Tips on sports and live event webcasting

When you stream over 18,000 live hockey games a year, you have to learn a bit about what works and what doesn’t. So when I chatted with Marc Ruskin, President of FASTHockey, Inc, the premier online destination for amateur ice hockey games from across North America, I was anxious to get some live production related tips. And he didn’t disappoint.

First, some background. Ruskin and his partners – all former hockey players –shoot hockey clubs, prep schools and other teams across North America. Games are viewed by scouts, recruiters, coaches, players, parents, and fans from around the world. At the most basic level, FASTHockey leverages the cameras used by all coaches to record team games, plugging them into computers or switchers, and sending a compressed stream to the closest partner CDN for broadcast.

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FASTHockey shares the PPV revenue with the teams, and some have jazzed up production value with NewTek TriCasters and similar gear to incorporate text overlays, graphics and multiple camera input. In addition, FASTHockey dispatches their own production teams for some high profile games and tournaments. Between mid-August and May, it adds up to 18,000 games a season, all available live and on-demand from the FASTHockey site, over 600 games during some weeks.

A few days before my call, FASTHockey had switched from VP6 to H.264 as the delivery codec with varying delivery bitrates depending upon the stream pulled from the local rink. Delivery can range from single streams transmitted at 2-300 kbps, to two or three adaptive streams ranging up to 1.2 mbps. All streams are currently 320×240 resolution.

Given this experience, what wisdom was Ruskin able to dole out? I asked for the top tips for live event production, and here’s what he shared. Some apply just to hockey, some to all sporting events and some to all live productions.

First and second was using a good quality camera and tripod. Hockey is a fast moving game, and without smooth panning and tilting, the video is tough to watch. After shooting my share of close up ballets, I definitely agree.

Third, unless you have a live score bar beneath the video feed, the camera should frequently pan to the score display to show the score, time remaining, penalties and the like. He recommends panning over after every goal, at the beginning and end of every period and once or twice during breaks in the action during low scoring games.

Fourth, the better the audio talent you have announcing the game, the fewer cameras you need. A two camera shoot with good audio talent is easily more watchable than a four camera shoot with poor announcing talent. As a corollary, two cameras well managed are better than four cameras operated by novices.

Fifth, you have to coach audio talent to frequently incorporate advertisers and marketing partners into the announcements (“tonight’s broadcast is brought to you by Bennies’ Blades). This doesn’t came naturally to new announcers and helps sell local advertising.

Sixth, if you have a camcorder that shoots both HDV and DV, capture in SD mode unless you’re absolutely sure that you have more than sufficient light in the venue. In Ruskin’s experience, on the same camera, SD capture provides superior quality to HD in low light conditions.

Finally, Ruskin commented that you shouldn’t attempt live event production without knowledgeable technical resources available, either in-house or third party. In this regard, Ruskin states that FASTHockey was able to hit the ice skating because of services provided by sports webcaster consultant Steve Clay from www.bullpenmedia.com.

About Jan Ozer

I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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