RodeoHouston Reels In Viewers with Latest Broadcast Graphics Technology

For most Americans the word “rodeo” evokes thoughts of the old Wild West, untamed and filled with adventure. However, rodeo is still a thriving industry today, filling arenas and smaller stadiums across the Central and Western U.S. with tourists eager to experience the cowboy culture - and cowboys eager to keep the nostalgia alive.

While the rodeo itself is still a pretty low-tech affair requiring little more than a saddle, rope, some feisty animals, and a gutsy rider, television coverage of rodeo has become big business that requires sophisticated broadcast technologies from companies such as Avid.

 We needed broadcast-quality graphics, and only DekoCast provides the openness to take in data of any kind and also let us write programs for it.
- James Davidson, Managing Director,

All Rodeo, All the Time

Every February and March, for example, the rodeo makes a big show in Texas. RodeoHouston is a 20-day event that attracts more than 1.7 million people and nearly 500 contestants to celebrate everything that is rodeo. Livestock auctions, competitions, and even top country and pop acts such as Brooks and Dunn and Maroon 5 are all part of the extravaganza.

This massive celebration of the cowboy lifestyle is held at Reliant Stadium, home to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Houston Texans football team. Preparing for this 20-day event is a 365-day-a-year job for James Davidson, managing director of the RodeoHouston audio/visual presentations and broadcast department. “We produce materials for the show year round and in December we start ramping up and getting ready,” he says. In fact, the day after this year’s RodeoHouston show ended, he and his crew immediately began work on next year’s show, going over notes and reviewing video to evaluate the event and put changes in place for 2007.

Each year Davidson oversees a massive A/V production that involves sending video feeds to luxury suites and scoreboards throughout Reliant Park for viewing by approximately 70,000 people a night. He also prepares feeds for DirecTV pay-per-view broadcasts and simulcast of nightly concerts.

 The graphical user interface [of the Thunder playout server] is very simple and intuitive to operate.
- James Davidson, Managing Director,

Avid Rodeo Fans

This year, a plethora of Avid On-Air Graphics equipment feeding Grass Valley Kalypso and Zodiak production switchers were used to keep video coverage of the event supplied to fans no matter where they were - in the stadium or in their living rooms. “All told we had 50 people involved in our productions with 16 to 18 camera people,” says Davidson. All the cameras were configured for handheld operation.

A four-channel Avid Thunder live-production server with 144 GB of storage was used to store any non-live content. Tied into the Grass Valley production switchers, the Thunder server was an important part of the revenue-generation process, particularly for playing back commercials. Davidson says the top benefit of the Thunder unit is its ease of use. “The graphical user interface is very simple and intuitive to operate,” he says.

Also on hand were two Thunder-compatible Lightning 1000 still stores with three channels each. Non-motion graphics were stored on the systems and played to air as needed, with animations played out from Avid DekoCast units. Main show graphics, concert, and sponsorship information were broadcast on special large-size stadium monitors from two Deko character generators to enhance the audience experience.

An Avid DS Nitris system served as the main editing and compositing system and was used to create short features as well as opens and closes for shows and events. “It’s also responsible for much of the show ‘look,’” says Davidson. “All of our television and pay-per-view advertising and other promotions materials are done on the Avid DS Nitris, so it stays very busy.” To create just the right sonic atmosphere for the rough and tumble rodeo action, sound design for the shows was created using a Digidesign Pro Tools digital audio workstation.

The DekoCast Difference

With thousands of riders competing in the event, simply keeping track of all of the data, judges’ scores, times, and participants’ names was a daunting task - and organization and speed were paramount. Three Avid DekoCast channel branding systems were essential for handling this workload, feeding all of the fans in the stands (and those watching on DirecTV) times and scores.

Scores and times were entered into the DekoCast systems in XML format so they could be easily reformatted within Deko graphic templates to fit the display needs. As a result, operators no longer needed to key in scores for the different types of scoreboard and monitors around the venue, which saved valuable time and ensured accuracy and consistency.

“We needed broadcast-quality graphics, and only DekoCast provides the openness to take in data of any kind and also let us write programs for it,” says Davidson about the flexible on-air graphics workflow.

The ability to create new macros came in handy, particularly when the finals were approaching and the emphasis shifted from tallies of individual events to aggregate point totals. The operator simply created a new macro and link to a text file, and the correct information displayed instantly.

Each of the three DekoCast on-air graphics systems had different duties. One was dedicated to the clock bug, another to the standings, and a third provided a rider’s biographical information over the five-channel closed-circuit TV system that was seen in luxury suites.

Two additional DekoCast units provided information on ticket availability, daily event schedules, and bus schedules. They even provided entertainment in the form of music videos and other entertainment segments for people waiting in lines for shuttle busses that serviced the venue.  

Moving to HD

Using high-tech editing systems to supply rodeo images to monitors and large screens may be good enough for now, but Davidson already is making the transition to even more advanced technology: HD.

One of the difficulties anyone faces in the move to HD is cost, as well as effectively migrating from an SD to an HD setup. “We wanted to wait until the technologies were mature enough,” says Davidson.
The first steps taken toward HD were purchasing new Sony HD cameras, a new Grass Valley 128x128 HD routing switcher, and new monitoring gear.

At NAB 2006, Davidson explored next-generation HD systems, including servers with multi-channel ingest and playout capabilities and asset management gear. These included the Avid Thunder live-production server (Version 7.0) and the DekoCast channel branding system (Version 4.0), both of which offer HD support.

He is also about to install a Media Composer Adrenaline HD system with Avid DNxHD encoding technology to enhance the department’s HD editing capabilities and expand its post resources. “The Media Composer Adrenaline will also address upcoming mobile delivery needs like podcasting,” says Davidson.

Once Davidson has a full HD workflow in place, coverage of RodeoHouston is likely to attract an even greater audience, and fans can look forward to experiencing the rough-riding thrills with more depth, clarity, and visual excitement than ever.

*CREDIT: Courtesy of RodeoHouston