Category Archives: Blog

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Advantage Chameleon: Bannister Lake’s Data Solution Scores at the US Open  

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By Alain Savoie, Creative and Technical Director, Bannister Lake Software

The 2018 US Open celebrated its 50th year this season at the USTA Billie Jean National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, NY. Approximately 870 players took part in the two-week tournament which included 899 games played with over 700,000 spectators in attendance. Fans got a glimpse of their favorite tennis stars making history, including Naomi Osaka, the first Japanese player ever to win a Grand Slam singles championship and Novak Djokovic tying Pete Sampras’ record to become third among all-time Grand Slam champions.

While ESPN held the exclusive broadcast rights to the tournament, this was Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment’s (VWSE) sixth year of producing the video board and LED production for the main show courts & around the grounds. Marquee matches took place at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, alongside a full slate of daytime and evening matches inside the newly re-constructed Louis Armstrong Stadium and the intimate Grandstand Stadium. Van Wagner’s responsibilities included both in-stadium screen production for the 3 show courts, as well as the numerous grounds displays showcasing the matches on 16 televised courts throughout the facility.

On July 10th, approximately 5 weeks before the start of the tournament, Alain Savoie from Bannister Lake and J. Marty Dormany of The Academy of Lower Thirds were approached by Nate McCoart, Director of Technical Operations at VWSE Productions to produce a Ross Video XPression-based graphics package for the tournament.

VWSE is no stranger to XPression as they have deployed XPression Graphics Engines on numerous events over the past years, but this was their first implementation of XPression at the US Open.

“For a few years now we have been wanting to leverage XPression and the ability to render dynamic graphics in real-time for this particular project. We are thrilled that Alain was able to make that vision a reality with us this year and look forward to continuing our relationship with Bannister Lake and AcademyL3.  Without an all-star team from the designers to the operators, we would never be able to make this happen, especially given the timeline and complex nature of the project.” – Nate McCoart, Director of Technical Operations at VWSE Productions.

The project also included data integration with SMT, the tournament’s data provider. The signage around the facility included standard 16×9 video displays, ribbon boards, a vertical tower screen and an 80 foot by 12 foot “Superwall” in the South Plaza outside Arthur Ashe Stadium.  Having multiple displays with non-standard aspect ratios meant we needed to incorporate Ross’ new multi-display real-time graphics designer and controller, Tessera feature in XPression.

While in principle, creating a graphic package in 5 weeks is relatively do-able, it became far more complicated considering the tight turnaround and the method in which  SMT was going to be providing data, which included different xml files sent every second that a matches’ statistical data was being updated (roughly 200,000 xml files), we needed a solution that could handle and filter the vast amounts of data, and in turn generate a simple API that multiple XPression systems could handle.

With production taking place in 3 separate stadiums as well as on the grounds, this data feed needed to incorporate a simple call up method for any possible matches. In addition, the XPression graphic scenes would have to accommodate the variations between Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles and Doubles. These requirements were extremely complex and required a mission-critical solution quickly.

“We knew Bannister Lake’s Chameleon could handle the complexity. It’s the industry’s most powerful engine for aggregating any data type and it’s the only way we could have pulled off the US Open project under the extreme time constrictions; that and all the hard work by Alain and the team.”- Georg Hentsch , President Bannister Lake.

Chameleon software has been used for years to create and automate broadcast tickers, primarily in the Canadian media market. Chameleon’s features include aggregating and moderating feeds such as news, weather, sports, traffic, financial, elections and social media data. Its specialty has always been to generate automated rundowns and output tickers for network television and digital signage. Only recently has Chameleon been utilized for event-based productions; most notably eSports tournaments which typically includes hundreds of matches played over a short amount of time with a large number of players.

Sound familiar?

Some graphic samples were sent to our team on July 26th, and we began receiving data from SMT on Aug 8th for testing, which meant we were able to create and test scenes and scenarios. Chameleon has tight integration with Ross XPression’s API, which meant, dealing with ticker elements such as matches in-progress/scheduled/completed, along with messaging and social media, were treated as broadcast tickers, as oppose to native sequence items. However, the pressing question was: Does Chameleon’s ticker support integration with Ross’s Tessera option? This has never been tested before.

We were thrilled to discover that not only does Chameleon support Tessera, it was relatively easy to create a display solution. With only 30 minutes of playing around with the feature, we were able to quickly build large formatted scenes, populated with Chameleon data, and generate large scaled tickers for venue and in-stadium signage.

