Sunday, March 19, 2017

Producing Live Video Announcements (with students running the show)

If you'd like to increase student engagement in morning announcements, perhaps consider live video announcements.

We've been producing live video announcements two ways, using a Tricaster and a couple of cameras or using free software (Open Broadcaster Software) and webcams. The latter way is much less expensive, but requires a little more tweaking to get similar results.

In either case, we are having elementary students run the show. Currently I'm doing most of the setup and pre-production, but hopefully we'll have students doing that soon as well. During the newscast there are usually two anchor persons (students as young as grade two), sometimes a sportscaster (a staff member in our case), two students controlling slideshows (teleprompter and background), and a student running the video switcher.

The step-by-step technical details of how this is all set up and operated will be subject of future blog posts, but for now here's an overview of things to consider.

While a newscast like this can be done with a single camera, having two or three makes it a little more interesting. You can have one set up as a standard shot of your anchor person(s), perhaps head and shoulders, medium, or cowboy. Another camera can be pointed a different direction for your sports or weather person. And I sometimes like having a "behind the scenes" camera that we broadcast before the start of the show to give students an idea of what the production process looks like.

Mics are an often-overlooked (underheard?) part of a production. We use a couple of condenser microphones on scissor arm stands, and some inexpensive handheld mics if necessary. These are connected to a physical sound mixer with phantom power and USB out, but that may be more than is necessary.

We've set up an old computer monitor just under the main camera, and connected a laptop. There's a student controlling the slideshow on the laptop, the words on the slides are color-coded for each of the anchor persons.

Background Slides
There is also a student controlling a laptop with background slides that appear behind or over the shoulder of the anchors.

Before the announcements actually begin, we've started streaming either a live behind-the-scenes camera or student artwork. We're also streaming creative commons music (currently selections from the YouTube audio library). This allows teachers to have the broadcast up on the screen and make sure the video and audio are working before the broadcast begins.

Video Interstitials
We usually start the actual newscast with a brief "news intro" video, we'll play a national anthem video that we've created or a creative commons one that we've cued up.

Chroma Keying
Usually the anchors and/or sportscasters are standing in front of a green or blue screen that we then digitally replace with a virtual set or some other interesting background. We're still working on getting the lighting right for that, but it currently doesn't look too bad.

Streaming Destination
After investigating a number of options, we've decided to use YouTube Live. It's easy to set up new channels and add managers as required. Of course for any publicly available streaming destination you'll need parents/guardians to sign a media release form.

Getting to the Audience
All of our staff members were provided with a short URL that directed to the live channel. They bring that up on their screens on the mornings when we are broadcasting. We also stream it to the hallway TVs using Chromecast devices and AirParrot.

That's a quick overview of what the production process looks like. I'll update this post with links to how we do this use a TriCaster and with Open Broadcaster Software once I've written those posts. Let me know in the comments if you'd like more details or clarification on any of these points.