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Over the past few years, MTV and the MTVN Music Group have leveraged online video streaming and social media to complement linear programming and further engage viewers with shows. But producing these streams — whether they're complementing TV coverage of awards shows or giving fans of shows like “The Hills” a way to connect with each other as they dish about an episode that's just aired — comes with a unique set of constraints. The most obvious is a return on investment equation that puts a sharper pencil to the production budget. Where the music network's audience for a TV event and the revenue it generates likely justifies rolling a production truck and incurring all of the associated expenses, the metrics for a streaming presentation probably don't. That doesn't discourage Jeff Jacobs, vice president production planning and strategies at MTV, however. It just makes the challenge all the more interesting.

Such was the case at the MTV Movie Awards June 5 from the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, CA. MTV tasked Jacobs' Emerging Technology Group to develop an alternate production workflow in which three separate streaming video productions would complement its linear coverage. First, the network wanted to tap the excitement building prior to the show with live Sneak Peek Week coverage on MTV and every night from the Silver Screen Theater at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. Second, the network aimed to give its audience a streaming video VIP perspective on backstage happenings and from the red carpet to complement its linear TV coverage. Third, it wanted to give journalists who couldn't attend a way to view winners after receiving their awards presentation and interact with them via the Internet.

To meet the network's objectives, Jacobs put three NewTek TriCaster video production switchers to work: a TriCaster 300 for the three-camera production of Sneak Peek Week; a TriCaster 850 for the 14-camera red carpet/backstage show; and a TriCaster 300 for the three-camera production of winner interviews for the press. Both models deliver live switching of HD sources, HD effects and titling, as well as on-site video encoding for Internet streaming — all of which are critical features for MTV. Where they differ is in size, portability and number of video inputs. The 20lb TriCaster 300 is more portable but offers just three camera inputs, while the TriCaster 850 is an eight-input switcher in a bigger, 4U rack-mount form factor. Both can encode Adobe Flash Media and Microsoft Windows Media, as well as support HD and 16:9 streaming.

Sneak peek

The goal of Sneak Peek Week coverage was to give viewers a taste of this summer's blockbuster movies and a way to interact with their favorite stars. A short show would air live on the network's linear channel, followed by a longer, 30-minute show streamed live on Every night, 300 people gathered at the Silver Screen Theater to get a sneak peek of the movies. Afterwards, stars from the films would do a Q&A with MTV entertainment reporter Josh Horowitz. During the streaming show, fans in the theater could then ask questions in person, and because the network was live streaming, fans at home could IM, Facebook and Twitter in questions to the celebrities and watch their responses via the live stream.

MTV's red carpet and backstage coverage illustrates how linear TV and streaming video can complement each other to give viewers a richer experience. During the live stream, viewers can focus their attention on the linear program, and during acts they can look online at what's happening backstage.

To support the red carpet and backstage production, the network relied on the eight-input version of the production switcher, as well as a small router to handle the 14 HD camera feeds. Jacobs, who has developed alternate production workflows and produced streaming red carpet coverage from the Oscars and the Grammys for MTV, was confident viewers would flock to the stream from the network's movie awards because a million people a day have logged on to watch the other awards shows. For the MTV Movie Awards, streaming coverage of the red carpet started two hours prior to the show and ended an hour after its conclusion.

Similarly, streaming video played an important role for the nation's press at this year's movie awards. Typically at awards shows, winners receive their trophies onstage, walk about 100ft to a tent or adjacent hall and answer questions from the press.

Jacobs says, “That's beautiful, delicious content that the Grammys doesn't show you, the Oscars never shows you and the VMAs at MTV never showed you. But we thought this is great stuff. Why don't we put a camera there and put it into a TriCaster and stream this?”

Streaming the content gave financially strapped media outlets a way to cover the awards without actually having to send reporters to the show. Reporters from around the world watched from the press room live. In addition, hundreds of questions were submitted by reporters via IM and Twitter and were answered by the stars.

Fade to black

Live streaming events like the MTV Movie Awards are a reflection of a commitment the network made four years ago to take advantage of the changes its viewers were making in how they watch television. It's common for MTV viewers to come home, flip on the TV and turn on their laptops.

Delivering streaming content to enrich this viewing approach had to be done right, however. The network knew that live streaming did not have the ROI and the planning ability from a time and logistics point of view to produce content similar to how its done via linear TV technology.

Looking for a multicamera production switcher that could meet its unique streaming requirements led MTV to NewTek. Encoding on-site was important for the network, as was the ability to input its own graphics and call them in live. The ability to preload video clips and play live was also vital. The TriCaster delivered those creative tools, the portability to get to within feet of the red carpet and cost efficiency the network needed to deliver the ROI and production quality to make live streaming coverage successful.

Phil Kurz regularly reports on the broadcast industry and is the writer of Broadcast Engineering's “OTT Trends & Technology” e-newsletter.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.