Case Study: Bringing Passion 2013 to the Faithful Took an Army
Live streaming an event of biblical proportions -- Passion 2013, a four-day Christian conference and concert -- took massive preparation.
Twenty-three: That’s how many HD video cameras Tennessee Digital Video (TNDV) deployed to cover Passion 2013
, a 4-day youth Christian conference/concert series that packed the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Jan. 1–4, 2013. Some cameras were mounted on pedestals, while others were on jibs or Steadicam rigs. Still other cameras were roving wirelessly. All were kept busy covering speakers, performers, and the 60,000 college students who attended daily.
This was no small job: To capture 4 long days of live content and feed it both to screens inside and stream it to the web, TNDV had to deploy not one, but two full-sized mobile production units to the Georgia Dome.
The larger truck, the 40' expanding-side mobile unit Aspiration, was charged with switching the incoming camera feeds to the stadium’s array of widescreen and ribbon LED displays; the two largest of these hung over center stage of the “in the round” event. The live in-arena content was directed by Russell Thomas.
“This was a gigantic event that ran morning, noon, and night,” said TNDV owner Nic Dugger. “To add to the challenge, the various interior screens we had to feed had five different aspect ratios. This meant that every shot we selected live had to be checked to ensure that it would look good in all of them.” This task was managed by mapping displays with the various aspect ratios outlined on Aspiration’s monitor wall so that the producers could see at a glance how well the camera shots lined up.
Passion 2013 was an “in the round” event that played out before 60,000 attendees each day at the Georgia Dome, in addition to hundreds of thousands more who watched online.
A bank of 26 AJA Video Systems Ki Pro file-based recorders were used to capture the various camera feeds and mixes, for use in producing a DVD afterward. These were attached to a series of 8TB RAID servers with a total of 56 drives. “As the drives filled up, we dumped them,” Dugger said. “I estimate that we captured 30 TB of content in all.”
The smaller truck, the 40' straight truck Inspiration, was responsible for mixing the web stream. This stream was fed to Passion 2013’s website at 268generation.com/passion2013
. Don Carr was the live director in charge of directing the web stream.
“I called and chose the camera I wanted, as well as selected the corresponding button on the video switcher at the same time; a tricky challenge [when done] live with 23 cameras,” Carr said. “The Passion people had a producer who oversaw the page layout, hit counts (that numbered upward well over 100,000 in the later part of the day’s events) and cued me on what full page graphics or video roll-ins we were clear to use.” The content stream switched inside Inspiration for Passion 2013’s webcast. It was encoded and then sent to Passion 2013’s own proprietary servers, which were located inside Inspiration.
A Daunting Task
As live shoots go, Passion 2013 was incredibly daunting. The number of live cameras approached that of an NFL Super Bowl. Add the fact that the cameras were equipped with triple tally lights -- red to indicate the camera was shooting for live display/DVD, green for the web stream, and yellow for both -- and just wiring the system together was complicated; not to mention routing everything to the two trucks.
The trucks were connected to the Front of House (FOH) mixing board. Beyond getting access to concert audio, TNDV wired an IP data connection between the three as well. “This IP link allowed us to share Internet connectivity with FOH, and put router controllers and tally light displays at FOH that fed data from the trucks to them -- even though we were parked over 1,000 feet away,” Dugger said.
For TNDV, the biggest challenge was working within the Georgia Dome’s packed schedule. Although the mobile production company was able to pre-pull some cable runs a month before Passion 2013, it had to wait until Dec. 30 to start readying the monitor walls, routers, and multi-viewers in earnest. Even then, events at the Georgia Dome prevented a full deployment.
“We only got into the space at 2 a.m. Jan. 1, after the Dec. 31 Chick-Fil-A Bowl football game had wrapped up,” said Dugger. “We had to scramble, since the doors for Passion 2013 opened at 6 p.m. that night.”
Director Don Carr ran the Passion 2013 webcast from inside the Inspiration.
Time spent included deploying equipment and then ensuring that everything ran as planned, including the freelancers who had to operate the cameras. (TNDV had six senior staff members on site, but the sheer size of Passion 2013 required hiring freelancers to do most of the work.) “It was vital to make sure that the crew was comfortable in their positions,” Dugger explained. “They had to be comfortable with the equipment, the shots needed, and the multiple sources of cues coming over the intercom: Remember, we were shooting two productions live at the same time.” Note: More than 120 RTS intercom ports were needed to interconnect the entire crew, the two trucks, and FOH.
No Hitch, No Limits
Despite the sheer size, the Passion 2013 live shoot and web stream occurred without any major hitches. “One thing I learned is that camera count is just a number,” said Dugger. “Before the show, 23 seemed like a big number. Now, after how we managed it, they could ask for 30 next year and we could handle it.”
The web stream itself was extremely popular, garnering hundreds of thousands of hits. “We were helped by the number of celebrity tweets we received, which were streamed to the live screens during Passion 2013,” Dugger said. “For instance, Carrie Underwood was watching, and tweeted her support.”
In fact, Underwood used her Twitter account (@carrieunderwood
) to promote the event: “Watch the #passion2013 live stream! ...” Considering that the country singer has in excess of 1.2 million Twitter followers, this was a far-reaching endorsement.
As for next year? With four Passion conferences under TNDV’s belt, “it would be a honor to be asked to produce a fifth one,” said Dugger. “Certainly we have the 23 camera mix down pat.”
“Producing the web stream was just like doing a conventional broadcast,” Carr added. “In the early days of webcasting, we had to minimize camera moves and cuts to work within streaming’s limits. But with today’s technology and bandwidth, this is no longer an issue. We no longer have to limit ourselves.”
This article appears in the April/May 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Case Study: Streaming on a Megascale: Passion 2013."