiration for his team. The basketball student section and the football team moms. It’s hard to say analytically if this strategy is drawing more viewers than if we just webcast the games, but I have heard anecdotally from people who said they didn’t care about either team, but the features made them feel like they had a vested interest in the success of the players who they got to know.

By posting the individual stories in addition to the full webcast and highlights, each live game means at least seven pieces of on-demand content posted to the site by the next morning.

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An Ode to Opening Day

I’ve been trying to make this video for several years. One year I was on vacation, another we were chasing UConn basketball. For some reason, things kept coming up that prevented me from working on the first day of the high school baseball season. This year, I put it on the calendar early, got in touch with the coaches in advance, and had everything ready to go. The weather worked out perfectly on both of my shooting days. I briefly thought this video was not going to happen again this year. I had asked the Montville coach to let me know when the groundskeeper would be prepping the field before the first home game. The night before, he told me to be there at 8:30 a.m. The morning of the game, as I was getting ready to take my kids to school, I saw an email from the coach saying they were already out working on the field. I thought this project was sunk for another year, but fortunately for me (unfortunately for the groundskeeper) the wet spring meant that the field needed extra work. I arrived in plenty of time to shoot the field work, do some editing, and then go back for the start of the game.

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Streaming live high school basketball at a small newspaper

My co-worker Jenna Cho tagged along on our last high school basketball broadcast of the season and shot this behind the scenes video. It covers the big picture view of our workflow, but doesn’t get into the technical specifics of hardware and software, so I figured I would elaborate a little bit. Because we’re a small newspaper, we don’t have a dedicated crew or equipment for live streaming sports. Almost all of the gear is used for something else during the week and then gets re-purposed for our sports broadcasts. We use the cameras for daily and long-term stories, and the audio equipment and switcher get used for our weekly live music show, Live Lunch Break. There is certainly room for improvement, but this setup has worked well for us so far.

Cameras: We use four cameras for the broadcast and a fifth for the clock on the scoreboard. The action cameras are a Sony PMW-200, a Sony EX1R and a Sony FS100. The camera for the on-air talent is a Canon HV20. The HV20 is connected to the switcher via HDMI, and the other cameras are connected via SDI. Since the FS100 doesn’t have an SDI output, we use a BlackMagic Design HDMI to SDI converter.

Switcher: The cameras are switched using the BlackMagic Design ATEM Television Studio. It is mounted in a rolling rack case along with a BlackMagic monitor that we use for multiview. The HDMI program output goes to a BlackMagic Hyperdeck Shuttle for recording in HD. The Shuttle passes through an HDMI signal to a small television monitor so the talent can see the program when they call the game. The SDI program output is connected to a laptop for streaming via a BlackMagic Mini Recorder into the Thunderbolt port on a MacBook Pro running Wirecast.

Computers: We use three MacBook Pros. One is running the ATEM software to control the switching and graphics. A second is streaming the program via Wirecast software to Livestream. Wirecast is also used to insert video features and advertisements. The third laptop is running a second copy of Wirecast to provide a scoreboard.

Our scoreboard shows score, team name with color and logo, quarter and time.
Our scoreboard shows score, team name with color and logo, quarter and time.

Scoreboard: Wirecast has a nice built-in scoreboard. I decided to customize ours with a graphic “skin” that adds The Day’s logo, team colors and logos, and a clock. The clock is captured using a fifth camera – a Sony Z1U – connected via S-Video to a Sony deck, which is connected to the laptop via firewire. The clock goes on the top layer in Wirecast, the skin goes on the second layer, and the scoreboard itself goes on the third layer. The skin includes a colored background for keying. The laptop is connected to to the switcher via mini-display to HDMI cable. The scoreboard is overlayed using the upstream key with a mask and chroma key. Our sports reporter sits next to the on-air talent with this laptop. He keeps statistics for the game and operates the scoreboard.

Audio: We have an 8-channel Mackie soundboard. All of the program audio is panned to the left, and all off-air communication is panned to the right. The left main out is used for the program audio. It goes either directly to the laptop running Wirecast or into one of the cameras which provides the audio to the BlackMagic TVS. You could also use an analog to digital audio converter directly into the switcher, but that’s a piece of equipment we don’t have at the moment. In order to have different mixes, the Aux Send 1 goes to the talent’s headphones, and the Aux Send 2 goes via wireless transmitter to the three camera operators and the sideline reporter.

Streaming: The laptop running Wirecast gets the program feed via SDI into a BlackMagic mini recorder in the Thunderbolt port. Wirecast sends an SD stream to Livestream, and records an SD .mov file to a Lacie firewire drive.

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Zach Hurd at UConn’s Pro Day

I spent Wednesday afternoon at UConn’s football complex for their Pro Day. I can’t imagine the pressure these guys must be under, having one or two chances to perform a physical task that is being recorded by representatives from NFL teams. If that’s not enough, the scouts and coaches get to measure players’ bodies and […]

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