Working with VWSE, Alain Savoie has implemented the first XPression Tessera or Tessera SE project without Ross Video or one of our dealers assisting.  Tessera was created to synchronize the outputs of multiple XPression engines together to create one massive display. The first project for XPression Tessera was over 21,000 pixels wide and used up to 12 channels. That can be intimidating, but Alain has done what we hoped others will; tried it and found out it isn’t as scary as it seems. Instead, it can be quite empowering.” – Patrick Twomey, Director of Xpression Product Marketing

The XPression scenes required style layouts that complimented the 5 set matches for men’s singles, the 3 set matches for women’s and other single events, and the double names for doubles matches. This was needed for both the ticker solutions and for the main screen broadcast. Therefore, on the automated ticker side, the layouts needed to change automatically, while on the main screen, the operators needed to guarantee the scenes were going to look correct, regardless of what matches were played. This meant the XPression scenes required a lot of Visual Logic, a feature that made it easy to program the different layouts in XPression.

Visual Logic screen shot

 The manual main screens were also automated up to a point. Chameleon generated an XML URL, which included everything that we needed for every match during the tournament. Using some of XPression’s powerful scripting features, the entire graphics package would change based on the single MatchID SMT provided. By entering the match ID number into Ross Video’s Dashboard, it automatically transformed the scene layouts to accommodate the match type and populated the text fields and graphics for every aspect of the match, including player names, flags, headshots, scores, sets winners, challenges remaining and others. In some cases, the PlayerID generated from the MatchID, linked to player profile scenes which included their personal info such as place of birth, height, weight, handed and others.

Chameleon data

This workflow was significant for the post production process as well. In the past, editors and graphic designers had to work throughout the night to create the next day’s matchup graphics. Utilizing XPression powered by Chameleon’s data integration, everything was rendered in real-time. As a result, hundreds of graphic design and operator hours were saved during this years’ production.

The production was executed flawlessly without any graphic issues. We had a total of 7 XPressions running simultaneously with 15 output channels, displaying 15 different screen layout styles using Tessera. On four of the XPressions, Tessera was running as a single engine in order to call up full frame graphics and stadium fascias at the same time. Plus, we had 11 tickers running different content on different layouts as well.

“Because the Xpression project and the Bannister Lake data software was set up so well, it allowed us the flexibility to handle the workflow changes as they popped up. Because we had to trigger the fullscreen clips and fascia simultaneously, we had hotkeys all over the keyboard! That simple Xpression feature improved our workflow by letting us keep the focus in one place. I think the client was impressed with how smoothly everything went, including some last-minute changes on the fly.“ – Jeannemarie Tracey & Michelle Lippitt,  New York based Xpression/Chyron Operators

The XPression templates were created with enough flexibility that CG operators had the choice between using linked data or manual entry or using Sequencer instead of Dashboard. The original concept was for the XPression scenes to be fully operational using Dashboard so that scenes and templates could be called up using a single button. However, the system had the flexibility to allow the 4 operators working on the project to use the operational workflow that worked best for them, all driven by the single MatchID.

Dashboard was used to trigger tickers for the place-based signage around the venues. In some cases, the vision switcher was also able to trigger the different ticker layouts for the South Plaza Superwall at the venue using Dashboard in combination with RossTalk commands.

Throughout the event we were also receiving closed caption data from VITAC, for both the Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong stadiums, connected via Datalinq. Our original idea was to have the Datalinq server at one location feed all the systems. Although in principle it was a good idea, it did create concerns if something were to happen to the data server. So instead, we had the Datalinqs spread to multiple locations. Closed captioning had its own Datalinq on a separate system. The Chameleon Datalinq was setup locally on every XPression. Social media and special 50th anniversary player data was on another Datalinq server.

Chameleon however, was installed locally on one of the backup XPressions, serving as the gateway between SMT and output. As backup, our SMT US Open reader was also being used simultaneously on our Bannister Lake Cloud server in case anything were to happen. If the primary server were to go down, it was an easy swap of IP addresses to get our score bugs and data up and running.

Since we were all enclosed on our own network, the production staff was using an open WiFi connection. We needed an easy way for them to enter daily and hourly messages on our venue tickers. Bannister Lake’s Community data service provided the solution. We created an account for the US Open producers and had them enter stories on our cloud instance. Using our Bannister Lake’s Community reader, we pulled those news items every minute and automatically had them appear on the tickers, without any operator intervention.

In addition to news, match stats, games in-progress, schedule, completed and weather info, we also showcased the grounds’ practice schedule, which automatically appears every morning as fans entered the venue. Fans could also interact with social media using Tagboard’s Social Media engine which was powering the moderation of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram photos, all funneled through Chameleon.

The US Open was an absolute beast of a project, and we learned a lot from the experience. We’re extremely confident with the solutions we devised and discovered that we could apply these same techniques on multiple types of high-profile, complex, data-centric events and production scenarios. A big thank you to VWSE Productions for accommodating Bannister Lake during this production as well as to The Academy of Lower Thirds for entrusting us with this assignment.


