Altitude Sports Looks To Keep Sports-Hungry Fans Engaged With Sports Social Zoom Talk Show
On-air talent, production team aim for broadcast-quality program
Altitude Sports is continuing to deliver live programming to Colorado-area sports fans — lack of live sports be damned. With the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and others on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Denver-based regional sports network has launched a daily social-media talk show dubbed Sports Social that aims to keep Rocky Mountain sports fans engaged during the sports drought.
“The idea for this started with our ownership going to the governor’s office and saying, ‘How can we help?’” says Ken Miller, EVP and GM/executive producer, Altitude Sports. “How can we reach as many fans as possible, while also helping the community in terms of getting the word out about breaking news or messaging from the governor’s office? At the same time, we were planning to do this type of show anyway in the future, and all of our sports fans are just starved to talk sports, so we decided to go for it.”
Not Just Another Sports Talk Show
The show, hosted by Altitude Sports talent, is streamed live each weekday 11 a.m.–1 p.m. MT on selected digital platforms, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and also re-airs on Altitude Sports linear TV at 5-7 p.m. Sports Social is also streamed live on the websites and social-media channels of the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Mammoth, and Altitude Sports — all owned by Altitude parent KSE (Kroenke Sports & Entertainment).
Though noting that Sports Social is certainly a sports-focused show, Miller lists its four primary goals: to educate, inform, entertain, and connect. To that end, topics on the show have ranged from promoting such causes as Food Bank of the Rockies and public health and safety to giving thanks to healthcare workers and first responders during these challenging times.
“We want to be a source not only for sports talk but also to help get the word out about how you can be helping the community,” he says. “We’re having guests on to talk about public health and how to give back to the community. We think this show will be a source for messaging on how to stay safe and give thanks to those that are having the biggest impact right now.”
Inside the Production Workflow: All About Zoom
Like so many others during quarantine, Altitude is using Zoom video conferencing to produce Sports Social. The show features a rotating cast of Altitude on-air talent: Vic Lombardi, Kyle Keefe, Katy Winge, Marc Moser, and Conor McGahey.
Nuggets producer Scott Bay and Avalanche producer Doug Menzies serve as TD/director and show producer, respectively. In addition, Altitude’s pregame-show producers put together the rundown each day, and the entire production team works together to book guests and coordinate logistics.
As TD/director, Bay hosts the meeting and controls what viewers see: toggling between gallery mode and speaker mode and selecting when to take one of the talent full-screen, bringing guests into the Zoom from a waiting room, and inserting most graphics/video playback. As producer, Menzies talks to talent and preps them for each show segment, handles video playback by sharing his screen, and manages some graphics.
“The talent can also share that screen, which has been great,” says Miller. “If a topic comes up and the talent says, ‘Oh, I saw this tweet or video this morning,’ then I can just screen-share and instantly bring it into the show.”
Guests on Sports Social are welcomed into a Zoom waiting room before being added to the video conference by the host. Thus far, interviews have ranged from local and national sports figures to KSE team executives and representatives to local business and government leaders, as well as plenty of Altitude TV/radio personalities.
Graphics and Postproduction: Bringing a Broadcast Feel to Zoom
Graphics are inserted by a graphics operator, who is at home and joins the meeting as a source. The operator covers his webcam and activates the sets for the virtual background in Zoom as the feed coming from his graphics system. This source is inserted into one of the boxes in gallery view or can appear as a full-screen graphic. Because there are no lower-third graphics since Zoom is not keyable, Altitude has placed a box on the screen displaying Sports Social branding and the name of the guest.
Because a Zoom beat can’t be sent from a computer to Facebook, the feed goes into a product called Switchboard, which distributes it across all the social platforms.
“Obviously, Zoom isn’t necessarily a broadcast tool,” Miller explains, “but the team has been amazing in helping us create what is as close to a television show as possible. We can’t do a true lower-third, but we think the graphics look really good considering we’re doing the entire show in Zoom.”
As for Altitude’s postproduction operation, all the editors are working from home now, and they can remotely access content in the media-asset–management system. With this access, they produce a variety of segments for Sports Social.
“They are going to start creating more [historical-content] packages, like the top-10 Avalanche goals of the year. We are also hoping to put together some inspirational stories and features with the players and coaches.”
Switchboard Cloud Handles Mass Social Distribution
The final program feed from Zoom is routed into a LiveU transmission unit and sent to the Switchboard Cloud multi-stream live-video platform. The signal is also recorded at the Altitude Network Operations Center in Centennial just outside Denver and uploaded to the server for playback on the linear network at 5-7 p.m.
Although no commercials are included in the live stream, Altitude inserts spots during the linear telecast. The insertion is handled by a master-control operator at ANOC, the only person physically at the facility.
“When we’re live,” says Miller, “our hosts will just pause and say, ‘For those watching on Altitude TV, we’re going to take a short timeout’ and then go right back into the show. Later on, all the commercials are inserted in master control.”
Looking Ahead: Sports Social Continues To Evolve
Sports Social debuted on Monday, March 30 and has been running Monday-Friday in the weeks since. According to Miller, the style of the show continues to evolve each day, and the technical quality also continues to improve as the crew becomes more familiar with the format.
“We’re looking to improve all the time — whether it’s better graphics, LEDs for lighting, or lav mics for audio,” he says. “It has really been a fun challenge to do an entire show from home with no studio support whatsoever. We’re going to keep getting better with every episode and work with technology to enhance the show as much as possible.”