Archive for September, 2011

Prose on Pros: Using Monday Night Football to improve your broadcast

There’s a reason Monday Night Football is one of the longest running series in prime time television today, and it’s not just because it’s usually a salivating NFL match up (though that certainly doesn’t hurt anything).

The broadcast is good. Really good. And it’s been that way for a long time. So, while you’re not going to have the resources or manpower to turn your broadcast into a MNF-quality production, it’s still a good place to go when you want to get some ideas to improve your own broadcast. Let’s take a look at some of the things MNF does well, and some areas on which they could improve, to help better our own broadcasts.

One thing the brand has always been associated with is legendary commentators. From the beginning MNF has had legendary play-by-play announcers and larger-than-life color personalities. Of course, the brand hasn’t been without a few missteps in this area (try as we might we still can’t forget the Dennis Miller experiment), but the current commentary team with Mike Tirico calling the play-by-play along with Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski doing analysis is a strong group.

There’s plenty for broadcasters to learn from this team, but one area in which Tirico excels is in letting his color guys shine. More often than not a three-man booth is a little crowded, and that’s still the case at times, but Tirico plays it to its strengths by setting up opportunities for Gruden and Jaws, who clearly know their NFL, to voice their opinions and sometimes get into mini-debates without taking too much away from the game. When working with a color commentator, it’s important to know their strengths and figure out how to utilize them. Giving them the right lead-in can make the difference between a good broadcast and a fantastic one. Again, the three-man booth isn’t always a good thing, and you probably don’t need more than two commentators for any given event.

Another element of MNF that has been top-notch for many years is the production. Again, this is in large parts because of the massive amount of resources ESPN (and ABC before that) devote to the show, but there’s still an opportunity to take something from this element of the broadcast. While transposing graphics onto the field such as the down and distance and the now-ubiquitous yellow first down line might not be an option, you can take some cues from ESPN’s scoreboard. The scoreboard does take up a lot of screen real estate, but most viewers won’t mind since it manages to be both unobtrusive and visually appeasing. We’ve seen many of our clients experimenting with different scoreboards and some of the best looking are those that imitate MNF, staying on the bottom of the screen to avoid interfering with any of the on-screen action.

And there’s this:

Even if you can’t get Hank Williams Jr., it might be worth exploring making some sort of intro. Many of our clients have some intros that, similar to MNF, pump up the viewer and get them excited about the impending broadcast. These can be kind of a bear to produce, but once you get it down it’s something that always has your broadcast looking classy.

Those are a few suggestions drawn from Monday Night Football. There are plenty more to glean from MNF and other professional-level broadcasts. Most in this industry are working in sports because of the passion for the games. Next time you sit down and watch a game as a neutral, try and think of your own product and what ideas you can take from their broadcasts and apply to their own. It’s one of the best ways to better your product.


09 2011

3 habits of a highly successful broadcaster

What makes for a successful web broadcast? While not exactly a straightforward question with a straightforward answer, there are a lot of things that factor in, most of which involve the actual on-air product (I touched on some of them in an earlier blog entry). For the purposes of today’s entry however, I want to focus on some of the habits exhibited by our clients with an extremely low instance of “trouble” broadcasts. As the origination source for roughly 700-1000 broadcasts each week, we have seen our fair share of events here at Stretch – from lectures on the removal of femoral arterial lines to field hockey in Wellesley, Massachusetts all the way to tractor pulling in Chapel Hill, Tennessee. The main goal of our staff is to ensure that every broadcast gets off and running – and if there are problems, you can bet we’re picking up the phone and trying to reach someone who can remedy the issue (as many of our clients can attest to). Think of us as the Mighty Ducks in D2 and trouble broadcasts are team Iceland. We’ve spent many-a-lunch-break perfecting the knuckle puck and yelling “It’s knuckle puck time!”

That may be an exaggeration… we say “it’s knuckle puck time” in a very reasonable, indoor-appropriate voice.

Given that we work with as many broadcasts as we do, we’ve noticed consistent practices that generally increase the odds of a successful broadcast. Many things can cause a broadcast to go south, e.g. a finicky phone line, a power outlet not supplying power, a computer that’s acting like an adolescent (actual technical term), or a broadcaster that chased a Snickers bar with three Red Bulls 20 minutes prior to air-time (still working on a fix for this one). The key to avoiding these issues is to identify them as early as possible and that’s where my ‘3 habits of a highly successful broadcaster’ come in to play.

