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Miss Universe Organization taps potential of live streaming to build excitement for its pageants

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Miss Universe Organization taps potential of live streaming to build excitement for its pageants
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The new media department of the Miss Universe Organization is producing a wide variety of streaming video shows with the NewTek TriCaster™ to enhance its brand.

How can an annual TV institution build an even bigger worldwide audience and give its well-established fan base a way to enjoy the event year round?

Those were the questions facing the Miss Universe Oranization a couple of years ago as it looked to build its brand, attract new, younger viewers and create a sense of anticipation in the public about its beauty pageants. In the age of social networking, YouTube and Twitter, the solution –to stream ancillary pageant content live on the Internet– may seem rather obvious. But as is often the case in life, just because something is easy to recognize doesn’t mean that it will be easy to do.

For Colin Hornett, producer and head of new media for the Miss Universe Organization, however, simplicity along with reliability and portability were the fundamental requirements of whatever solution the organization settled on to produce and stream content. “Production is incredibly complex,” says Hornett. “The simpler it is, the better it is. Simpler means fewer mistakes and tighter shows.”

After evaluating and considering various alternatives, Hornett settled on the NewTek TriCaster™ as the centerpiece of his streaming production setup. Not only was it easy to use and packed with the production tools he needed, but the TriCaster also was portable enough to be located in the tight confines Hornett would be given. “I knew we would need to be under the stage, under the steps and tucked away in places you would never imagine,” he says, “so being nimble and mobile was a must.”

Streaming coverage
The Miss Universe Organization kicked off its use of streaming video during the 27th Miss Teen USA pageant from the Atlantis Paradise Island in Nassau, Bahamas, in July 2009, which was followed the next month by the 58th Miss Universe pageant from the same venue.

From the outset, an important goal has been leveraging the worldwide reach of the Internet to bring fans into contact with the pageants before the big night. “We want to get people excited before the show and get them engaged with the pageant,” explains Hornett. “We want them to meet the girls and the judges and to build a connection so they keep coming back for more.”

Viewers of the pageant telecasts probably aren’t aware that by show night the field of contestants has been narrowed down to 15 quarter finalists. The winnowing begins two days to a week before the finale with a preliminary competition. “During the preliminary competition, judges narrow down the field of contestants,” says Hornett. Contestants are judged on the same criteria during this pre-show phase, including evening gown and bathing suit competitions, as during the show that gets televised.

Streaming this pre-show competition is the ideal solution for building excitement, says Hornett. “You don’t get to see any results, but the stream of the pre-show allows viewers to be part of the process by seeing the girls walk in their evening gowns, et cetera,” he says. “It is incredible content.”

Then 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the telecast, Hornett and his team complete the anticipation phase of their production with a half hour of live content streamed from pageant leading into the show.

Streaming content again takes center stage as soon as NBC, the network televising the pageants, concludes its coverage. At that moment, Hornett’s team is on stage with its own cameras to capture the reaction of the winner immediately after she is crowned and stream it to the public on the Internet. “We run on stage and interview the girl right after she wins,” he says.

Production setup
The centerpiece of Hornett’s production setup for both the pre- and after-show streaming events is the NewTek TriCaster 300, an HD-capable multi-camera production switcher and streaming hub. Weighing 20 pounds, the ultra-portable TriCaster comes in a single box that literally can be transported in a backpack if necessary. The TriCaster 300 supports up to three HD inputs and is capable of HD titling, HD digital disk recording, live virtual set generation, audio mixing, HD editing and full HD streaming.

While both shows rely on the TriCaster, Hornett approaches the production of each in significantly different ways. For the post-show stream, Hornett uses his own complement of three cameras –two on jibs positioned on either side of the stage and a shoulder-mount camera operated by a single videographer who rushes the stage immediately after the network show goes dark to capture the reaction of winner.

This run-and-gun production approach, more akin to a live news remote, contrasts sharply with the more staid pre-show production, a less frenetic webcast that relies on a traditional OB truck rolled in to the pageant venue primarily to produce the main event but also traditionally used to capture the pre-show for archival purposes by the Miss Universe Organization.

“The truck is only calling cameras,” explains Hornett. “We take their live cut clean, put on our own lower-thirds, effects and graphics (with the TriCaster). I guess you could say for the pre-show we use the giant production truck as a switcher.”

For both pre- and post-show streams, Hornett must meet his own set of sponsorship responsibilities. “We run video packages and commercials, depending on what we have sold, and what obligations we have,” he says. Being able to reliably roll those spots and stream them along with a rock-solid production of the pre- and post-show proceedings was instrumental in Hornett’s decision to base his production on the TriCaster. “If the TriCaster goes down, the show goes down. We have sponsor commitments and the fans rely on us. It’s got to work,” says Hornett.

Miss Universe licensees also have begun tapping the power of live streaming for their pageants, says Hornet. “Quite a few licensees use the TriCaster,” he says. “That just makes sound financial sense. If it costs $100,000 to $200,000 to produce traditional TV, it costs $10,000 to $20,000 for a TriCaster stream. That equation opens up the possibility of further developing steaming by licensees.”

Into the future
While the TriCaster supports any combination of HD-SDI, HD component, SD-SDI, component, Y/C or composite video sources, outputs three HD/SD-SDI or three HD/SD component video channels and supports 16:9 720p streaming, Hornett has elected –at least for the time being- to stream only SD.

“We take HD and downconvert to SD,” says Hornet. “I have audiences around the world with varying degrees of bandwidth.”

“My goal is to achieve the best quality of video while delivering a stream with the best access. In the United States, that’s 512kb/s. Maybe we could pump that up to 1Mb/s for the international audience. We are moving toward that, but I would rather have more people have access. We struggle with this one a lot. At what point do you get maximum quality and streaming?”

Hornett’s future goals for streaming aren’t confined to boosting resolution, however. The new media chief of the Miss Universe Organization has identified several new opportunities for streaming video to boost the brand, enhance viewer experience and potentially tap additional revenue sources.

“Ideally, I would like to have cameras back stage so during the show you could be watching streaming coverage of what’s going on back stage while you’re tuned into the main show,” says Hornett. “Streaming video really breaks down the barriers and the doors about the pageant and how it operates.”