Posts by Larry Thaler

The Kirk Gibson affair

VCC team performs smart-phone remote for Dodgers legend in a first with FSN

Kirk Gibson from his smartphone in LA interacts in real-time via VCC services with John Keating and Craig Monroe at the ballpark

View Fox Sports Detroit video (C) Fox Sports Nets 2018

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but our team did something incredible last week, and as my grandfather used to say, my buttons are bursting.

On Friday, VCC did a live remote with former LA Dodger (and Detroit Tiger) sports legend, Kirk Gibson from his smartphone in LA to the truck at Commerica Park in Detroit. Kirk was in LA to throw out the first pitch for the Dodgers, but needed to participate in the pre-game show in Detroit with the Tigers.

Just a couple of weeks ago, executives from Fox Sports Networks did a “virtual tour” with our team and were looking for an opportunity to give us a try. I want to avoid characterizing FSN’s satisfaction, because that’s really up to them, but I believe it’s the first time they’ve experienced the power of this system – contribution from anyone, virtually anywhere. Good quality video/audio AND a real-time low-latency return video/audio feed from the truck. Kirk did a good natured banter with his peers at the ballpark, and because of the video return, was able to see what they were wearing, and even announced over some b-roll. It was flawless and we think that it may have been a first.

So this would be pretty cool, all by itself, but FSN had just made the request on Monday for a Wednesday rehearsal. Luckily, VCC’s tech team led by Will Milne and Alex Maisey had recently created and released our new Call Manager Pro product and put it into service for Major League Baseball. CMP permits us to route video calls through what we’re calling an end-point, effectively making VCC kind of a virtual video call switchboard.

Our tech, Matt Graf quickly got the parts needed together and assisted by the remaining engineers, prepared a field kit for VCC’s head of production, Tom Porpilglia to take to the ballpark. Tom volunteered to be our eyes and ears on-site and had the system, along with a back-up working just 30 minutes after arriving at the truck. The FSN team was incredibly helpful. Our own Jonni Galleti performed the Call Production function, quality controlling both the practice calls and the final air signal with Kirk.

It was a team effort, and I want to thank everyone who helped to execute it so quickly, but also extend thanks to Tom Delehanty who did the magical initial introductions that started it all and to Jackie Lennon, for her work on the virtual tour demo.

Tom Wolzien and I could not be prouder.

Larry

The VCC is named a Facebook Live Media Solutions Partner

We are very pleased to announce that this past Monday, Facebook has named VCC a “Facebook Live Media Solutions Provider.”  The Facebook team realized the value of the VCC’s ability to produce broadcast quality programs based upon video calls from smartphones.  

The VCC is one of just 20 companies vetting by Facebook to provide services.   More details will follow, but this happened after a vetting by experienced broadcast executives at Facebook – who were happy to find, in VCC, a group that understood real live television production and broadcast quality output after dealing with many web oriented offerings.

Welcome Back to Will

Just a quick note to say welcome back to our own Will Milne, who was on vacation in Europe.   He returned to find his work-space tastefully decorated – – but despite the danger, he jumped back into the swing of things right away.

Will is the creator of the HAT system, the TOP HAT (Touchscreen) and the recent HAT on a PC product.  He also oversees the software development department.

I’d add the caption: CAUTION, BRILLIANCE AT WORK!

 

 

 

Remote Host on Laptop

I am very excited to announce that our tech team has met yet another huge milestone.  Our remote host system can now control a full production from just about anywhere, on just about any laptop.    We can now retrofit a customer’s laptop with a high-definition camera, custom control panel, a touch screen, a tally light, and of course our HAT software to permit control anywhere.  You add internet access, lighting, mic and headset – and you have an almost instant  full host position.   

The host can then not only select the callers on the show, but can roll opens and closes, bumpers, videos and still graphics, and perform all of the functions normally reserved for the broadcast host position.    Tally and our patented pre-tally system are all enabled, along with a heads up display showing the host all 8 callers, their topic information, program and the HAT automation system.

Our initial tests have been completed and I am pleased that the system passed it’s tests with flying colors.   Cannot wait to show it to our customers!

 

Taking Back Social TV

Taking Back Social TV

The term “Social TV” has been around for years.   According to Google “Social TV refers to technologies surrounding television that promote communication and social interaction related to program content.”  Wikipedia states, “Social television is the union of television and social media”.

