Case Study: The Maverik Center ‘Ices’ Live Broadcasts With New Video Production Lineup
by Karen Moltenbrey, NewTek Contributing Writer
Since opening nearly two decades ago, the Maverik Center in Salt Lake Valley, Utah, has hosted numerous entertainment and sporting events, as well as graduation ceremonies for a local college. It is also where the Utah Grizzlies, an ECHL minor-league hockey team, plays their home games (more than 36 a season in addition to playoffs).
The crowds there are kept entertained and informed, thanks to the efforts of Desi Barton, who runs the venue’s video control room – on a “minor-league” budget. For years she got the job done by feeding visuals through a Panasonic AG-MX70 digital audio-video mixer and outputting the video and graphics on two large screens above the arena floor, as well as on televisions located in the private viewing suites and concourse area. However, when the challenge arose to broadcast some games live to television, a different solution – but still an economic one – was required to handle the new workflow.
“Before one of the Grizzlies games, [management] came to me and said they wanted to do TV games. I thought, ‘Oh, man!’ It can be challenging and expensive,” says Barton. After some research and discussion, she felt that for a small investment, the crew could buy a few more pieces of equipment and do the broadcasts from the production room. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she adds.
After careful consideration, a new switcher and replay system were selected for the revised workflow, which included the in-house visuals for the arena, suites, and concourse, as well as the live broadcast and online streaming.
Barton assumed the broadcast would be a small show, “not that big of a deal.” But when she met with the KMYU television station crew, she discovered they were looking for more than just video of the games: They wanted a pre-show, a 20-minute intermission segment, and more. “I thought, Oh my goodness, this is going to be a full-on television production,” she recalls.
Initially, management wanted to invest in a Grass Valley switcher. Instead, for about the same price, they bought a NewTek TriCaster 8000 and a 3Play 330 replay system – which together, says Barton, can do so much more: play videos, do replay effects, multi-channel, multi-format source recording, audio mixing, full-color, animated transitions with alpha channel and embedded audio, mix-and-match I/O, and more. “This was definitely the best choice for us considering all the equipment features and the price,” Barton says.
First Period: Video Production Overhaul
Prior to the introduction of live broadcasts, the production work at the Maverik Center entailed sending video and graphics through the older Panasonic switcher to the screens and televisions around the facility. Other equipment included a PC running Microsoft’s PowerPoint and Arkaos’ GrandVJ real-time video-mixing software, used for organizing in-house video clips for play-out on the screens via the switcher.
It’s been nearly two years now since the new workflow was implemented at the Maverik Center, with the new, portable live-production system handling the work of multiple equipment for tasks such as recording, encoding, switching, sub-mixing, playback, audio mixing, DVE, live streaming, and much more. It supports eight simultaneous live video sources in multiple resolutions, frame rates, and connection types. This is especially useful for the Maverik Center, where the TriCaster sends out content in standard definition (4:3 aspect ratio) to the arena screens and to the televisions (4:3 aspect ratio, 720×480 enhanced definition) to the HD televisions in the suites and concourse; the live broadcast is output at 16:9 for HDTV.
For a typical in-house production today, output from four Canon XL2 miniDV camcorders are fed into the all-in-one system via a composite signal. The video is then switched and played on the screens, as well as streamed to NeuLion Internet television. Two Windows-based computers running PowerPoint and GrandVJ feed in-house video clips through the older standard-definition 4:3 switcher or, for cleaner graphics, through the network into Net 1 and Net 2 of the new production hub. Approximately 40 to 50 video clips are organized in GrandVJ and played on the large arena screens during each game.
For games that are broadcast live, four additional cameras are introduced – three GoPros (two for the penalty box and one in the player locker room) and a Sony EX1 in a suite for intermissions with announcers. A NetMedia VS4x1 video switch feeds into the TriCaster, resulting in a total of 12 inputs.
Second Period: Replay and More
Working in conjunction with the production system is the turnkey 3Play, a multi-channel SD/HD solution for instant replay, slow motion, in-game highlights, and more. During a typical game, the production crew provides 10 to 20 replays, showing goals, fights, checks, hits, saves, and other exciting moments on the ice, using three cameras in the replay workflow. “We try to put up graphics during stoppage. It’s challenging to get the replays up because we go to a lot of sponsor elements,” Barton explains.
In addition, the replay system is used for clipping fan, coach, and play shots, and exporting the clips for upload by the television station and highlight usage. The interactive dashboard lets the group perform the functions of the control surface from the replay interface, using on-screen controls that include playback speed presents, mark in/mark out, and transport.