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Bannister Lake Software a Smash at the 2018 US Open

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Bannister Lake played a vital role at this year’s US Open at the USTA Billie Jean National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, NY. Bannister Lake’s powerful data engine Chameleon served as the data management solution for multiple data feeds from a diverse set of sources. Chameleon was used to reformat, filter, moderate and distribute data and graphics to dozens of various shaped digital signs throughout the tennis facility. Bannister Lake was instrumental in devising the workflows and processes that handled over 250,000 XML files corresponding to the participation of over 1000 players playing hundreds of matches. The complexity of the project was compounded with Chameleon also taking on responsibility for managing other data sources including weather, event news, social media, schedules, headshots, scores, sets winners, standings and other tournament related data. Player’s personal biographical data such as place of birth, height, weight, handed and others information was also included.

“We knew Bannister Lake’s Chameleon could handle the complexity. It’s the industry’s most powerful engine for aggregating any data type and it’s the only way we could have pulled off the US Open project under the extreme time constraints; that and all the hard work by our team.” said Georg Hentsch, President Bannister Lake.

“Our extensive work in both the broadcast market and in eSports prepared us for the production challenges of the US Open. Chameleon has powered a variety of event-based productions, most notably eSports tournaments which typically includes hundreds of matches played over a short amount of time with a large number of players. So, we were more than ready.” said Alain Savoie, Creative and Technical Director at Bannister Lake.

Bannister Lake’s unique workflow was built around leveraging the single Match ID unique identifier which was used to drive all the data associated with a particular match. Chameleon was then able to use automation to populate the various graphics templates and tickers that were in turn distributed via Ross Video’s Tessera and XPression graphics engines to the screens throughout the facility. In total, 7 XPressions running simultaneously with 15 output channels, displaying 15 different screen layout styles were utilized. In addition, 11 tickers running different content on different layouts were also being used.

In addition to Chameleon, Bannister Lake provided a complete cloud-based backup system and their unique Community data service. Community allowed editorial and production teams at the US Open to contribute news and essential information to the hundreds of thousands of tennis fans who attended the event.

 


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Emojis

Smile with an Emoji!

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Bannister Lake has been hard at work the last few months.   Our Election software was used during the Ontario elections at 3 different Networks (Global TV, TV Ontario and TFO); we took part in an eSports playoff series for EA’s FIFA World Cup; Branding is fully integrated inside Chameleon, making Chameleon an even more powerful tool in production.  

EMOJIs… 

One of the features that has always been available with Chameleon and it’s rendering engine, is the ability to display globally supported Emojis.  Often found in Tweets, emojis can also be added to news stories.   An example is this: 

I’m 😊 today because it’s ☀ outside.  The 💐are blooming and 🐦 are chirping. If only my 👨‍👩‍👧was here with 🤷‍♀️

gets translated to this on output: 

This has been a requirement for production personnel for years, since most CG broadcast systems don’t support it.  But with Chameleon Web, it works without having to do anything.  

To add an emoji while typing, simply Press Win + period (.) or Win + semicolon (;)  in Windows 10

Custom Content Type

Custom has been added to Chameleon a while back as a content type, but until recently, only available as a blade output.   Now, Custom is part of our rundown output, which means your ticker can include virtually any type of formatted content.  

One example for our demo is a list of recipes you may want to cycle through. 

Another very useful way to use Custom is with google sheets. One idea is when you want to display results from a sports tournament, and the tournament officials are using Google sheets to order their round robins or playoff brackets.   Google sheets can import the various visible tabs and automatically create custom results with the appropriate tags. 

For more information on the reader, go to our wiki page. 

Query Sponsors

Branding has now been integrated with Chameleon, making it easier for users to add some branding assets to their workflow.   But a major bonus that comes with the integration of branding with data, means that you can create conditional branding assets.   

As a simple example… maybe you create a house ID for your broadcast that will showcase a sponsor based on the type of weather in your area.  

Note in the image above, the Demo Assets Sponsor Banner was selected as the template, and a Query Weather Sponsor was given as the HouseID/Name.   But additionally, we picked “Query Sponsor based on Toronto Weather” as the condition. 

The conditions you see in the query includes: if Clear, show a RayBan sponsor.  If Cloudy, show Diesel wear sponsor.  If Rain show umbrella sponsor.   Coincidentally, in Toronto at the time of writing this blog, it was ‘none of the above’.

This feature allows you to create an unlimited amount of conditions.  If you’re in a major city with a major sports team, and that team wins a title.. your promo banner could have a related sponsor.  But if they loose that title/game, then automatically another promo banner would appear.  

And with Chameleon’s vast data collection, you can come up with anything to display at any time.  


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Chameleon: The Culmination of Brando & Super Ticker

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Chameleon is simply that, the very best of 2 separate products brought together. As a whole Chameleon is certainly greater than the sum of its predecessors: Brando & Super Ticker.

Putting ticker and news functionality together with branding isn’t a new idea. At its most rudimentary level, branding layers such as logos are placed over top of existing ticker elements. Not until the arrival of Chameleon have these 2 distinct workflows been integrated together, not just slapped over top each other.

