Case Study: Pittsburgh Penguins Use TriCaster to Feed Fans’ Demand for Video
by Brian Leopold, NewTek Contributing Writer
While it may not be the gritty manufacturing hub it once was, there is no denying that Pittsburgh is a hockey town right down to the depths of its blue-collar soul. Something about the combination of bruising hits and fast-paced, ice-bound action seem to strike a chord with the city’s post-industrial fan base. Over the years, the Penguins haven’t disappointed, winning three Stanley Cup championships since 1990 and 8 division crowns.
But far removed from the cheering crowds and bright lights of the arena, at the end of a darkened corridor deep within the huge facility, is the Penguins’ media office. Hidden away behind a non-descript door, a bank of florescent lighting instruments surge to life, illuminating a vest-pocket production studio where the Penguins’ production staff is undertaking a daily battle against a hungry opponent, the ever-growing desire of their fans for information about the team.
Several years ago, the Penguins’ media staff began to realize that their fan base was changing. The team’s supporters were no longer content to confine their love of the team to hockey nights alone. Penguins’ fans were demanding inside information about their team around the clock, seven days a week, and not just words printed on the team’s website. The fans wanted highly produced, informative video content, delivered at lightning speed, and on-demand.
“We are trying to satisfy the constant demands of our fan base,” says Penguins’ Senior Director of Production and Media Planning, Rod Murray. “They want access. They want constant information, and the latest updates on the team as fast as we can provide it.”
And that was the genesis of PensTV, a web-based production service that provides video content for this new generation of information hungry fans. The Penguins in-house production staff has created a variety of program segments for PensTV, including game highlights, in-depth scouting reports on upcoming opponents, locker room interviews with coaches and players, and features about the team, all designed with the fans in mind. “They want to know everything there is to know about their team, and we take it upon ourselves to give it to them,” says Penguins’ Producer, Meghan MacManimon as she prepares the studio to tape another web-based segment. “Things that are happening on the ice, off the ice, things that are trending… We like to neatly package it and give it to our fans.”
Utilizing a variety of virtual sets, every PensTV production has it’s own unique look, despite the fact that all four shows originate from a studio barely big enough to contain a small anchor desk, a few lights, and a single camera. At the heart of the PensTV production facility is the Penguins’ NewTek TriCaster model 8000.
TriCaster 8000 is a video content publishing hub with eight simultaneous live HD and/or SD video inputs; five integrated digital media players, including two digital disk recorders; eight fully configurable M/E channels with re-entry, real-time motion tracking and effects support; four downstream keyer channels, and four additional key layers per M/E bus; plus 3-D and TransWarp effects support.
“We chose TriCaster for one primary reason, its versatility associated with its cost,” Murray says from the compact control room adjacent to the studio. “For the most part, a single operator can sit here and give an action cue to the talent over there in the studio and do all the pre-rolls and the other graphics that need to be laid into each production from a single operator set-up. It works really, really well.”
TriCaster Provides A Variety of Production Environments within a Small Space
“Hello again everyone. I’m Celina Pompeani for PensTV, and this is your Verizon Game Day Report.” Within the green-screen studio, anchor Celina Pompeani reads copy off the teleprompter on a virtual set that combines high-quality animated graphics with a setting that makes it appear as if she’s perched in the uppermost reaches of the arena. In the production control room adjoining the vest-pocket studio, Producer McManimon sits in front of the TriCaster, as Pompeani introduces the segment and throws to a pre-produced report recorded in Los Angeles, where the team’s next game will be played.
The “Game Day Report” is produced before every home or away game throughout the NHL’s long season and provides the Penguins Nation with essential team information designed to generate excitement and build fan interest for that day’s game. It’s one of four recurring segments produced by the PensTV staff. In addition to “Game Day Report,” PensTV also produces a scouting report for the team’s next upcoming opponent, a piece that highlights the Penguins “Keys to Victory” in their next game, and a lighter, feature segment known as “Pens Trends.”
