Cheesehead TV on the Field
Here's how one video site brought the circus-like atmosphere of Green Bay Packers training camp to thousands of die-hard fans, with tips for successful multicamera streaming. By Corey Behnke
As the cofounder of CheeseheadTV.com, an independent website devoted to the Green Bay Packers, I’m always looking for innovative ways to engage the fanbase. We stream multiple live webcasts every week, including our flagship show Packer Transplants (or, “Two Guys Who Think They Know Something about Football”) on our Cheesehead TV livestream.com enterprise account. We have been on Livestream for more than 6 years and love it—especially the flagship product, Livestream Studio. [Full disclosure: I used to work for Livestream. Also full disclosure: I am a diehard Packers fan.]
After losing the NFC Championship by the thinnest of margins and by keeping the roster mostly intact, expectations for the Packers this season are high. Accordingly, Cheesehead TV kicked off the season by going big from the very beginning.
On the first day of Packers training camp in July, we webcast an exclusive show, live from Stillmank Brewery, our show’s beer sponsor. (Stillmank is a local Green Bay brewery that makes Wisco Disco, the first microbrew ever sold at Lambeau Field during games.) With an invitation-only audience of Packers superfans, the show’s success served as our jumping-off point to push the envelope on the rest of our training camp coverage.
Back in May, I downloaded Teradek’s Live:Air. I was intrigued by the potential to switch a show from an iPad. As a live broadcast producer, the notion of wireless streaming via multiple wireless devices sounded daunting (and just a little bit crazy), but I knew there had to be multiple use cases where this technology could have a big impact, and in some instances, even make it feasible to produce a show that would’ve been impossible otherwise.
Since we started Cheesehead TV in 2007, we’ve covered training camp using the CoverItLive live blog platform, which enables fans all over the world to interact with each other and see updates in real time with photos and text. However, CoverItLive does not have live video capability. We started with context gained from our NFL Draft coverage this year, where we incorporated both live blog and video, by streaming for 3 days from our studio with the live blog on the left side and a video player on the right side of our homepage.
Our three-camera live show, Packer Transplants, streams from Stillmank Brewery.
We contributed to the fan experience by offering a supplement to network television, and the viewer experience was clean. The two-component coverage meant the live blog would be continuous, even if the video happened to go down. For the upcoming season, we’ll build and enhance that combination method.
For those new to the ways of the Green Bay Packers, training camp is a fun and circus-like family experience that is best seen in person. In a tradition started sometime in the ‘60s during Vince Lombardi’s tenure, the players borrow bikes from Green Bay children to ride from the stadium to the practice field. It’s a great opportunity for fans to get an up-close, personal experience with the players, and it was the perfect opportunity for us to try out the Live:Air software to bring that experience to fans worldwide.
For setup, we used one iPad Air 2, one ASUS Router powered by battery and attached to a Verizon 4G-LTE card, one GoPro HERO 3+ Black connected via Teradek VidiU Mini (which our technical director, Nick Micozzi, wore on his head while he was switching on the iPad), and one Sony PMW-300 connected via Teradek VidiU Mini that received audio from a wireless handheld mic for our cofounder, Sports Illustrated NFL analyst Aaron Nagler. The iPad provided our third camera, and we added custom graphics (two-box background, lower-thirds, transparent quad grid, and slates).
The biggest challenge was choosing the router and configuring it to work with our 4G card. We chose the ASUS AC3200 because it provides two 5GHz and one 2.5GHz Wi-Fi channel, and it is made for larger-bandwidth applications. It took a little tweaking to get the router configured properly with a 4G card. (Check out our how-to video and more setup info at livex.tv/ipadstreaming.) While support techs from either company weren’t able to help, significant internet research and new login variables in the router’s USB 4G settings got us connected, after which the 4G card became plug-and-play.
Capturing the most fun part of Packers training camp, where players borrow bikes from local kids and ride them from Lambeau Field to the practice field
The second challenge was powering the router with a battery. Thankfully, retailers such as B&H Photo have many D-Tap adapters that work with various DC inputs. (Note: When trying to use this approach, check the connector sizes and power requirements of your router.)