Chameleon Sample Output

Shown here, the programming schedule read from traffic is fully integrated into one Chameleon interface so that both elements from news and branding can take advantage of programming data. Sponsors and as run logs can all be managed from this one singular UI. Of course Chameleon is still multi user content management solution so many producers and can be working on it at the same time.

Chameleon-UI

In the end, Chameleon is end of the long evolutionary road of 2 amazing products finally coming together.


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Chameleon Pilot at WRDSB Secondary Schools

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At the beginning of the school calendar year (Sept ’17) the Waterloo Regional District School Board (WRDSB) allowed Chameleon into the secondary schools on a pilot project. The project, deliver the school announcements in a more interesting and interactive way. Now half way through the school year, over half the high schools in the region are now using Chameleon as part of their workflow.

School announcements are still delivered over the schools PA system, but many schools are doing more. Radio broadcast/recording of announcements and digital displays are just a few of the new methods. Problem is managing these displays. Schools have little budget for expensive signage solutions. They are also tasked with keeping content updated. Most use Google Slides so the entire presentation needs to be updated daily.

Chameleon is showing is value to the regions schools and growing in popularity. For the first time ever, high school scores for basketball, volleyball are being shown in the schools – not just reserved for the board’s web site which few look at, certainly not students. This is possible with Chameleon’s content groups and user levels. Regional information can be made ‘global’ and shared by all schools, while each school has it’s own localized content which only they can see.

http://blcloud.net/wrdsb

Want to hear more about this pilot project? Send your questions to: danny@bannisterlake.com


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Query about EA’s FIFA eTournament

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Al Savoie is the Creative and Tech Director at Bannister Lake who recently worked with EA Sports to come up with way for gamer data to play out and hit the masses. The event is a marathon, taking place over 3 days with 128 players, on both Xbox and PS4 consoles.  Friday was a Swiss tournament round, with Saturday and Sunday being the Bracket Elimination Rounds. Here are some industry insights from his week in Barcelona.

 

Can you describe the client and what they needed to happen for this tournament?

Sure, but let me give you a little background first.

With eSports tournaments becoming more popular as an event, watched by millions around the globe, eSports productions want to try to match conventional broadcast quality programming.

They want to match broadcast production, similar to what you see in NBA or NFL live events. But unlike those conventional offerings that focus on one game, eSports had 511 games over the course of the tournament increasing production demand.  And keep in mind that each game is roughly twenty minutes in length so a lot of turnaround.

Camera, audio, lighting are pretty standard, but BOOMBOX Group needed a way to filter and moderate all those player stats and then display it in some way graphically.  They needed a tool to allow them to easily do this. In the past they were limited in how to display player stats with such a quick turnaround – it wasn’t easy to moderate.

For example on the Friday, the first day Swiss Bracket Round,  there was no way to display  gamer wins or losses, goals for or against for the 128 players over the 7 Rounds.  Since broadcast couldn’t focus on all the games at the same time, they needed a way to display that information for the viewers.  The Chameleon provided a solution to automatically populate player stats without a need for inputting manually.

 

The key idea behind BOOMBOX using Chameleon in this production was to assist in filtering and moderating data, to be used primarily in XPression on the Saturday and Sunday broadcasts, but also as a ticker using Chameleon’s own rendering engine.

Chameleon’s Query module was required here.  We needed to create APIs for XPression to easily search players based on a round and who they were playing against.  Data was to be entered manually on location by the tournament ops crew, and sent over to the Chameleon database using a custom reader written by Georg at BL.  Once in Chameleon,  we wrote our own queries to filter what we needed for XPression.

With XPression settled, they also wanted to add another layer, in the form of the Chameleon web player, as the primary graphics system on the Friday during the very complicated Swiss format elimination round.

 

How many staff were involved? How does it compare to other large scale live events that Bannister has been involved in?

Well, typically Bannister Lake participates in elections in terms of live events. Our solutions are usually for tickers and branding that exist on a network, 24-7.

What makes this interesting is that an election is very similar to a lot of eSport events, in this case the candidates are the gamers, all competing and vying for a spot in the finals. It requires up to the minute stats/results. Usually elections require a lot of manpower but Chameleon doesn’t. It was a two-man job from the outset for us. Our software is designed to be very efficient; not a lot of staff required.

As for production staff, it took the same amount of people to produce NHL game, for example. For broadcast professionals, they may feel like this type of production feels cheaper only because the play out is non traditional (Youtube/Twitch),  but one could argue that the amount of money is equal, if not more, than a produced NHL game. Most staff were working 12 for 14 hour days and there is a ton of work and back end effort being put into these games! On the day, using Chameleon, there were 6 production and social media staffers populating content. For a Canadian election, like the Canadian Global Television broadcast, it’s usually about twelve production staffers who will use the product.

 

So there were a lot of firsts for this EA eWorld Championship?

Yes. First time our Chameleon renderer was used in a live event.  For the event, it was the first time being able to aggregate such a vast amount of data. That data was used on our web output that circulated player stats throughout the tournament. They used tickers in the past but nothing like this. In fact, hosts were entering info themselves!  That’s the Millennial generation; instead of using Twitter, the talent used our system and created a sort of exclusive news aura, or a community, around the event.

