Rodeo Houston saddles up for HDTV

Every sport has its own version of the “big game,” the championship event that fills a stadium, grabs TV ratings and makes headlines. And then there’s The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo which this year begins its transition to HD.

The 20-day event began on Feb. 20 this year, drawing more than 1.7 million people to Reliant Stadium, a 70,000-plus facility in Houston, TX. It has a bit of everything: the excitement of a Super Bowl, the fun of a state fair, and, over the years, has become the Mardi Gras of the life of the cowboy, a celebration that has everything from rodeo competitions to auctions of livestock and plenty of event for youngsters.

While the event has become legendary for its rodeo performances its video and audio facilities have also become legendary, handling nightly concerts from top performers like Brooks and Dunne and following more than 4,800 riders who saddle up for competition.

James Davidson, managing director of the Houston Rodeo Audio/Visual Presentations and Broadcast Department, says the first steps taken towards HD were purchasing new Sony HD cameras, a new Grass Valley 128×128 HD routing switcher, and new monitoring gear. “Sony had a leg up on the cameras because we’ve worked with them before and the cameras can handle 1080p. So it does all flavors of HD and can also run over our triax infrastructure.”

Suite Deal
Each year Davidson oversees a massive A/V production that involves sending video feeds to luxury suites and scoreboards throughout Reliant Park and seen by 70,000 people a night, a DirecTV PPV event, and nightly concerts from a broad range of well known recording artists.

Two Grass Valley production switchers, a Kalypso and a Zodiak, handle the production duties. “The PPV events start at 4 p.m. but we also play a big role in the junior market auctions that fed to a local ABC affiliate,” says Davidson. Five cameras are involved in the sales auction shoot with a Jib camera complementing more traditional camera positions.

“All told we have 50 people involved in our productions with 16 to 18 camerapeople,” says Davidson. All the cameras are configured for handheld operation.

Three audio rooms are also on hand: one for the TV mix that is sent around the complex, a Surround Sound mix room for the DirecTV feed (both with Yamaha DM2000 consoles), and a concert audio room with an Amek Recall console.

Needless to say, with thousands of riders competing graphics and scoreboard operations become an integral part of the workflow. A wealth of data is pushed around the facility via XML, a move that makes it easier for Avid Dekocast machines to publish graphics. Two live Deko machines access the XML data through macros that put the right data into the right Deko template.
“We needed broadcast quality graphics and there is nothing else that gives the openness to suck in data of any kind and also let us write programs for it,” says Davidson.

The ability to create new macros comes in handy, particularly when the finals are approaching and the emphasis shifts to aggregate point totals rather than the winners of individual events. The operator creates a new macro and link to a text file that then places the right information into the proper place.

Three other Live Dekocast systems are also in use, with one dedicated to the clock bug, another to the standings, and rider bio information that is pushed out over five closed-circuit channel.

Two DekoCast units provide information on ticket availability, daily schedules of events, bus schedules, and entertainment for long lines in the bus queues with music videos and other entertainment segments in addition to sponsorship fulfillment. Other Avid gear includes a pair of dual-channel FXDekos, one DVE Extreme, one four-channel Thunder and two three-channel Lightning systems (one is dedicated to the rodeo and the other to the closed-citcuit operations). An Avid DS Nitris editor is also on hand.

HD graphics are also on the to-do list. The tricky part of the move to HD is that the Rodeo isn’t doing it all at once. “We wanted to wait until the technologies were mature enough,” says Davidson. Making the move even more complex is not only knowing when to jump on the HD gear but when to make sure the resale value of the SD gear is its highest. “Our SD Kalypso switcher has much more resale value now then it will in a couple of years,” says Davidson.

With this year’s rodeo complete Davidson and his
crew will get back in the saddle to begin work on next year’s show,
going over notes and reviewing video.

“We produce materials for the show year round and about December we
start ramping up and getting ready,” he says. “Technology is always
changing and this year we began our five-year plan to go HD.”