Because of the tight integration between the production and replay systems, the Maverik Center crew can do replay effects and play multiple clips from the TriCaster. For instance, the team is able to implement a replay effect, a “swoosh” flyover graphic from the production system, and then start the replay. “The replay effects are awesome,” says Barton, noting that with other setups, the box that works with the switcher handling replay effects can easily cost $20,000. “Here, it’s all built in. I can just hit a button and do a replay effect directly in the same equipment that I switch from. We can build tiny packages and cue up the setup on the fly before the play is even done.”
This new setup is a far cry from the previous replay process involving a Sony DVCPro deck, a single channel for fast-forward, and a DNF controller for slow-motion playback, along with a program feed into Apple Final Cut Pro and live capturing so Barton could send out highlights to various outlets – a process that was cumbersome and limiting.
The graphics for the live broadcasts are generated via LiveText and ingested by the system via Net 1 and sent out with the TV feed. These include a package, title bug, score bug, and lower-third sponsorships. Meanwhile, live audio is prepared on a 16-channel mixer and sent to the system, where it is combined with the videos for a final mix of embedded SDI audio and video that is sent to the uplink truck outside the venue and then on to the television station for the live feed.
“We stream live. We can send multiple outputs – we can do a show in HD or SD, or down-convert an HD signal to SD. We can also record programs and cameras to a hard drive, and play video clips,” says Barton. “The system does it all.”
Third Period: Game Plans
A typical game production at the Maverik Center can get hectic. Barton arrives approximately four hours before game time. The graphics are usually made, and she moves them to GrandVJ, PowerPoint, and the production system. Then she shoots and edits the coach interview, which is shown on the in-house screens. When the rest of the crew arrives, they set up and adjust the cameras. After a production meeting, any last-minute issues are addressed. At 6 pm, the doors open, and about a half hour later, the crew rolls the flying puck video and the players hit the ice for their warm-ups.
Six others (some recruits from the local high schools) assist Barton during the in-house productions, resulting in a crew comprising a director/TD, graphics, replay, and four camera operators. For the live broadcasts, the team expands to a dozen people: two audio operators, a TV graphics person, director, and production manager who communicates with the television station in and out of breaks via telephone.
While audiences and players get a rest during the period intermissions, the production crew does not. “We export clips from the first period for highlights. I put them on a USB, bring them onto my laptop, and then upload them to the TV station and e-mail the stations with a rundown of what I sent them. The same happens after the second period. I export clips so they [at the TV station] can start editing them,” explains Barton.
Overtime: Future Events
Even though the Maverik Center video productions have become more complex since installing the new equipment, everything has been running smoothly. “I haven’t had an engineer in here since 2013, when we put the equipment in,” Barton notes. “If there’s an issue, I can trace it back and fix it. I’ve had to change connectors on cables, but that’s about it. And that’s to be expected.”
While the live broadcasts prompted the new workflow, the new equipment has enabled the production crew to step up their own game at the various Maverik Center events. “In May, we did a Westminster College graduation, where we used HD JVC cameras and streamed to the school’s website and to the big screen [in the arena],” Barton says. The event was even bigger than usual, as Actor Robert Redford spoke at the commencement. “We produced a full-HD show that was really different from what we usually do, but we didn’t have to buy or rent any new equipment, just a drive and a few HD cameras. Our production system was able to handle everything else,” Barton adds.
There is some risk, though, of having one piece of equipment as the centerpiece of the studio’s operations. “We are relying on it to do a lot, so if the audio input would die in the middle of a broadcast, for instance, we can’t broadcast,” Barton says. “We rely on it to work flawlessly, so we can do our shows. It has not let us down yet.”
An upgrade to HD is slowly taking place at the Maverik Center and will be in full force this summer as the facility migrates from SD to HD cameras and adds a smaller switcher to replace the old Panasonic piece. “The TVs were just upgraded to HD, but we’re still sending SD to the big screens,” she explains.
Looking back, the prospect of taking on the additional workload of a live broadcast was daunting at first given the budget the group had to work with – something Barton is certain that others out there struggle with as well. (To this end, she would like to form a group in the near future so those facing similar hurdles can share ideas and solutions for producing compelling productions on limited budgets.) “We don’t have a big crew or big budget, but what we manage to pull off is impressive. We always manage to put on a good show,” says Barton. And, audiences and Grizzlies fans tend to agree.