Written By: Imry Halevi
Assistant Director of Athletics, Multimedia and Production, at Harvard University
Our mission in providing broadcasts of Harvard sporting events goes a bit beyond traditional use cases when looking at multi-camera video production in live sport. The live streams of our sporting events share the same goals of Harvard’s communication department as a whole. Those are:
- Tell the Harvard story to the world
- Preserve Harvard history through this storytelling
The reality at Harvard is that we may have a future president of the United States of America competing in basketball, water polo, rowing, or tennis. John F. Kennedy played football here. Politicians, judges, directors, actors, inventors and humanitarians are common among our alumni – and more than a few of them took part in Harvard athletics.
Due to this pedigree, we have a duty as custodians of history to document as many games and competitions as possible. That is why my department is tasked with the broadcast of 32 of our 42 Division I sports. We produce more than 300 individual broadcasts every year from the following sports:
- Women’s Basketball
- Men’s Basketball
- Women’s Ice Hockey
- Men’s Ice Hockey
- Women’s Lacrosse
- Men’s Lacrosse
- Women’s Soccer
- Men’s Soccer
- Women’s Water Polo
- Men’s Water Polo
- Women’s Swimming & Diving
- Men’s Swimming & Diving
- Women’s Indoor Track & Field
- Men’s Indoor Track & Field
- Women’s Heavyweight Rowing
- Men’s Heavyweight Rowing
- Women’s Lightweight Rowing
- Men’s Lightweight Rowing
- Women’s Fencing
- Men’s Fencing
- Women’s Volleyball
- Men’s Volleyball
- Women’s Squash
- Men’s Squash
- Women’s Tennis
- Men’s Tennis
- Women’s Rugby
- Field Hockey
Although we are not financially driven in this endeavor, we must be considerate of costs. To do this, we depend on technologies that are not simply “affordable” but instead reduce the worry of downtime, minimize staffing requirements, and can utilize the infrastructure of the campus as is – that means minimizing SDI cable runs and no bringing in 55-foot-long OB trucks.
My staff in this endeavor is myself and my assistant director. We are the only full-time employees. We are lucky to have three interns working on 10-month rotations, and we also utilize students and recent graduates from other universities and colleges in the area who are looking for practical work experience. Harvard has no broadcast nor video journalism coursework. What this means practically is that all the technology we use must be intuitive-to-use and easy-to-teach.
Because of all these needs, we rely on NewTek products and, especially their NDI protocol. Not to put too fine a point on it, but without NDI this would not be possible. We are using NDI in every location and all of the time.
NDI utilizes the existing network infrastructure at Harvard to send and receive video signals used in our broadcast workflow. And, because it is a free-to-use protocol, we’re able to utilize it anywhere, at scale, and flexibly. Changes to camera positions, to the network, or to the technology in the workflow never affect the availability of our video sources.
As for our physical workflow, we have two main control rooms. The basketball control room has a TriCaster TC1 that we use for broadcast production and a TriCaster 860 we use for the video board. Because we are working in the same network environment, we can easily and quickly utilize video sources for both our streaming production and our in-house AV build out. For example, a NewTek 3Play 4800 instant replay system feeds into both TriCasters – giving instant replay to both feeds with only one operator.
We have a second control room that is used for football, lacrosse and hockey. The workflow is similar in that we utilize a TriCaster 8000 for broadcast, and a TriCaster 460 for the video boards. We also have two NewTek 3Play 4800 units in that room, allowing us to produce up to two independent broadcasts at the same time.
And while these control rooms are designated by a few sports which happen to be closest in distance, they can be used for every sport connected to the network. Using NDI means we can effectively switch/direct from either control room – no matter where the sport is taking place.
We use JVC cameras across the board – both manned cameras and PTZ. If we need to provide a feed from a location that doesn’t have fiber or SDI connectivity, we utilize NewTek Connect Spark NDI converters, which bring the feeds onto the network.
Finally, we use a TriCaster Mini as a support switcher. Having this in reserve allows for additional flexibility as we can take it to an offsite location and get it running as a sort of NDI hub, or even switch/direct the feed from the Mini onsite.
The results of this are obvious – from a practical standpoint – as the productions take place without a hitch. We are able to quickly train new staff and still ensure a professional broadcast every day. We’re hearing from fans all the time about how much they appreciate the quality of the product – whether it be football or fencing.
Additionally, we are achieving our mission of documenting Harvard’s history and sharing its student-athlete message with the world. The school looks at the results we’ve achieved on the budget we’re given and they know we’ve accomplished something amazing.