In reality, it’s a term that has been misused, mishandled and misapplied. I think that it is time the industry got its collective hands around what exactly Social TV is.   But first, we need to acknowledge it’s troubled history, which according to Wikipedia includes such offerings as:

  • Having a host or celebrity in an “Orange (or other color) Room” tell you what is trending on Twitter right now.
  • Voting for the performer you like via text on American Idol
  • Showing a Facebook page showing what people “like” at the moment.
  • A side-bar showing moderated live tweets on the air

For the most part, it seems social TV has come to be defined as little more than a connection between what people are watching and what they “like” on Facebook, Tweet on Twitter or apply a hashtag to . This most interactive this iteration of social TV gets is when a program uses a graphic to display social media posts in real-time. In reality, that’s hardly an advance over the decade or older practice of airing text messages alongside music videos.

Is that what today’s audience, who live in a world that is actually social, want?

None of those are social. They are commentary, perhaps even falling into the category of social reporting.  That is not Social Television.   The only companies profiting (or getting promoted) in those scenarios are social media platforms, not the content providers producing the shows.

Maybe we can help make sense of this? According to Merriam-Webster, social is defined as “relating to or involving activities in which people spend time talking to each other or doing enjoyable things with each other.” With that in mind, I would propose that:

  • Social TV happens when thousands of people are interacting directly, in real-time, with the player of a live video game on Twitch.
  • Social TV is also what happens when fans appear on screen and actually engage in conversation with sports commentators and players, such as what we saw last year at KUSA.
  • And, Social TV happens when celebrities, an engaging host, and enthusiastic gossipers gather via Skype, Facebook Live, Google, Gruveo, from wherever they are, using whatever device is handy, to discuss fashion, relationships, and behind the scenes drama.

It’s time to stop abusing Social TV. It has a real meaning and is only now becoming a reality.

 

Big Things are Happening (as things get smaller)

I should go on business trips more often!   While I was attending the recent SEAT conference (see other blog), the ace tech team at The VCC was busy making things smaller (and we know that good things come in small packages).  

A few weeks ago I told you that we were successful in reducing almost a full rack of equipment from our systems by converting to digital audio.   I’m thrilled to report that while I was away, the team was hard at work with virtualization.  We have now enabled our software to run on our hypervisor, or virtual environment, which is just 1 rack unit (1.75″) high – also reducing almost a full rack.   We still have significant testing to do, but this is extremely valuable in that it reduces the second largest portion (after audio) of our systems.  We are now 2/3 of our way towards our targets in minimum system size, and expect that our customers will appreciate both the rack-savings as well as the flexibility which comes with this approach.

Thanks guys – keep the hits coming!

Larry

SEAT (Sports & Entertainment Alliance in Technology) Show Recap

You may have seen a recent announcement from The VCC that we’ve formed a strategic alliance with SEAT – sponsoring the recent show, and SEAT will use VCC technology to produce a weekly show for it’s members. Well, Jerry and I just got back from our first ever visit to the Sports & Entertainment Alliance in Technology (SEAT) conference in Las Vegas.   What an event!

 For those not familiar with the conference, it hosts technology and marketing professionals from sports teams and venues from across the US and around the globe.  The show was a venerable “who’s who” of the sports industry.  We met senior tech leaders from professional sports teams, universities and minor league clubs.  We also met folks that run stadiums and venues, some from as far away as Doha or New Zealand (and I thought that my flight was arduous!)

 It’s a very different type of conference for us. There were vendor booths like any other show, but it’s more about networking than foot traffic.  The focus of the show was on building relationships and creating connections.  SEAT was a spectacular opportunity with frequent networking sessions to help expand who we knew in the industry.

The non-television side of the sports business is new for us, but we were very excited that the discussions we had revealed some interesting places where VCC Technology may be extremely useful. Here are just some of the interesting things we discussed:

  • Creation of web programming to support team’s sales and marketing efforts – lower cost live content enabling both fans and experts to join in conversation about the teams.
  • Premium Tier:  We discovered that several Teams offer premium dinners or meetings with star athletes or managers to entice their high-roller customers.   This premium can now be added more frequently, or enabled for mid-level tiers by connecting fans with a weekly or monthly chat, enabling fans to have an exclusive discussion with their heroes.
  • Press conferences:  Frequently, teams holding press conferences, tours or large meetings and need to bring athletes, trainers and participants into the conversation while they are on the road.  The VCC Technology assists by permitting multiple attendees using whatever app they have, keeping editorial control of the session and without that nasty audio echo that goes with many conference systems.
  • Access to experts and statisticians for fantasy players in premium programs just for them.
  • League and business meetings streamed live to large audience with restricted access or filtered Q/A sessions

We are very pleased that SEAT recognized the opportunity that the VCC has to offer its members and look forward to further developing these new relationships.

VCC Segues to Digital Audio

Last night VCC made a huge leap…by making something much, much smaller (and, of course, much, much better).  For the first time VCC used its brand new digital audio system on its flagship programs, Fan Jam and OMG. Let me explain why we are so excited.

