Eight years ago, Cleveland High School entered the world of live video streaming.
We started with a single camera and a student operator that traveled with the football team to each game. This student used natural audio and “broadcasted” the game via Quicktime to a hand full o f viewers. We thought we were big time. Fast forward to the present, and we now stream almost every home athletic event, every home and away football game, and many other various events. Our crew of one person has grown to 14 for football games, and we no longer send a student and camera with the team. Instead, we transport our equipment in a 24-foot production trailer and haul our crew in a couple of large SUV’s. Our viewership has grown from a few faithful parents, to a national audience on the NFHS Network. While this may sound impressive, it didn’t happen overnight.
When we entered the streaming world, our goal was to one day be as good as a local version of ESPN. Many students, faculty, parents, and community members appreciated our desire, but thought we were shooting well beyond the realm of possibility. For me, this is where our program thrives, in impossibilities.
After our first season of streaming football, we took a break until the next fall, to determine where we wanted to go and how we wanted to get there. At that time the outlets for high schools to stream were somewhat limited and we were stuck using a local server with a low bandwidth. Eventually we were able to improve the connection for the server and move to using Flash Media Live Encoder. Eight years ago, I became a Digital Media Production Instructor while still working full-time in the broadcast industry. In the Fall of 2008, I began to bring my company’s Ford E-350 Production Van to football games. This allowed us to live switch up to 3 cameras. The students thought they had just signed up to work for Monday Night Football. The program began to grow and gain recognition in the community. Student interest also grew and my 6 average enrollment classes, became full and overflowing with students. The van allowed us to have 2 operators inside, a Director/Technical Director and Audio/Graphics. Everything was standard definition, but the simple ability to change shots during the stream changed our presentation overnight.
While the van worked, it was still rather limiting and as the program grew, we needed to find a different solution. In 2010, I was driving through town and saw a white, 10 x 6 enclosed cargo trailer on the side of the road for sale. It was in great condition and completely empty inside. We purchased the trailer, insulated the walls, put down carpet, and wrapped it with our school logos. Again, the students absolutely loved it.
In this trailer we could now have up to 4 students at a time. For most events, we utilized a Director, Technical Director, Graphics, and Playback/Producer (for commercials). This gave the students an enclosed space to work and it was easy to move from location to location. The trailer was outfitted with a BlackmagicDesign ATEM Television Studio switcher, a 12 channel Mackie Audio Mixer, several LCD TVs we purchased at a local retailer, a basic graphics system, and a playback computer. It was during this time that our production jumped to a whole new level. We could now switch up to 6 cameras, insert live commercial breaks, produce a live pre-game show, and do almost anything else that was thrown our way.
Our school leadership and community realized the value in what we could offer and provided amazing support both financially and administratively. We took this trailer around the Southeast to various events producing games for our school as well as many others. Granted, some schools were not too happy to see us rolling in, however once they realized we were there to also promote their team, they seemed to relax.
One of the biggest challenges we faced with the trailer was climate control. It wasn’t heated or cooled, and when it rained the water came in the back door since cables were also running through. We sat outside in below freezing temperatures with a small heater, taking turns thawing out our fingers. In the summer we sweat together and spent time making sure everyone stayed hydrated. For one game in particular, we had just set everything up and a rainstorm parked over the stadium. It was coming down so hard that water was pouring in to the back of the trailer on top of an equipment rack. Luckily, we had 4 students volunteer to stand in the 8 inches of water on the ground, holding a large board to channel the water away from the doors. It was definitely a sight to see.
The cargo trailer worked great for many years, but we knew that if we planned to add replay and simulate the industry even more, we needed a larger space for production. In the spring of 2014 I began searching for different options. Several companies are now custom building broadcast production trailers; however we wanted to find something a little more tailored to our needs and in our price range. In February of 2015, I came across a listing online for a trailer that looked perfect. It was custom built for video production and the company that had used it took amazing care to keep it in great shape. We drove up to Indiana to take a look and purchased it that day. This trailer is 24’, 10,000 pounds and completely custom built from the ground up for production. Once again, the students went crazy.
First, and most importantly to some of my students, the new trailer has a natural gas heater and A/C. It also has a sofa, microwave, mini-frig, and of course everything you could need for production. The equipment racks were built in, along with a desk for TD, Audio, and Playback, a Director’s Station, a Graphics Desk, and a place for a Producer. We can now easily fit 7-8 students in the trailer with room to spare during an event. It also has plenty of space on the back of the equipment racks for access and storage. The trailer has an outside connection door so no more water running in on the equipment. It also has exterior lighting so we can actually see how to over-under wrap those cables at night.
The obvious challenge with the new trailer is hauling it around and finding a location to park it at events. We have begun sending out site survey crews to determine these answers days before a game so we can be prepared. I’ll go into great detail about this new trailer including equipment used, work flow, and student job descriptions in a future article.
Overall, I would not trade the growing pains we have gone through over the past 8 years for anything. It has made us into the program we are today. The students have a great appreciation for what we have and take pride in each and every production. The icing on this journey was when I bumped into a friend who does some free-lance work for ESPN. He said, “I’ve worked in trailers just like your new one for shows on ESPN!” Although 8 years ago, our dream to become like a large network production seemed unattainable, I believe through the power of our community and drive of our students, we have finally made it. Where do we go next? Let’s dream a little . . . .