 

What were some of the key benefits you told BOOMBOX about using Chameleon web as part of the production?

First, Chameleon UI being a browser based platform, made it easy for anyone to jump on and input/moderate data.  Second, our Chameleon renderer outputted data where they keyed the live video overlay on top.  Rather than spend thousands on a broadcast CG system, instead, they used a Chrome browser and a laptop.

Chameleon was a huge hit. The L-Bar Chameleon web ran throughout the whole weekend, displaying news, tweets, player cards and scores. Their social media team literally had a 15 minute tutorial on how to use Twitter in Chameleon, and they got it. The hosts were responsible for entering news using their iPads on the floor, with a moderation level by the EA executives.   They too only had a 15 min tutorial but got it quickly.  
EA,  Boombox and NCompass were extremely pleased with what we offered. It really helped elevate their production to another level.  One in which they now can’t go down from.   
 

What were some of the challenges trying to manage such a large team roster? There were a total of 128 players, correct? That’s almost as large as a world championship sporting event.

Well, it is a world sport championship event. Sure it’s still one venue with everyone in that one venue but we are still talking about over 500 individual games being played. On the Chameleon end we had to make sure the leagues were separated between XBox and PS4 consoles. After that we needed to log all 128 players with their qualifying stats and upcoming tournament stats. Since we aren’t using player names, we were using “gamer tags” who love to change their tags, often up to the night before…that’s about 25% that needed to match these new names with their qualifying stats and headshots.

 

What’s the future of data in eSport events?

We have two tournaments coming up and we want to continue to improve Chameleon and improve what we can offer our clients,  viewers and the gamers.  

Al Savoie is a graphics systems whiz who can answer and further questions

Email him at asavoie@bannisterlake.com

 



 


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New Data Gifts. Just in Time for Christmas

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With more content on all platforms, Bannister Lake made some changes to improve graphics for specialty networks who don’t want to do a lot of  heavy lifting. Chameleon’s new episode support adds a whole whack of data information for network programs.

To assist with the new episode features, media information happens quickly and the OMDB and TVDB readers are for networks who don’t have a lot of money to spend on promotion and marketing creative services. The service helps with word processing, transferring info to consumers who require automatic retrieval of film and television metadata.

Episodic info just got real, offering specific stats –  stars, character, plot, seasons, episodes, even ratings. Just have all metadata automatically slotted into snipes, banners and coming up next boards – without entering a single thing. For example, an upcoming SNL episode will air on your network this coming Saturday.  TVDB will pull that episode information, including the guest stars Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga.  Rather than have the graphics department enter that info manually and pushing it to master control, Chameleon will automatically populate your template into a “UP NEXT” board or “COMING UP IN FIVE” banner.

Good Things Come in 3s at Community

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ripple are now part of the financial data package in Community

Community Supports Cryptocurrency Quotes 

Bitcoin is on a tear right now, so we felt it and it’s other cryptocurrency pals deserved to be added to the current Community financial features list, right along with US and Canadian dollar information, for networks pulling currency data.

New Time Zone Shifting Support

A request we’ve had was to show a way to display content accurately based on a network’s location.  For example, sports scores; displaying accurate times for the same sports game playing in a lot of states or provinces won’t be an issue. Have a game airing in New York City at 7pm? Community Reader will automatically translate the correct time for your west coast server.  This goes for cross promotion of national live events, concerts, E-Sports and other time sensitive data.

Community Reader Supports Elections

Recent Stats from the Alabama Senate Race inside Community

The elections module isn’t just for major electoral races. It can also be used for local community businesses who want to create a story around featured events such as best restaurant polling, council and board members voting results, community fan favourite mascots.  With Community Reader Election support, the community could enter those results and provide networks or the region with the results.


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Chameleon Support in Telestream’s Wirecast

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With the growing trend of live streaming, producers are searching for various tools available to make their production switching workflow as smooth as possible.  Bannister Lake’s focus is its flagship product, Chameleon, our data and graphics platform.  Chameleon allows aggregation, moderation and distributing of any data type from news, elections, sports scores, traffic, weather, closings, alerts, etc… and distribute it back through an API or using it’s own graphics rendering engine.

At this years IBC, we discovered key features in Wirecast Pro that make the two platforms work together with very little effort. 

wirecast

Chameleon HTML5 render isn’t restricted to any dimension or style.  The conventional means of using 16×9 isn’t necessary in the world of web, and therefore, custom graphics created using Chameleon’s rendering engine allow users to create graphics in whatever size they want.   This becomes useful in Wirecast’s production environment, where using their Web Display tool as a source, you can specify the dimensions of your graphics.  And an even more impressive feature, Wirecast supports HTML5’s alpha channel.

