The Friday night football broadcast business is booming at White County High School in Cleveland, Georgia. Yes, this is the Cleveland in Georgia – a town of 3,800 located about 90 miles northeast of Atlanta. And yes, this town has a broadcast for its high school football team complete with marble-topped anchor desk, a pre-show with commentary and analysis, and live announcers during the full-blown, professional-grade broadcast of the evening’s game.
This production isn’t conducted by a regional broadcaster seeking to fill air time, nor is there a superstar quarterback that's bringing in the sporting nation’s interest. This is a production brought to you by WTVN – the Warrior Television Network – operated by the high school itself and broadcast to the local community.
Benefits beyond the broadcast
Until recently, the cost of starting up a broadcast for small town football has far outweighed the benefits. Traditionally speaking, for sports, an outside broadcast truck was required to run an at-location show. That also required a large production crew – both on site and at a studio located within a broadcaster’s base of operations. The expense simply didn’t match up with the revenues to be gained in “second-tier” sports – let alone at small high schools like White County.
However, just because traditional broadcasters can’t make the numbers work doesn’t mean there aren’t massive benefits to be gained from a school running a production. Live video can be critical to building a fan base and providing additional access to those not able to make the games. Further, the video stream is an asset for schools seeking local sponsors of the team as branding can be added to the production.
And, when students can get hands-on time with production tools, they receive a critical tool set as they ready themselves for the changing world of business, where video production is becoming continually more critical.
Simply put, the ability for White County School District to run its own broadcast comes with a number of benefits. And they’ve executed this thanks to the democratization of live video that comes as a result of NewTek technologies.
The control room
Inside the WTVN control facility, located within the high school building, Charles Dewalt, Executive Director of the school district’s broadcast programs, and Kayla Everett, Broadcast Video Instructor at White County High School, lead a crew of student production experts to create the broadcast. Students are behind the cameras and controls as well as in front of the cameras – three of the four sports pundits on the pre-show are local students.
When the broadcast begins, the school relies on five cameras equipped with NewTek Connect Spark™ devices that line the roof of the stadium press box, and two additional cameras sporting Teradek Bolt 600 wireless video systems are stationed throughout the stadium, all transmitting signals back to the control facility wirelessly over the stadium’s network. The NewTek 3Play® operator provides instant replays for the broadcast.
"NewTek products are everywhere here," said Dewalt. "Everything we do is NDI-based. All of our cameras run off Connect Spark devices. That signal is plugged in to any jack (located) anywhere within our network of seven schools. The farthest site in the district is almost eight miles away, and that signal reaches all the way back to our control center as if we were standing right there."
Dewalt explained that they use IFB (intercoms) for their talent, just like the big-time broadcasters, and they have a NewTek TriCaster TC1 doing all the switching, with a NewTek 3Play for instant replays. In the studio, there is a total of six NewTek PTZ1 cameras that run NDI, all equipped with teleprompters. The backbone of the NewTek centric solution – and the true enabler of the affordable broadcast – is NDI, the royalty free network protocol created and designed by NewTek.
More than football
For many of the students, at White County High School, Friday night is less about high school football and more about high school football broadcasts. The team of students involved in the Warrior TV organization at White County High School rivals the size of the football team or the marching band. And everyone in Cleveland, Georgia, knows about Warrior TV, regardless of whether they have a school-age son or daughter who plays sports or not.
But Friday night football broadcasts are far from the only thing Warrior TV produces. Every school year, the broadcast service produces over 340 programs that run the gamut from school plays to politics, public affairs and graduation coverage.
Launched nine years ago with just five hand-picked students, the program has grown by leaps and bounds. Television production classes now begin at the middle school in White County, and once the students make the move to high school, they can take eight full semesters of production classes. For students who can't find a place in their class schedule for video production, there is also a club that gives students access to the tools and technology.
"Our students want to be part of this program because they recognize that there is excellence here," said Everett, who has plenty of experience with the program. She was one of the original five students chosen to be part of the program back in 2008.
“The year before I came back, there were about 20 students in the club," she added. "But this year, because they’ve seen the quality of the work we put out, the equipment we are using, and the places we get to go, I’ve had about 60 students join the club in the first two weeks of school, and they're still coming in."
All the awards the program has won are another testament to the program success.
"We’ve won eleven national production awards along with sixteen honorable mentions," added Dewalt. "People from all over the country come to visit us, eager to find out how a media program in a small town in Georgia can do such great things."
"We've been with NewTek from the beginning," said Dewalt. "Initially, I was able to convince the Board of Education to go with a TriCaster 455 as our first box. Now, we've moved up to the TriCaster TC1. Back in the early days, we didn't even know what NDI was."
Dewalt explained that the studio's journey has been long and with much change, but it's always been firmly on the NewTek technology path.
"For example, we have a mobile production unit now with a TriCaster Advanced. It has its own power and its own Internet, so we need nothing," explained Dewalt. "We can pull up anywhere, set up our cameras, start the generator, and we’re ready to broadcast back to our control center with a signal or feed."
Using NewTek’s revolutionary NDI technology along with Connect Spark units also allows White County students to produce simple one-camera productions as well.
"NDI is so reliable, I can send a ninth grader with a camera with the Connect Spark attached to it all the way to the far end of this campus, and that student can broadcast live within minutes, by plugging into a network drop. Audio and video comes back to the control center, and we’re ready to go live," says Dewalt. "We have had zero problems with NewTek products. The technology always works, it's been very easy for students to understand, and it’s the newest wave of technology — it's the equipment they’ll be using after they leave here."
A Commitment to excellence
Dewalt is quick to credit the local school district for having faith in his program, and making the commitment to provide the necessary investment to ensure the program’s success. According to White County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Laurie Burkett, the money spent to sustain the program pays off in the lives of the students who participate.
"If you come and sit in a classroom and feel the excitement of the students, watch them do a live broadcast, you realize that you can't put a price tag on that enthusiasm," Burkett says. "I believe for some of our students, the program is the only reason they come to school every day, the only reason they want to do math and science. It’s programs like Warrior TV that hook kids in, and make them excited about coming to school."
Charlie Dewalt agrees: "I know we did the right thing nine years ago by deciding to go with NewTek products, and that decision has really paid off. If you're going to provide students with a valuable training experience that will help them in the future — then you have to go all in, and purchasing NewTek products was the right way to do it.”
White County High School + NewTek- here’s an infographic that explains the story behind the White County High School’s award-winning broadcasting program.
Warriors TV Fast Facts – here’s a list of the key equipment used at the Warrior TV Studio Control Room facility