Case Study: HRTV Delivers the Fastest Two Minutes in Sports with NewTek TriCaster and 3Play
by Charles Quigley, NewTek Contributing Writer
The timeless attraction of horse racing, dating back to ancient Greece, Babylon, Syria and Egypt, is simple. The thoroughbred horse, widely believed to be faster than cheetahs in endurance races, can maintain a speed of 45 miles per hour for a distance of more than a mile, making the horse race “the fastest two minutes in sports.”
In the United States alone, there are more than 100 racetracks staging thousands of races every year and attracting millions of spectators. Nothing quite matches the pageantry of the race or the excitement of the pack making the final turn for home.
For horse racing fans, catching the action away from the track traditionally meant tuning into the radio or waiting for annual TV coverage of the Kentucky Derby featuring the 20 fastest thoroughbreds of the year. HRTV, the television and online network for horse sports, sought to change that when it began regular 24/7 coverage of horse racing in 2003.
HRTV programming includes regular and special stakes races from Santa Anita Park, Churchill Downs, Gulfstream Park, Arlington Park, the New York Racing Association and Pimlico Race Course as well as international racetracks. HRTV also produces regularly scheduled programs, documentaries, specials and features to help educate and engage viewers with the sport.
The secret to HRTV’s wire-to-wire coverage, speed and agility is its decision in 2013 to mobilize its live video production around NewTek solutions. Adding a new customized production flypack based on the NewTek TriCaster multi-camera production system equipped HRTV to make a significant production upgrade from SD to HD video quality. At the same time, it dramatically lowered production costs, an advantage the network exploited to retool production for its programming, which reaches 20 million U.S. households as well as international viewers.
“Before TriCaster, we were spending exorbitant amounts of money on our productions that required large crews,” says Phil Kubel, vice president, Digital Media & Technology, HRTV. “Now we are able to go in there with one or two or even three people and produce a better, more efficient production with the flypack,” he says, noting that HRTV produces an aggressive schedule of Thoroughbred horseracing, Western horsemanship and English riding competitions.
“We cover racing from around the world, and an average race lasts two minutes,” he says. That translates into a new race and a new story highlighting a horse, jockey, owner or trainer related to that race every few minutes.
“In horseracing, there could be live coverage from 8 to 10 tracks on any given day and each track could have up to 10 races providing up to 100 unique different stories to be told, ” says Kubel. “So, when it comes to outputting sports content, we look at ourselves as probably one of the biggest suppliers in the world.”
HRTV race productions fall into three categories: basic, day-in, day-out race coverage done with one person acting as producer, director and technical director; high-end, multi-person production for large race extravaganzas, such as the Kentucky Derby; and mid-range productions with a crew size somewhere between the two extremes.
Kubel first saw how TriCaster could reshape the economics of remote video production when it was used for basic coverage. TriCaster’s all-in-one production toolset made it possible for HRTV to rely on a single producer-director to switch video, mix audio, assist with camera setup from the switcher and even ISO record multiple cameras rather than sending several people in a large production truck to use a full complement of traditional gear.
“Now, if it is a typical remote and we are on location for several days, it’s usually just a one-man-band serving as the producer and director, switching the show and talking to talent,” says Kubel.
“This approach to production helps us keep our costs down by not sending as many people to a race, but you won’t see a difference on screen,” says Michael Canale, HRTV director of remote operations and senior producer of live productions. According to Canale, consolidating multiple production tasks into the work of a single TriCaster operator does not diminish the production quality of race coverage.
“When I am flying TriCaster by myself on a smaller show, I take four or five camera feeds from the racetrack, including a clean feed, a dirty feed (with graphics), their winner circle camera, their finish line camera and a tower camera for beauty,” says Canale. “I might have two or three of my own cameras for our talent —a paddock camera and my own winner’s circle camera.”
At the same time, a producer-director can ride audio, easily done with TriCaster’s built-in mixing panel, says Kubel. “A producer-director uses TriCaster’s audio-follow-video functionality and then breaks away when needed,” he says. “That’s worked out well for our productions.”
Even the camera setup is fast and easy, says Kubel. When the network specified its flypack components, it chose Canon XF305 prosumer HD camcorders, which—unlike broadcast cameras—make no provision for remote camera control units (CCUs). However, TriCaster eliminated the need for CCUs, says Kubel. Once the cameras have been white balanced, further calibration of their video signals is done with TriCaster, which is consistent with HRTV’s desire for keep crew size to a minimum, he says.
Building on the success of its TriCaster-based flypack, HRTV worked with Roberts Communications Network, a Las Vegas-based satellite uplink services provider, to construct two new dual-purpose, video production-satellite uplink trucks.
The vehicles, assigned to cover mid-range and premiere racing events, were designed to accommodate up to five video production personnel, including a technical director, a director, a producer, an audio operator and a replay operator. The new trucks incorporate the NewTek 3Play 4800 HD live sports production system for slow motion and instant replay, along with TriCaster 860 eight-camera models.
Ninety percent of the space in the new trucks is devoted to production equipment, including flat-panel screen monitor wall and Avid Artist standalone audio mixer, centered on TriCaster 860 and 3Play, says Kubel. “These trucks were designed to handle everything from the Breeders’ Cup to the Kentucky Derby, awards shows, you name it.”
For races covered with the new trucks, HRTV uses 3Play to capture and replay various isolated camera angles of critical race action, says Kubel. “You want to replay that angle as quickly and easy as possible to show the viewer what occurred,” he says. “If a horse is coming around the turn and makes a move, you have to make sure you have the ISO camera at the specific angle for replay. The 3Play for us is critical in that regard.”
HRTV’s restructure away from traditional approaches to a much more efficient TriCaster-centric methodology is paying big dividends for network, says Kubel.
“TriCaster has changed the way we do production in the sense that it has allowed us to reduce the cost of our remotes while upgrading picture quality and improving workflow,” says Kubel.
Kubel credits TriCaster–both onboard its new production trucks and with the flypack– with producing big enough savings to accommodate a full-time employee in Canaleas as director of remote operations and still reduce HRTV’s overall production expenses.
“That’s how much we are saving,” he says. “Michael is now dedicated full–time to getting these trucks on the road and the flypack out there to meet our production demands.”
“I have taken on this new remote operations role, and it is in part due to the savings from TriCaster and in part because of the more efficient workflow we have deployed in these new trucks from Roberts Communications,” says Canale.
“Every time I use it, I push the gas pedal a little bit more,” he says. “As we learn even more about what TriCaster can do, I can see HRTV accomplishing even more with our race coverage.”