With Chameleon, users have a full on solution for tickers and branding.  Chameleon’s powerful branding tool can allow larger productions to schedule bugs, snipes and promo/sponsorship material during their broadcast.  And for 24/7 users of Wirecast, producers can integrate their programming lineup in Chameleon and have support for displaying upcoming content.  On the data side, Wirecast users of Chameleon, can display everything from social media content, news, elections and sports scores results in an automated continuous cycle, enhancing information for your viewers.  Essentially, Chameleon is an enhanced CG ticker/branding solution that works out of the box with Wirecast.

For commercial companies, looking for a package to distribute data while broadcasting their content, Chameleon and Wirecast is the ideal solution.

To view a sample of the html5 rendering, visit blcloud.net/chameleon

For information on Chameleon, contact sales@bannisterlake.com


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E-Sports as a Content Game Changer

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e-Sports:  Gaming as a Content Game Changer

It’s time to have a serious talk about how e-sports is changing the way people are consuming content. Endless news articles report on the “demise” of viewership on traditional cable networks but on the other end of the spectrum – where are viewers going?  Hopefully this article will give cable companies and other media professionals insight on this new breed of broadcasting.

Let’s examine two recent events –  King’s Cup 2017 and Overwatch World Cup 2017 where Alain Savoie, Creative and Technical Director for Bannister Lake, assisted with their live data and graphic needs.  The two events are great examples of how this new medium is disrupting content for a new type of viewership.  

The King’s Cup tournament is structured like a one off, a stand alone event where amateur players from around play for an opportunity to win $20k.  Some 200 players competed through multiple rounds to reach a final 8 tournament joined by pro players and celebrity Youtubers.  The highest amount of viewers were around 200,000 with about 1.5 million in total watching on the last day of the event.

Overwatch, was part of Blizzcon 2017.  World pro players have been competing for weeks and this event included the final 8, going head to head to win bragging rights.  The Anaheim Convention Arena, where this tournament took place, had about 8,000 people watching on location.  At Blizzcon however, there were an extra 2 stages where other streams and events were happening. 

It’s an area of media that is growing exponentially. Every year there are more subscription-based and knowledge-based gamers attending these events. The attendees have a lot of money to spare.  The most recent experience at BlizzCon witnessed roughly 26,000 people at $200 per ticket.   That amounts to $5 million dollars.  That figure doesn’t include the virtual tickets that were also purchased nor the sponsorship that were involved during the weekend.  And the sponsorship deals?  They are not small. The 2 day Overwatch World Cup was sponsored by T-Mobile.  Don’t forget the merchandise where it’s recommended you purchase online, ahead of time and pickup at the conference because, (as seen in the picture) the lines are long, snaking endlessly for what looks like a queue at your favorite Disney ride.

e-sports merchandise

 

Traditional vs e-Sports: Key Comparisons

There are No Rules!

The other factor to keep in mind is that the content creators for these events don’t care about the traditional rules of broadcasting.  No need for 1080i, or 2 minute commercials every 15 minutes.  Kings Cup was streaming at 1080p while Overwatch was at 720p.   Commercial breaks ranged between 2 minutes to 6 minutes depending on what was happening behind the scenes.   The broadcast doesn’t need to end at exactly hh:mm, that said, even gamers eventually tired out.   The production will always have requirements to get paid by their sponsorship partners, and therefore, frequencies of snipes and billboards vary on when to air it. 

Currently live non-sporting viewership is dropping and binge watching content is rising.  While the sporting events on traditional broadcasts still pull in large and relatively reliable numbers, people are still fascinated by live events and the same can be said for e-sports.   The idea of a community participating in a live worldwide event at the same time, still appeals to hardcore fans, while archives of the tournaments can be watched on YouTube post-event. Try to find a complete Superbowl or Stanley Cup finals on YouTube. e sports rights holders are less concerned about distribution partially because they are the distributor.

Production Costs? What Production Costs!

Putting on a live show used to be expensive, especially in manpower.  With the popularity of e-sports for the younger generation, the distribution means are not conventional and therefore viewership is generally lower.  So there’s this need to produce content at a more affordable rate while still offering the same level of quality product expected in high end sporting events.    Make no mistake, the event staging and tech was high end but behind the scenes the crews were generally leaner. 

The stages had their four to six professional cameras feeding the studio switcher.   They also had Go-Pros attached to the monitors of each player.   An immediate difference to conventional sports was the actual in-game videos.  Overwatch as an example, had a TD switch between all 12 players, allowing us to watch from the POV of the gamer.  The replay engines are 2nd to none.   For years EVS operators  in sports have been responsible for capturing and playing back highlight reels of a play.   In the e-sport world, some games do those highlight playbacks for you, with outstanding angles and exceptional render quality.

Deep Understanding – Know the Content!

One important observation to note is the knowledge base of the product by the viewers, who range between ages 12 to 40 years old, mostly males in their 20s.  One thing’s for sure –  they know their content.  Watching football, baseball, soccer, and hockey, most die-hard fans know enough stats but don’t necessarily need to know how to play the games. They have a rough idea of what’s going on.

