How a new studio space—equipped with a NewTek live production workflow—helps the City of San Angelo, Texas, deliver award-winning, multi-platform community media
By Claudia Kienzle
While many government-run public affairs channels struggle to find viewers and stay relevant, Anthony Wilson, communications director for the City of San Angelo, Texas, and his colleague, City Videographer Brian Groves, are a two-man team that’s redefining what community media can be—a well-equipped, visually appealing, award-winning success story.
“We pride ourselves on producing the best video in this region,” said Groves. “Today’s video can’t just have substance, it also has to be a high-end product that really impresses viewers.”
San Angelo Television (SATV), the city government’s local access TV channel broadcasts on local cable channel 17 and distributes its videos via Facebook, YouTube, and the City’s website: cosatx.us.
SATV’s mission is to keep San Angelo citizens informed about what their local government is doing for them.
Despite the fact that their videos compete against those produced by regional ad agencies, production companies, and network TV affiliates, the SATV team has won more than 50 awards since 2013 — the year Wilson joined the City’s Public Information Office, which produces SATV.
Video: The Go-To Medium
“The more people understand what our municipal government is doing, as well as how and why we’re doing the things we do, the more supportive they are,” Wilson said. “And, in this day in age, the best way for us to communicate with them is via video that’s accessible from multiple platforms.”
On SATV’s many shows, Wilson conducts studio interviews with public officials and other special guests. The channel also features live city council meetings, community events, and talk shows focusing on public safety, property taxes, schools, and other city issues.
Behind the scenes, Groves shoots, directs, and produces the shows thanks to the versatility of their new studio space and the NewTek TriCaster® TC1 4-HD/SDI input live production switcher in the adjacent control room.
While many U.S. PEG (public, education, and government) and public access stations struggle to make-do with SD cameras and sub-par production gear due to tight budgets, SATV found a cost-effective solution to professional-grade broadcast through the TriCaster solution.
The final equipment package included: the TriCaster TC1, a LiveU 200, an Allen & Heath digital audio mixer, an assortment of studio and lavalier mics, six Canon C100 digital cameras, as well as a Kessler Crane camera jib and sliding crane motion control system that can be set-up and operated using an iPad.
After covering one of their many city council meetings—which SATV simultaneously broadcasts and streams live—Wilson can invite one of the city officials back to their studio to recap the highlights of that meeting and more fully discuss the importance of key agenda items.
According to Groves, the studio lights and cameras are set up and the production is ready to roll with just a few button-clicks on the TriCaster’s control panel. While having a great studio and production switcher is not extraordinary for most broadcast stations, it’s a total game changer for this community media operation.
To understand how their workflow has been revolutionized, consider how life used to be before this upgrade.
“Every time we wanted to shoot an interview, we first had to find an available location, such as a conference room or the back of council chambers. We’d then have to lug two or three cameras, a lighting kit, backdrops, microphones and other stuff to that site, and spend three hours setting it all up and testing it,” Groves recalled. “To make matters worse, many segments we wanted to shoot only took about 10 minutes, and then we’d spend more time taking it all down, rolling up the cables, packing it away, and putting it back into storage.”
With the efficiency of this new studio and the TriCaster TC1, their productivity has increased dramatically.
“The TriCaster is a fantastic system that has made life easier,” Groves said. “We just turn on a few switches, roll our program open, switch the cameras, roll the B-roll, roll titles, whatever we want our show to feature.”
During production, the switcher takes care of outputting the live show for broadcast while simultaneously streaming it to a designated social media site.
Groves says the TC1 control panel was fairly easy to learn and intuitive enough for a single operator to manage every aspect of a live show with confidence.
Telling the Story from Every Angle
The TriCaster is directly fed by four of the six HD/SDI Canon C100 studio cameras. The two additional C100s are connected to a BirdDog converter that converts the HD/SDI signal into the NDI® IP-based network protocol for NDI® input into the TriCaster.
Three of these cameras are on tripods, one is on the cine slider, one is on the jib, and the remaining camera is attached to a pole mounted near the ceiling for a wide shot. Prior to the show, Groves positions each of the cameras and then switches them using the TriCaster control panel while watching the studio through the control room window.
Live graphics, including title graphics and lower third supers, are created in After Effects. Each graphical element is then imported into the TriCaster as a video clip along with its alpha channel. Brian can then roll them back from the TriCaster’s internal DDR as a downstream key overlay.
Groves has tested TriCaster’s virtual set capabilities and has been impressed with the results, but they haven’t used that feature yet. Future plans include occasionally using a virtual set, likely based upon virtual set designs that come with the TC1.
The large, new studio space was designed to convey a unique sense of San Angelo, including paintings by local artists. The decor is continually reconfigured with different furniture, such as desks, couches, arm chairs, and coffee tables, to fit the mood of each show.
Shooting in the field is also much easier than before. Groves puts one of the C100s on a Movi Pro Stabilizer that allows him to move unobtrusively around the action while recording the video onto the camera’s media. This remote field capability gives them a greater, more visible presence in the community.
Never Lose Sight of the Mission
As a government entity, Wilson said it was important for the city to tell its own story and to disseminate official information quickly via its own channels. The city’s Facebook page is also a valuable conduit that conveys comments and suggestions from over 29,000 unique followers. This feedback is used to raise the bar on future videos and shows and deliver programming that keeps viewers engaged.
In deciding which stories to cover on the channel, Wilson said: “We first ask ourselves, ‘Is it interesting? Is it of importance? and/or, Is it of impact’ to our citizens? If this three-pronged test isn’t met, we decline those opportunities in favor of stories that do support our objective—to enlighten our community about what our city government is doing, how we’re doing it, and why we’re doing it.”