After we had the wireless router working and connected to the internet, we connected the VidiU Minis to the iPad. iPhone and Android VidiU apps allow Wi-Fi configuration on the VidiU Minis. Using the app, we connected each Mini to our router’s Wi-Fi channel. We did the same with the iPad and launched Live:Air, on which the Minis showed up automatically as camera input sources. We then accessed the iPad’s rear-facing camera as the third source for our show.
To load graphics into Live:Air, we downloaded images from Google Drive to the iPad’s “Photos” app, from which we could add to Live:Air. Though Live:Air’s font choices are somewhat limited, we found one close to our standard show font. We used some of Live:Air’s attractive switcher features, such as picture-in-picture and multiview for our two-box and quad-box looks.
For our training camp coverage, we used audio from the Sony PMW-300 and set it up so I could control it manually. We set this in the “Audio” section of Live:Air by turning off the audio from the other cameras.
Finally, we set the output to stream to our Livestream event. When logged into our Livestream account, Live:Air loaded the available events in our account. For the encoder settings, I went with manual (the preset options are 1080p, 720p, 480p, 240p, and Manual). Because of the sub-3Mbps upload speed of our 4G card, I chose these settings:
• Resolution: 540p
• Frame rate: 30 fps
• Video Bitrate: 1000Kbps
• Audio Bitrate: 128Kbps
• Encoder Profile: Baseline
• Keyframe interval: 2 seconds
• Enable Adaptive Bitrate: Yes
In our preproduction battery of tests, all units lasted approximately 2 hours. Since all our gear had been set up for the tests, it took less than 15 minutes to start up the devices and get them dialed in and ready to stream. Because of the Live:Air’s graphics capabilities, we could go live with a slate as we walked to the practice field. While I covered practice with the Sony PMW-300 as the feature camera, Micozzi could be up to 100 feet away switching video from my camera, the iPad camera, and his head-mounted GoPro. Our viewers were blown away. For many Packers fans around the world, this kind of access was the next best thing to being there.
LiveX's live coverage workflow
The first day we streamed, we had five dropouts of the stream that I attribute to the 4G card. In each case, we recovered within seconds. Live:Air alerts you when the stream goes down, and it is as easy as pressing the “Go Live” button on the screen’s top right to restore. The second day, we streamed for almost 2 hours with only three drops. The longest uninterrupted stream time was more than an hour.
In terms of coverage, our goals were for our viewers to experience a taste of what it’s like to be a fan at training camp and also enable them to simultaneously see reactions of experts giving quick takes on the day’s practice. We used our two-box multiview extensively, showing Packers players riding the kids’ bikes to the stadium in one box, side-by-side with Nagler conducting one-question interviews of Packers beat reporters in the other box. To end each stream, we featured an exclusive in-depth interview with a reporter for a longer discussion on team developments.
Live X’s coverage team in action. (Note the six antennas on the wireless router.)
The reaction from our audience was tremendously positive. Responses on social media and on our live blog reached their highest levels of engagement.
Despite the fact that we did not extensively promote our live coverage in advance, our traffic increased 75 percent over last year, with thousands of satisfied Packers fans getting more immediate and rewarding coverage of their favorite NFL team throughout several critical, season-predicting days.
Tips and Takeaways
We had fun trying this setup, and I would definitely use it again, especially with tight coverage windows, events on the run, or when looking to add value to current coverage.
An interesting takeaway was that the live show in the brewery required more than six large pelican cases of equipment, while the Teradek Live:Air system took only a backpack and one pelican case for the PMW-300 camera (and it’s easy enough to replace the PMW-300 with a much smaller camera or even an iPhone with a mic accessory). The ability to be portable and still be live, and be able to switch multiple cameras with graphics, picture-in-picture, multiview, and on-the-fly lower-thirds elevates the coverage and changes the definition of what it means to cover live events.
This is clearly only the beginning of where wireless iPad streaming can and will go.
A two-box multiview in Livestream Studio (left) & Teradek Live:Air (right) allowed us to maintain a consistent look.
QUICK TIPS FOR WIRELESS MULTICAMERA SWITCHING AND STREAMING:
1. Configure your router with the 4G card ahead of time.
2. Bring many USB power packs to support the VidiUs, GoPro, etc., as they will allow longer life.
3. Wear earbuds to monitor audio while switching on iPad.
4. Note that dense Wi-Fi environments could present a challenge.
For more information, including all of our coverage and how-to videos, visit livex.tv/ipadstreaming.
This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Streaming media magazine.