The TriCaster’s ability to utilize virtual set backgrounds figured heavily into the Penguins’ decision to purchase a TriCaster, and the unit gives PensTV the versatility they need at a compelling price point. “Here at the arena, production is not our first forte, so the space you get is limited,” Murray says. “We only have one virtual set environment to work with, so it was pretty important to create custom treatments for each program, otherwise you run the risk of everything looking the same.”
Producer McManimon is also effusive in her praise the TriCaster’s versatility. “We can produce all these pieces with this one system. We’re very lucky. We can have multiple virtual sets, so within this one small studio, we can take you to so many virtual locations without ever leaving the space.”
Providing Information at Lightning Speed
Later that afternoon, with the NHL trade deadline looming, the Penguins make two blockbuster deals hoping to improve their chances to return to the Stanley Cup finals. Once the trades are done, Penguins General Manager, Jim Rutherford hurries to the microphone in the team’s media center to explain the blockbuster deals to the assembled cameras and reporters. Accessing a remote camera via one of the many video junction boxes located throughout the arena, Penguins New Media Video Producer, Mark Cottington slides into the operator’s chair in the team’s control facility and uses the TriCaster to live-stream the press conference over the team’s website. The interview room is packed with video cameras as Rutherford highlights each trade and answers questions about the pluses and minuses of the teams’ new members. Despite all the cameras present in the media center, PensTV, turns out to be the only media outlet providing a live signal from the press conference. It’s just another example of how the TriCaster allows the Penguins to connect with their fans and provide the latest information at lightning speed.
Speed is one of the main reasons the Penguins chose TriCaster, and Cottington is especially proud of the team’s ability to turn-around content quickly, the “Game Day Reports” being a case in point. Thanks to TriCaster, the regularly recurring segment is able to go from concept to air within a matter of hours. “It’s a two-and-a half hour window where all the interviews with players are done and I go straight into production mode,” Cottington says. “I’m able to accomplish that with TriCaster, because I can route everything where I need it and produce my feature as fast as possible, while still realizing the quality I’m looking for.”
TriCaster Delivers Quality, Speed, and Cost-Efficiency
According to Senior Director Murray, the Penguins’ decision to purchase TriCaster was motivated by three driving factors; the high quality of image the unit produces, the speed with which content can be pushed out over the internet, and the cost-efficiency of TriCaster. “Marketing is evolving very rapidly to a social-media-type world,” Murray says. “Our fans want information now. They want content now. At the same time, this department prides itself on the quality aspect and how that represents our brand at the highest levels.”
This combination of quality, speed and cost-efficiency has also attracted the interest of local advertisers to the Penguins’ specially produced content, allowing the team to realize added revenue. Several of the regularly occurring elements on PensTV are sponsored by major Pittsburgh corporate entities. “We are strong believers in monetization of our programming,” Murray says. “Our strong, synergized partners are a huge part of our brand, and our partners want to be tied to the impact programming we have, and program elements that have been developed around relevant, compelling content.”
The TriCaster’s user-friendly interface allowed operators to get up to speed quickly, and according to Murray, the production unit began to see results from TriCaster almost right out of the box. “We started this thing with people that that had never messed with this before. They learned it quickly. The unit keys easily and it was user-friendly.”
As game time approaches, and the Consol Energy Center begins to fill with enthusiastic, demonstrative Penguins’ fans, the production arm of PensTV prepares itself to once again feed the hungry beast, their faithful fan base. During the game, the staff will use TriCaster to strip big plays from the game broadcast and send them out over the internet. Then, once the game is over, the crew will renew their quest to provide the fan base with more insider information in an effort to set the table for the team’s next game. There will be more reports to be produced and press conferences to be live-streamed, and armed with their TriCaster 8000, the PensTV video staff stands ready to meet the ongoing challenge of satisfying this insatiable desire.
“As a piece of equipment, we’re constantly learning what (TriCaster) can do,” Murray says, “and what else it can do that we haven’t begun to apply yet.”