Content and viewing games such as Overwatch, Clash of the Clans, Call of Duty, and like, demands a viewer’s undivided attention. There are different game plays, maneuvers, strategies, equipment, and stats that are not immediately obvious to newcomers.   The content is delivered and therefore ingested very quickly.  It’s easy to follow a baseball game, but it’s a lot harder following Overwatch.  

Who’s There? 

The attendees also lineup to play games.  Rows of computers are setup for people to play the game and there are easily hour long line ups to play them.  

The majority of attendees were white males in their twenties, with a fair share of white females.  Plenty of Asian players as well but noticeably lacking were African American players.

e-sports gameplay

Assume that each of these attendees is going to go home and buy this game.  Therefore, there’s a large sum of money being made by the gaming industry.  Their goals with having the Championship matches streamed is to attract more viewers for higher ratings in sponsorship money which then also leads to merchandise sales and perhaps the sales in the game itself.  

As for the professional players, they’re well structured and organized.  There’s a committee for each team to select the players, there’s a captain on the team as well as a coach.  The players form strategies in the games and the hard-core fans know who they are and how they’ll play.  The pro-players aren’t kids arriving in sweatpants and t-shirts. They are sponsored and dressed in proper uniforms, representing their country. They take this very seriously.

Future of traditional cable and e-sports

Is there a future in cable and e-sports?  Will cable companies embrace this new medium?   They haven’t so far.   YouTube, Facebook and Twitch have.  Tellingly, that’s where the new generation is going for their consummation of content.   TBS stations are showcasing some redistributed content on occasion.  And there are some new streaming channels being created, dedicated for watching games. 

So what’s next? 

Since the medium is relatively new, there’s a lot of research and development still being made in how to distribute and display this content.  In the traditional sporting world, data and score bugs have been in the works for years, where in most cases these days, you can get data directly from the arena.  With e-sports, the game developers haven’t fully developed the integration with broadcasting in mind, so a lot of data and results and stats are manually being entered, or being transferred in a more manual method.

Games will eventually improve as well.   Virtual reality will eventually let viewers watch the game from inside the game as it’s being played.  Certain game styles may also develop stories to go along with the sports itself.   And although for now, some of these games are tournaments, there’s no reason why EA’s FIFA or MADDEN, won’t eventually include a year long season, with pro-teams, training facilities,  players, draftees, general managers, coaches and captains.   This also means camera crews, TD’s, audio techs, CG ops, EVS ops and others are needed to produce these events.   Even the Olympic and NCAA committees are discussing the possibilities of including these e-sports into their organizations. 

As for the production itself, foreign streams will become more important as e-sports isn’t necessarily regional, but rather international.  Conventionally, Olympics and International tournaments require the distribution be done by the destination country, e-sports tournaments are produced and distributed at the source.  So multiple language streams and data will increase viewership and therefore revenue, followed by the necessity to develop content for those streams.  

Baby Boomers as parents didn’t understand the appeal of Gen X’s fascination with Atari and Nintendo.  Those platforms generated millions of dollars and created the infrastructure that launched Millennial’s interest in gaming.  Gen Xers are creating at the same level as Millennials and will soon be overtaken by their interests so current generations shouldn’t ignore Millennials interests in this e-sports world.

 


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The Glamorous Life of a CG Trainer

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My wife always complains whenever I get to travel somewhere that sounds exotic.  Be it Japan, Bahamas, Brazil or Singapore, those who don’t travel for work assume that you arrive at your destination, dress down and hit the beaches. 

That is not the case. 

As I sit in at the Denver airport waiting for my 3rd connecting flight, watching travelers in a good mood, realizing that many of these people are excited to reach their destination.. as either, an adventure or relaxation awaits. 

My latest trip was to Fresno,  California for a two day training session at Valley PBS.   Being that I live in Halifax, roughly 6000km away from Fresno, my trip involved a stop in Montreal and San Francisco before reaching Fresno airport.   My journey started Monday at 4:30 am ATL (or… 00:30 PST), ending at around 6:00 pm PST (10:00pm ATL).  That’s what we call, a ‘paid travel day’ in the business.  Depending on internet services and your tools at hand, you may or may not be able to get some work done.  But you are away from home, and rightfully so, should be compensated for it. 

This 17 1/2 hour trek is nothing compared to the 30 to 40 hrs journeys that are done when traveling to Mumbai, Jakarta or Singapore.  

Luckily, for some of us frequent travelers, we get some perks for these long sacrifices.  We get priority boarding (which guarantees a spot for our carry-on luggage), we get some preferred seating, either with leg room or your choice of window or aisle.  Lounges and fast lanes at security are also very much worth it.  And if you’re in the Super Elite category, you also get a concierge that calls you with changes to your flight status or alternative routes.   It’s great getting treated like a king.   But that’s not always the case, as I’ll mention below. 

