PALISADES, N.Y.—Texans take their high school football seriously, so much so that regional sports network Fox Sports SW features two Friday night programs tracking the action across the entire state. But in a place the size of Texas, which usually will feature more than 1,000 different high school football games each week, providing in-depth coverage proved a difficult task.
Fox Sports SW’s solution? Working with the Video Call Center to conduct high-quality interviews with coaches after marquee games over their smartphones from the panhandle to Dallas live on air without deploying a remote production crew.
“Three years ago we would have one game of the week and we would send a camera crew and reporter out to one game,” said Jason Walsh, executive producer at Fox Sports SW. “Technology has changed and we now send seven or eight crews out per week to cover teams. Trying to cover seven or eight teams out of what is probably 1,200 on any given week is a very small sample size. This VCC technology allowed us to be anywhere.”
Specifically, VCC’s service is essentially the intermediary between Fox Sports SW’s “Football Friday” program and the coaches. It does so by monitoring a number of games going on across the state that “Football Friday” is interested in covering. When the outcome is determined, VCC reaches out to the winning coach via text to establish a connection through technology they call “Stage Door,” only requiring a cell or Wi-Fi signal. VCC’s “call producers” help the coach frame the shot, work with lighting and maximize the connection on their smartphone or computer system.
When it’s ready to go live, the VCC has a connection in the Fox Sports SW control room that serves as both an input and output for an HD-SDI signal with embedded audio that can be put on air like a traditional remote. VCC touts that it provides high-quality images with very little latency for a “close to real-time” connection. The technology also enables the interview subject to see real-time return video, allowing for coaches to comment on specific highlights.
“Effectively, we’re giving them access to content they wouldn’t have,” said Larry Thaler, CEO of VCC.
The VCC technology works with iPhone and Android devices as old as five or six years, according to Thaler, utilizing either FaceTime or WebRTC services. Other devices with access to Skype or other video chat services can also be used.
“It gives them the ability to do these shoots from anywhere,” said Thaler, which in the past has included the field, coaches’ office, or Thaler’s personal favorite, the bus with the players in the background celebrating their victory.
Fox Sports SW has found other ways to utilize VCC’s technology into other programming as well. The station has a weekly window where it can work with call producers to conduct interviews through VCC rather than sending out remote crews. With its pro team coverage, the station has initial plans to offer live looks at playoff watch parties.
But first will be the Texas High School Football state playoffs, which kick off this weekend, Nov. 15-17. “Football Friday” will tap seven or eight additional interviews using VCC to add to their playoff coverage.
“Our goal three years ago was how do we begin to cover the state,” said Walsh. “We saw VCC, we tested it, we’ve done it and we now feel that we’ve been successful in covering the state when it comes to high school football.”