Q&A With Jef Kethley of LiveSports

By Ned Soseman

Jef Kethley is president of LiveSports, LLC. Three years ago, his company spun off from longtime NewTek friend and reseller PIZAZZ, to exclusively handle the growing live sporting event production work his organization was doing. We interviewed Jef for a recent story about using NDI in live sports productions covering professional tennis tournaments. In this follow-up piece, we asked Jef to share more of his live-sports IP production knowledge and his vision of the future.

TriCaster Streaming

Q: Do you stream directly from the TriCaster streaming IP output during the heat of live production?

Jef: We do indeed. Since we have multiple destinations for our feeds, we use the TriCaster as one encoder and as many as 4 other purpose-built encoders via the HD-SDI outputs of TriCaster. We use all 4 outputs of the TriCaster to feed the different destinations. Some are clean-feed outputs, some are with standard graphics, and some are with alternative graphics for branding purposes.

Q: Does using internal HD TriCaster streaming slow down live video production?

Jef: I have always like the high quality we can get out of the TriCaster’s streaming encoder. The simplicity of having the streaming built in has always been a good thing to have at our fingertips. Having one less machine to tote around is always a good thing.

Q: What outboard streaming hardware works best for you? Why not use a stand-alone streamer to give the TriCaster some breathing room?

Jef: At times we do use other encoders, especially when we feed ESPN. They like the Fujitsu hardware encoders because it is part of their standard workflow. Otherwise, we use whatever we need to in order to fit the need present.

Q: Which streaming service hosts work best for you and why?

Jef: Most of our distribution is on the LiveStream backbone due to distribution agreements already in place with our main clients. We also have our own custom Wowza Media server implementations for events also. Currently, we have Wowza server distribution in the Amazon Cloud but we have already ordered the new NewTek MediaDS units to use in our NOC.

Q: How many IP and HDMI/SDI sources are previewable on TriCaster screens?

Jef: We use a 50-inch 4K monitor for the multiviewer in our bus setup and frequently fill up all of the available spots with inputs. Any given event we are using 6-8 HD-SDI inputs and all 4 NDI inputs.

NewTek Solutions

Q: What TriCaster models do you use? What control surface?

Jef: We use TriCaster 860’s and 460’s, 3Play 425 units for replay. We have the 860 Control Surfaces in play mostly for hands-on control with custom XKeys 16 button strips to fire frequently used Macros.

We also use iPads with TouchOSC to remotely control the TriCaster and fire macros too. There are times where we are using the one TriCaster to produce 2 courts simultaneously with 3-4 cameras per court. An iPad allows us to off load that to another operator instead of the Technical Directors having to sit on top of each other’s laps.

Q: Are you using 3Play? Does it take a second operator?

Jef: We use 3Play extensively. Mostly it is used in a 2-channel output configuration with the two ground camera follow shots selected. The TD can quickly reach over and roll the jog wheel back to the point he wants and with a macro button press orchestrate our custom DVE transition and roll the replay. We use it with both output channels locked so we can easily do a 2-angle look all with a few simple button presses. Sometimes we use a dedicated replay operator but the majority of the time the TD is responsible.

Audio

Q: Do you mix audio on a separate console or do you use the TriCaster exclusively for audio mixing?

Jef: A few events a year we use the TriCaster for all the audio mixing. Because all of our audio is Dante audio on the network, it is very easy to integrate into the TriCaster and patch/select what we need from any of the courts onsite.

The majority of the time though we use a Soundcraft Expression with Dante in the bus. Our announcer mics, talent mics, natural sound, and communication belt-packs mics are all in the Dante world. Expression allows us to route the audio anywhere and everywhere we need it.

At times, we even feed powered speakers via Dante from the bus so that when we go to commercial breaks the audio is playing on the LED Scoreboards for the sponsor’s ads. All of this is easily possible using the macro module in TriCaster.

The Right People

Q: Have you developed relationships with NewTek leaders?

Jef: We have had a long relationship with NewTek, more than 20 plus years now. Just about everyone at NewTek knows us. That is invaluable.

I’ve enjoyed a Penn and Teller show with Tim Jenison and Jim Plant, while another time I had a great dinner with Dr. Andrew Cross at Rudy’s.

Q: What upgrade suggestions have you made to NewTek? Were they used?

Jef: I cannot count the number of suggestions we have made to NewTek over the years. One of the main reasons we stick with NewTek is because they actually do listen and implement the features we need out in the trenches.

It always makes me smile when I run across something in the TriCaster that I had input on. It is great to know that we have a part in the development of the product. NewTek doesn’t just make something and say ‘here use this,’ they listen to their users and make things we need.

The Future is 4K IP

Q: What are your thoughts on 4K?

Jef: Funny you should ask. We are in the midst of a complete refit of our complete production workflow to become completely 4K compatible from Lens to the Encoder. Our main client has asked us to start producing in 4K as early as January if possible.

We have been working fervently the last few months on a 4K workflow. We are watching closely what NewTek is going to bring to the table in the 4K realm. We already are looking into expanding into an IP Series upgrade from the existing TriCasters in the buses.

Hopefully, 4K over NDI is going to happen soon for us to move everything into. The new Panasonic 4K cameras we will be using will be mounted on IP controllable pan/tilt robotic heads. We do mostly all outdoor events and these cameras will be controlled from the production bus instead of our operators cooking in the sun. There is even the possibility of remote control of the cameras from our NOC or practically anywhere we have internet connectivity. NDI is a big part of making that happen.

The Future of Live Video Production

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of live video production

Jef: The future of live video production is without a doubt video over IP. The guys out there stuck on using old school hardware converters and point-to-point wiring are just going to be left behind. The ability to drop a camera with a short cable practically anywhere on-site is just outstanding.

A couple weeks ago we were at a venue with network drops everywhere, instead of running a fiber home run from a camera 900′ feet away, we jumped onto the network port 10′ behind us and picked up the camera over NDI. That is a game changer. It literally took us less than 10 minutes to setup the camera feed. Time is money, of course. NDI is not only removing some hardware costs but also labor costs too.

Another way we are saving costs with video over IP is sharing some of the production responsibilities with remote operators. We have been using and testing NDICloud also to be able to link up our different events to the home office Network Operations Center (NOC).

We have been using TeamViewer for years to remotely operate our graphics and other systems. NDICloud now allows us to have those hardware pieces back at the NOC and just feed the CG’s NDI to the TriCaster complete with Alpha channel.

We have all our events linked up together over VCOM (our favorite comms over IP solution). It doesn’t matter if the graphics operator is next to the TD in the bus or across the country, they are on the same page every step of the way with instant communications and NDI output to the Program.

We are also deploying a remote Commentator solution using a combination of NewTek’s TalkShow and NDICloud (from Sienna) to feed the remote Commentator a program feed for them to call the event with. This brings another great cost savings to our productions without having to fly in and out commentators when they can just watch the feeds we are giving them and we add their audio into the production remotely.

Depending on the bandwidth available at the Commentator’s home office, we will deploy a TalkShow or use NDICloud to link up. We will even have a camera feed from the commentator in front of a green screen to place in a virtual set.  So you can see, we definitely have embraced video over IP already, but I still feel like we are just getting started.

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