I arrived in Fresno, a lovely town in mid-central California.  There are no beaches.   You prefer having your hotel close to where you work, so that you don’t spend any time in traffic or you can sleep in as you will most certainly be jet lagged.  Depending on the city, you may be staying in sketchy area, where the local homeless immediately target the unfamiliar, semi-well dressed.   There are cases (such as my trip to Venezuela and El Salvador) you get an escort, who drives you around, and warns you not to go to certain places on your own.  Besides, I can’t speak every language out there; I personally know French and a little bit of Spanish.  

Therefore, you arrive at your hotel, and it’s late, and you’re tired after traveling for 17 hours… and you’re hungry.  But it’s only 6pm.  So, rather than go to, yet another restaurant, trying to eat something relatively healthy, you succumb to the exhaustion and order delivered pizza.   Besides, your call tomorrow is for 9am. 

It’s 4am PST and I’m wide awake.  5 hours before I need to go into work.  I could try to keep sleeping, but you’re also only there for 2 days, so adapting to this timezone will only make it more complicated when you travel back home. 

Yes, I’ll likely have some breakfast at the nearby Denny’s, because the hotel’s restaurant is terribly over-priced.  You’re thinking, “over-priced? who cares! the company will pay for it.”  While yes, that is correct, at the same time you want to keep both your clients happy.  And by both, I mean, the client you’re training, and the company that hired you to do the training in the first place.   It’s a fine line where, you want to have comfortable meals, but at the same time, caviar and lobsters won’t get you called back. 

Honestly, the best part, is the training itself.  The actual work.  When you work with a good product, it’s all the more easier.   But the people are the best part.   At every location I’ve ever been to… nearly a hundred stations, meeting at least 2-3 people per station, every single one of them have been receptive, respectful and appreciative.  Some I still keep in contact on a regular basis.   The customer realizes how you’ve traveled such a far distance, only to show them how to use their new toy.   The customer may get overwhelmed with new learning material, but in the end, they see a product which translates into progress and improvement for their network. 

My day is still a 9-5 however (in some cases longer, and in other cases, can be shorter), so by the time I’m finished, I’m still tired (in this case, it’s 9pm AST).  My wife’s bugging me about stuff… whether it’s our daughter not doing homework, or the internet doesn’t work, or there’s a burnt light bulb that needs replacing, my chore becomes video chatting with them to appease their stress.    Away a week per month ain’t too bad, but more than that, the family gets lonely. 

This repeats the following day.  And I do admit, that in some cases, I have added an extra day to my stay depending on the locations.  Brazil as an example, I arrived early and visited Copacabana. Japan, I checked Mount Fiji and Amsterdam, I took a day trip to Bruges.   It’s a good perk that comes out of pocket, but worth it if you’re away at a far distance.  And of course, you need to collect some souvenirs for your partner, seething jealously at home. 

Alas, it’s time to go home.  But as I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t always go smoothly.  

Again to appease your clients, some flights may take a different route, with different airlines,  so the prices are a little lower.  That was the case this past week in Fresno.  Rather than flying through San Francisco, my flight path was Fresno, Denver, Boston, finishing in Halifax. 

My departure time was 8:30 am PST.  I had a meeting with a new potential customer out of Montreal, at 7 am PST, so I decided to head to the airport early, go through security, grab some breakfast and be ready for my call at 7am (10am EST).  The call went great for the record, but while on the call I missed the announcement saying that my flight to Denver was delayed.  

Queue the California fires.  Some things you have no control over, such as nature.  Others, you get refunded if it’s the airlines’ fault.   My plane was delayed due to mechanical issues, which meant I was going to get some vouchers.  Alternatively, there was a 2nd flight leaving an hour later, but that too was delayed due to the fires happening in California.   I was a lucky one, since flights to San Francisco were altogether canceled.  

 

That said, my flight left 3 hours late.   Which meant I missed all my connecting flights.  The next available one was 11:30 pm MST.  In other words, stuck at the Denver airport for 9 hours with $30 in vouchers.  And you get the terrible red eye seat too.. the one where you’re in the middle and the seat won’t recline because you’re in the emergency exit aisle.   

I had a decent airport meal for $20… the other $10 voucher, I passed along to a single mother with kids so she can feed them McDonald’s.  Besides, I have lounge access where they serve you crackers and cheese and cookies.  (Those who know me, know I don’t drink… but if I did, there’s some wine and liquor there waiting for you too)  (picture is proof for my wife that I’m actually at an airport, and not hanging out with some girlfriends.)

 

 

Walking the halls of the Denver airport at 11:00 pm is eerie.  Stores are closed.  Cleaners vacuuming. 

I got home on Friday at 1pm.  A trek that took 27 hours from the time I left the hotel room.   Exhausted, I still have light bulbs to replace and help supervise homework.   Tomorrow is mowing the lawn.   And next Monday, it may start all over again.