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CIT to Live-Stream President Pollack's Inauguration Events

On August 24 and 25, when Cornell hosts a series of events to officially welcome incoming president Martha E. Pollack to the university, a dedicated team from CIT will be hard at work behind the scenes. Andy Page, manager of CIT’s Video Engineering and Event Services, and many others from CIT, will make sure Cornellians around the world are able to enjoy the festivities via live-streaming video.

Along with Page, Video Engineering and Event Service staff hard at work on the event include Alex Nemeth, providing technical support; Marshall Perryman, videographer and multimedia producer; and Don Buttaccio, broadcast engineer. Others from CIT working to make the event a success include Kevin Feeney of Laurie Collinsworth’s Network Engineering staff, Shawn Walker’s Field Services team, and team lead Tom Ball in Voice Engineering.

Video Engineering will also keep in touch with Mariann Carpenter and the System Administration team, and Shannon Osburn’s Custom Development group, to head off any potential issues on during the festivities in the unlikely event they crop up.

“There are such great relationships within CIT now,” said Page. “We’re all working really well as a team, with great relationships between departments. And it’s not just within CIT but across the whole university.”

Planning Out the Details: From TV Crews to Accessibility

Page explains that the inauguration events are a bit more complex than most of the events his team handles. However, live-streaming to the Cornell community around the world is made possible by technology they depend on regularly to deliver content to users. “We live-stream more than 75 events a year now. It’s become very popular to stream your event,” he said.

At the heart of the effort, Video Engineering will broadcast two events: President Pollack’s installation ceremony, and the Academic Symposium in Bailey Hall the evening before. Using CornellCast, the university’s video platform -- which relies largely on Kaltura online video technology -- CIT has a flexible and reliable platform to reliably deliver live video to any device.

Because of the scale of the inauguration events, Page and his team will be bringing in a seasoned production crew from Admiral Video in Buffalo, NY, to work with them. “These folks are total pros,” said Page. “They’re experienced handling big events such as NFL games.” Complementing the Admiral crew will be director Mike Allmendinger, who has produced and directed commencement and convocation events for Cornell and CIT in the past, and overall event coordinators Spiral Creative Productions.

To fully capture the installation ceremony, the video crew will deploy three hard-wired cameras, one mounted on a jib arm to allow better close-ups and dramatic swooping shots. A wireless RF camera will provide up-close-and-personal shots of musical performers and speakers, and an unmanned POV camera in Goldwin Smith Hall will give the director an additional “beauty shot” to choose from.      

Then it’s time to bring it all together. The camera feeds will run to a large production truck parked behind McGraw Hall. There the shots will be shaded so that hue and white balances match, then mixed with the audio feeds from the event and audience audio. Titles and graphics will be added to identify event participants, and a video engineer will operate an instant replay machine, used to create highlight clips on the fly. “We can run off clips of key moments and turn them around fast to University Relations,” said Page. “That way they can get immediate coverage for us on cable news outlets like CNN.”

Because the Arts Quad doesn’t offer any permanent broadcast or IP infrastructure, the CIT crew will outfit an IT@Cornell van to serve as a mobile “head end” (a video processing and distribution point) to house their MPEG4 encoding and signal distribution equipment.

Here, the live feed will run into a captioning encoder. Experienced captionists will transcribe the spoken content from the event. The captions are incorporated into the live stream of the event, and will also serve as the closed-captioning available later in archived video. To get the video out to the world, an engineered network switch and fiber optic IP connections from McGraw Hall will provide the “big pipe” needed to distribute the livestream to the CornellCast website, Spectrum’s public access cable channel 16, and on-campus DirecTV channels available to student residences.

The captioned live feed of the events will serve another important role. Hearing-impaired audience members will be able to watch the captioned video on large flat-panel displays near their reserved seating. This is a way for CIT to provide an important Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) service, despite the Arts Quad’s lack of the infrared assistive audio listening technology that might be found in an equipped indoor venue like Bailey Hall.

Keeping People Connected

Another service the team will offer will be outdoor Wi-Fi service on the quad. In the interests of sustainability, event planners decided not to offer a printed program for the installation ceremony. Instead, an advertised TinyURL link will direct the audience to an online program.

This, of course, will require some bandwidth to succeed. To augment the existing Verizon cell coverage, Kevin Feeney of CIT Network Engineering has arranged for high-density outdoor-rated Wi-Fi access points around the quad. Some will be mounted on loudspeaker scaffolding, others on tripods near the audience seating. Copper power-over-Ethernet (PoE) and fiber connections will connect access points to the network switches in McGraw Hall. In this way, the audience will see the same service set identifier (SSID) choices as they would in any connected building on campus. “The idea was to give them the same Wi-Fi experience they expect, only out on the quad,” said Page.

Whether it’s infrastructure, transportation, video production crews, or portable Wi-Fi networks, the end goal is always making sure things go smoothly for the end user. “We’re trying to anticipate all the things people need, the things people take for granted, and make sure they’re a success,” said Page.

And when President Pollack’s inaugural events are over, Video Engineering and Event Services will be on to the next live event. Later in August they will provide a live stream for the College of Veterinary Medicine from the Dairy Cow Birthing Center at the New York State Fair, a very popular service that CIT provides each year.

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