Since its founding in 1932, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR) has committed over $550 million to Texas youth and education through scholarships, educational program grants, graduate assistantships, and junior show exhibitor support. As the largest livestock exhibition and rodeo in the world, this special annual 20-day event draws over 2.4 million spectators to Houston’s NRG Park complex, with thousands more watching the free live streams.
The 90th anniversary event, held from 2/28/22 to 3/20/22, featured livestock and horse shows—including steers, lambs, and goats—by day, followed by spectacular rodeo competitions in the evening, culminating with nightly music concerts by top-tier artists. This year’s event was captured by HLSR’s extensive array of broadcast video equipment and streamed out live in HDTV quality from three dual-channel Lightspeed Live Stream encoding systems from Telestream.
A highly anticipated tradition
“With our mission to promote agriculture, preserve Western heritage, support Texas youth, and provide educational support—and with our annual educational commitment exceeding $22 million—we’re committed to making certain that everyone interested in our event can watch it live for free,” said James Davidson, Director of Broadcast and Audio/Visual at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, a 501c3 non-profit in Houston, Texas. “Lightspeed Live Stream gives us full in-house control over our live streams with exceptional video encoding and quality.”
Since each of the three Lightspeed Live Stream encoders is a dual-channel system, each can encode and stream two separate live feeds simultaneously. Between the three units, there are a total of six channels. Two of the three dual-channel Live Stream encoders are used to stream live HD program content for the organization’s website, rodeohouston.com, for a total of four feeds. This means that viewers can choose any of the four streams to watch a different concurrent HLSR event.
Show-stopping live streams
While the daytime streaming audience is small, these viewers see a polished multi-camera switched show enhanced by graphical overlays, such as sponsor logos, and CG text. These program feeds emanate from one of HLSR’s two on-site production control rooms, each equipped with a large Grass Valley 3-M/E production switcher and a Ross Xpression for live graphics. These polished video signals flow through the house routers to the Lightspeed Live Stream units in the nearby machine room. Online viewers can choose and jump between any of the four simultaneous live feeds depending upon which competitive events they’d like to see.
HLSR also provides a live program feed of the livestock show and rodeo events to three broadcast outlets, including The Cowboy Channel, Bally Sports Regional Sports Networks, and the local Telemundo affiliate, which receives a Spanish language broadcast with Spanish speaking announcers.
Challenging logistics right out of the gate
Video crews wield 20-plus Sony broadcast cameras—including Sony HDC-2750’s and HDC-1550’s—as they shoot concurrent events taking place throughout NRG Park. “To the kids who’ve spent a year raising these animals, this is a big deal,” Davidson said. “Their parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends all want to share that moment with them. Streaming is how we make that happen. And not to brag but, we do a better job live streaming than any other livestock show because it’s part of our mission to support these kids.”
The high production standard delivered in primetime is the same quality provided during the day on all four streaming channels. The audience size surges once the rodeo events begin. According to Gary Hazen, HLSR’s Senior Production Manager, “We generate four discreet RTMP streams that are sent to Microsoft Azure for distribution. The streaming packages are configured at 1280 x 720 and 30 frames per second [720/p30]. However, the camera input sources are HD-SDI video at 1920 x 1080i at 59.94 frames per second [1080/60i].” In terms of the encoding, the video is AVC 2,000 kbps, while audio is AAC at 128 kbps. The processing load is handled and optimized by the Lightspeed server’s GPUs. And Live Stream has a web-based graphical user interface (GUI) for easy configuration.
Seeking streaming scalability
The Telestream Lightspeed Live Stream systems were purchased in early 2022 through the Dallas-based Value-Added Reseller (VAR) TM Television as a replacement to a solution that was aging out and no longer supported by the manufacturer. HLSR was confident in Telestream quality as they’d been using Telestream Vantage for years as part of a parallel Avid editing workflow.
“Quality and reliability matter greatly because it’s important for us to be the best at everything we do and to make this event the best in the world,” Davidson said. “Even though our online audiences tend to be small, we use broadcast-quality cameras, switchers, routers, and highly efficient encoders so that our content looks as good on screen as it does here in person.” The ability to scale the servers factored greatly into the buying decision.
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