Periscope in a news workflow

There has been a lot of excitement out there about live streaming videos apps Periscope and Meerkat. At The Day, we do a weekly live streaming music show called Live Lunch Break and live streaming basketball and football games, but these are more produced and streamed through Livestream. We as a newsroom wondered if it made sense to add these streaming apps to the toolbox our journalists have.

We already have two full-time videographers, four still photographers who are equipped to shoot video, and a handful of reporters who shoot short videos through the Tout app on their phones. The simplicity of live streaming with the tap of one button in an app and the ability to easily promote your broadcast and interact with viewers made us try out Periscope on two occasions this week.

On Tuesday, a group of New London residents went to City Hall to protest a proposed tax hike. We sent a reporter, photographer and videographer. With the reporter streaming via Periscope and the other two trying to shoot as well, there was a lot of getting in each other’s way at the small protest. The lesson here is if you are going to deploy multiple people all trying to shoot for the same publication, there needs to be some coordination of the effort.

On Friday, the Westerly Morris Men did their annual May Day dance on the Connecticut College green. I’ve done video stories in the past, so this time I figured I would try streaming via Periscope for something different. My plan was to download the video afterward and upload an edit to Tout. The problem I discovered was that even when I was shooting horizontal, the Periscope app saved the file to my camera roll as a vertical (see above). Another issue is the quality of the recording. The file is saved at a relatively low resolution (320×568) and with a lot of compression (486 kbps). So if you want to upload the stream to a service like YouTube for on-demand viewing, you’re going to get a low quality video that you have to rotate in another program like Final Cut in order to view it horizontally. Vertical video is fine when it’s confined to a mobile app, but the standard for video players is horizontal.

I tested out Meerkat’s quality this morning, and it’s not much better (360×640 pixels, 534 kbps).

News websites amass viewers over time, so a video that can be viewed on demand is going to be of a lot more value than one that is streamed live and then not archived. Add to this the fact that the live stream is confined to the app and not available to be embedded on a website, and it seems Meerkat and Periscope are more novelties than useful tools for journalism.

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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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