The audio and communications processing VCC provides for multiple hosts and up to 8 live callers was one of the biggest technical achievements in designing the VCC system. In effect, VCC provides each of those hosts and callers with their own, custom mix of the program.  That feature required us to use a full rack of equipment—that’s 42 rack units in engineer speak or nearly six feet—along with literally hundreds of cables.

About 6 months ago we kicked off a project to substantially improve audio quality while reducing the space VCC systems occupy. The goal was to convert all that separate audio processing to a single, custom configured audio engine controlled through VCC’s HAT® automation software.   The results went live last night—a singular audio console, built exactly to our specifications, along with a custom soft-control panel designed just for caller television.

Along the way, that original, massive rack full of equipment has been converted to just 4 rack units—a mere 7 inches(!)—and the cable count is now below 20.   This is a major milestone in our plans to make VCC technology ready to be installed in our customer’s facilities. We’re getting very close!

Best of all, the new digital equipment sounds amazing and is a considerable improvement over what most people expect when they think “video call.”  The new system also opens the door for new, powerful control options. We can’t wait to show those to you in a future post.

 Feel free to give us a call if you’d like to see this system in action – it’s truly remarkable. 

 Larry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Graf does the honors of shutting down the analog audio at the decommissioning ceremony.

Matt Graf does the honors of shutting down the analog audio at the decommissioning ceremony.

BEFORE: Analog Audio, a full rack!

Analog Audio (BEFORE)

AFTER Digital Audio (just 7 inches)

Digital Audio (AFTER)

The Four C’s of Remote Caller Television

The VCC has created more caller television than anyone in the world – we’re getting close to 3,000 callers so far – and we thought it would be appropriate to share a little of what we’ve learned.   

The VCC makes it look easy

Caller television seems so simple – just identify a Skype address and connect – what could go wrong? Well, if industry experience is any guide, this is awfully tricky – with some 40% of Skype calls dropped while on air.   At the VCC, our on-air drop rate is around 1%.  This has been learned through experience, technology, process, and simple perseverance.  

Because we are bringing in large numbers of callers, who we want to be able to see and hear each other, our processes have to be better.    We also want to ensure that no-one enters this group without being screened and selected for air.  

The Four C’s of Caller Screening

One of our mantras is the Four C’s.    No one calling into the programs we are managing gets on unless they pass the four conditions needed to be a good caller.

1.  Connection.   Four years ago, when we first started experimenting with caller television, we would attempt to “muscle through” with a caller who might be on the edge.  Our screeners have learned since then what to look and listen for and to assist the callers improve their connection before clearing them for air.   They have become experts in evaluating the quality of the connection, improving a marginal situation, or getting the caller to call back.   Sometimes this even means switching from one application to a different one.

2. Content.   Does the caller know what the show is about?  Do they have good questions for the host or guest star?  We want to ensure only the best callers get cleared for air.    Our systems track the subjects that the caller wants to speak about and shares it with the production team.    By the way, how’s the picture quality, the framing, the lighting and the sound quality.  Screeners know how to help the callers quickly improve these.

3. Coherent.   Does the caller seem sober enough to be on-air?   While it’s true that some shows might enjoy having a caller who’s inebriated – most of our clients prefer people who’ll be responsible for their words and actions.

4. Clothing.   We want to ensure that the callers are appropriate for air, so although it’s the last check on this list – it has occasionally been the first thing we notice.   Our screeners also have controls to immediately remove a caller from air should they decide to remove a garment.

So that’s the four C’s of Video Caller Screening.   Hope to see you on one of our shows (with clothing on) soon!

 

Larry

NAB 2016: Our first trade-show

NAB 2016: Getting the Booth Ready

Many thanks to our friends at Haivision

 

Our first official tradeshow gets underway in Las Vegas at NAB 2016.  Thanks to our good friends at Haivision, we’ll be exhibiting in their suite at the Renaissance Hotel (right near the south hall) in the 5 Spot room on the 2nd floor.  

We spent today getting the display built and then wrestled some bandwidth from the hotel’s vendor to enable our systems to work.  I am pleased to say that everything is up and running.   The picture posted here is a peek behind the scenes.   It’s still a bit messy, but we’re happy.

We’ll be showing our entire work-flow from making and accepting a call, to call screening and clearance for air, all the way through the remotely positioned host controlling production without a control room.

Many thanks to the Haivision partners and to the VCC installation team:  Matt Graf, WIll Milne, Tom Wolzien and Valerie Wolzien for making the setup happen.  Also thanks to our team back at headquarters who prepared the promos and networks for the event (Tom, Jacyln, Jonni, Nicole, Seth and Lionel).

Cannot wait to optimize systems tomorrow!

Larry