1. Testing… testing… 1, 2, 3
Testing is always a good thing. Test early, test often. We are always here to take your calls and test your audio and/or video stream. From there we can adjust volume, troubleshoot any issues and make sure that your broadcast goes smoothly. We have a handful of clients that, generally speaking, never have problems with their events. Yet they still call us, without fail, 30-60 minutes prior to every broadcast. They call to make sure we’re getting their feed and that everything is a go. This is what we want. We run around the office giving high fives every time we have a successful A/V check. A great sports journalist once said that athletes had a tendency to get luckier the harder they worked (might have made up the great sports journalist part). It seems to work the same with broadcasts – the more time you put into it, the less likely that your broadcast goes haywire.

2. Know your ABC’s
Meaning have a plan A, plan B and plan C… and ideally plan D, E and F. The bottom line is things will go wrong at some point. Call it Murphy’s law, call it A/V boogie monsters, call it network issues but call it something and be prepared for it. Have as many backup options as you can. Bring an extra phone line, an extra ethernet cable, an extra headset, an extra XLR cable – just have as many contingency plans in place as you possibly can. Many of the most popular mixers can be run on batteries for remote broadcasts – so why not keep some batteries on hand in case the power goes out? Have a cell phone that you can use to call the game in the event that your phone line is acting up. We try to create redundancy with our own network and systems, and we try to encourage our clients to do the same.

3. 3, 2, 1 contact
Even if you take care of steps 1 and 2, there is still an inherent risk that something could go wrong during the course of a broadcast. We’ve seen people trip over power cords, power go out in arenas and video cameras go into demo mode. For these and many other reasons, we are always actively monitoring events. If we see something go wrong, we pick up the phone and start calling the names on your contact list. If we can’t get a hold of the first we just keep moving down the list until we reach someone to inform them of the issue. In a perfect world, clients would have a contact available to answer their phones during events (and I wouldn’t have to write really small to fit 3 numbers on my golf scorecard). But we all know that most SIDs wear about 15 different hats, and a phone call in the middle of an event is not always ideal. This is why we ask our clients to provide contact information (in the contact info section of admin) for anyone that might be able to provide assistance during an event. This helps us in our effort to troubleshoot issues quickly and efficiently. Another great tool that helps in this pursuit is a handy little program called Teamviewer. We just started employing this screen-sharing program a few months ago, and already it has been a lifesaver. If you haven’t downloaded this program on your machine yet, shoot us an e-mail for the download link.

We appreciate you glancing over these tips, and we hope that they can help you save a broadcast in the future. Thanks everyone, as always feel free to chime in with comments!


09 2011

Fall brings football, full schedules

Don’t look now, but it’s past time to tear off another page of the calendar. Of course, in the world of college athletics that means the preparations are drawing to a close, the deadline is creeping closer.

Fall sports are about to be in full swing.

Don’t worry, there’s still time left to set up a test and ensure everything’s in its proper place, but this weekend marks the first really full slate of fall sports after what was hopefully a relaxing summer for all those working in the sports information. We know that typically the fall, while worthy of many different adjective, is rarely termed ‘relaxing.’

And yet, for so many of us, we live for times like the fall. Sure there is a heavier workload and the occasional day that makes you sit down and reconsider your career choice, but there are also plenty of amazing things about the season. Students are back on campus, the weather will start to cool down (at least we hope) and college football is back.

I’m incredibly excited for college football, both as a Stretch employee and as a massive fan of the game. This week’s kickoffs provide an unofficial start to the crazy busy season. When you see two college football teams going at it, it’s officially fall, even if the start of the season is before Labor Day.

There’s plenty of room for competitive banter, as all the guys in the office went to different schools. Several college QBs are cropping up on desktop backgrounds and there are plenty of wild Heisman (or sometimes Walter Payton Award) projections being thrown around. Luckily, there are no unreconcilable rivalries, so nobody ever seems to stay mad at each other. At least not yet.

And that’s good because it’s quite a slate ahead this season. It hasn’t been the best offseason for the sport, with more scandal in the headlines than season previews, but plenty of that goes away once there are games to be played and controversies emerge on the field rather than outside the stadium. This weekend already brings a top five game on the Division I level with LSU and Oregon meeting on a neutral site in Saturday’s marquee fixture.

Not a football fan? No worries. Fall also brings a whole slew of volleyball, soccer and a host of other sports. We like streaming pretty much anything at Stretch, after all, it’s what we do. It’s always nice to have some diversity in the events we monitor and watch during a day that might include a few minutes of field hockey here, some soccer there and the occasional tractor pull.

So, as we all prepare for this exciting time, best of luck to everyone as we enter the fall season.


09 2011