One of the things that I have worn as a badge of honor since I began teaching is finding ways to impress the “not so informed” with shiny things during our broadcasts.
One year, we set our broadcast setup on the concourse of the stadium so those in attendance could see what we do. Having the ability to do a studio show on the field has helped bolster that feeling greatly. We have used a magnum cable set up from Tactical Fiber Systems for a while now and I fall in love with it more every time we use it.
Our football broadcasts have grown tremendously in the last 5 years and most during the last two seasons. Last season we partnered with the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism Sports Media Certificate program and our broadcasts exploded in terms of professional quality. Last year we added a studio show for pregame, halftime, and post game. The show always lacked something because we were not able to be anywhere “cool.” The show was always thrown into a corner (and usually against a cinder block wall). This year though we have been able to really expand our horizons with the addition of the fiber optic cables. Our studio show can not be done on the field which adds a tremendous amount of power to the visuals. We can now have the players warming up in the background along with the other sites and sounds that most viewers expect from a professional quality broadcast.
Before we got the fiber, we tried several things to be able to pull of sideline shots. The problem was always technology. We tried wireless video and audio but the difference in latency between the two made the shots unwatchable. We tried running coax but running an addition 4 or 5 500 ft cables became more than I was interested in dealing with every Friday night. We have a 500 ft cable with magnum ends (totally the way to go!!) that we use for our shows now. First off, the cable and the reel weight about 4 lbs. Think about what a 500 ft coax would weigh. Now think about what TWO 500 ft coax (send/receive) and Two 500 ft XLR cable (send/receive) would weigh. Two channel fiber replaces all of those cables at a fraction of the weight and size.
Our setup is fairly simple in terms of the the technology. We are using a BlackMagic Design ATEM Studio Converter in our production area and a camera converter at our studio location. In the production area, we have a SDI cable run from the studio converter into our switcher. At the remote end, we have a camera with HDMI out run into the camera converter. The audio for the show is run through a simple mixer into the camera. Also on the remote end, we have the program feed coming from the camera converter to a monitor TV via HDMI. The monitoring abilities alone are worth the price of the equipment (which isn’t as much as you would think). Our studio shows include replays and highlights so it is imperative that the host and analyst be able to see the program feed in order to speak on what the viewer is seeing. At the production end, our TD can mix the field level audio into the broadcast through the ATEM software. The TD can also work in additional ambient audio as needed. This helps to sell the broadcast as professional because when you watch a football broadcast you expect to hear certain things like the band, people talking, whistles, etc.
Adding the fiber to our broadcast has allowed us to increase our production value outside of the studio show. We now have a reliable signal for our sideline reporter. In the past we used a wireless microphone and shot them from the high mid camera positions but there is a lot of quality loss with that set up - meaning we look amatuer. During the game, we simply turn the camera away from the studio show table (different angle on the field) and the sideline reporter can work from there. Having the field level location also allows us to have access to players and coaches during our shows. We typically talk with the head coach on the way into the locker room at halftime and the coach and a player after the game. This is the one thing that we get a ton of feedback on from our viewers. This is what they say takes our shows to another level.
As I am writing this, I asked myself “why is this important to my readers?” First, I believe fiber optics are a great conversation to be had because they are something that most of our students will experience when they enter the live production world. Fiber is just starting its life cycle in production. As a teacher, fiber allows you to do more. As soon as we laid our first fiber run, I wanted another cable because I thought of 10 more things I wish we could do. My next purchase will actually be a 4 channel fiber so we can run the cable to the top of the press box and not have to carry our entire production set up to the top of the bleachers and up the additional stairs into the pressbox. We spend about an hour each week simply carrying the equipment to the pressbox. I can’t imagine what I would do with another hour of time prior to our shows.
For those of you that have made it this far and don’t do sports, don’t think the only use for fiber is sports. I plan to rewire our entire studio to fiber. “Non-tactical” fiber is extremely inexpensive and for permanent installs will do what you need with no problems. I also plan to wire our two studios together with fiber so we can use the “green screen” studio for weather reports, etc. Fiber can also be used to run distances between your production area and backstage at drama events or even to the front of house to get some tighter angles on the production. You imagination is the only limit for what you can do with fiber. It’s small enough that taping it for walkways is a breeze.
Tom White is a video production teacher at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers. GA. Tom is also the director of the Sports Broadcast Institute, which is One of Five Georgia Governor’s Innovation in Education award winning programs and the NFHS Network Best Overall Program. The Sports Broadcast Institute works to produce live broadcasts, newscasts, sports documentaries and more for the Three schools, Rockdale Co, Salem, and Heritage High schools, that the career academy serves. Prior to teaching, Tom was a marketing, promotions, and online content director for a major radio corporation in Atlanta. Tom studied exercise science at High Point University prior to his radio career. Despite his winding career path, his mother still thinks he is special.