The Cathedral College (TCC) is a day and boarding college in Central Queensland with an enrolment of approximately 1140 students.
TCC began live-streaming school events some two years ago, to overcome the tyranny of distance for boarding families.
“When the 2016 Opening School Year Mass and Commissioning of Student Leaders was live-streamed we realised how powerful using this technology is,” Pauline Crow, who looks after communications for the school, says.
“A parent who was in Tasmania assisting with fighting bushfires was able to watch his son receive his House Captain badge from the Fire Control Centre at Young.
“Both father and son benefited enormously.”
Having live-streamed the odd musical performance, information or award evening, the college decided to step things up this year with the ambition to live-stream the Independent Secondary Schools Netball Carnival (QISSN) and the Queensland Independent Secondary Schools Rugby League Confraternity Carnival, two major events hosted by the school.
“The principal Rob Alexander and IT manager Aaron Nunn were determined to live-stream the events, solving the vast technical challenges, so as families from across Queensland could be part of this premier sporting event,” Crow explains.
“The result was overwhelming. Viewers from across the world tuned into every match and game played.”
Nunn says setting up for the day’s broadcast was a lengthy process which involved plenty of practise.
“The process was a project done over a number of months, so it wasn’t just something we could jump straight into,” Nunn says The project had humble beginnings, with football games and practise sessions broadcast using a single camera, one computer and no commentators.
“Now we’ve refined the process over half a dozen football games and practise sessions, to using triple monitors and a local multi-unit display on a TV that will show all of the feeds live at once.
“That can coordinate camera crews, commentators, [there’s a] closed communication system between our ops room and the camera operators so we can best direct them for the footage,” Nunn says.
“To actually do the live streaming itself, we use multiple cameras connected to a computer and then we use software to basically encode it.
“Once we encode it, we add overlays like scoreboards, timers, watermarks, those sorts of things, and then we stream that to Youtube ... people can connect up and watch it via the Youtube channel.”
The IT manager says far from being a free-to-air broadcasting channel, TCC worked closely with supplying vendors and sponsors to find equipment which would suit the needs and budget restraints of the school.
Of course, there were technical hiccups to overcome along the way.
“The main challenge was for one of the locations,” Nunn says.
“Being a regional area, our internet is still undergoing work with the NBN, so the existing internet infrastructure at one of the locations was unacceptable to use for live streaming.”
The challenge Nunn faced, was attempting to connect to the college internet from almost four and a half kilometres across town.
“We ended up finding a technical solution to that, and that was great, we had some sponsor help with that one which was really appreciated,” he says.
“That was probably our biggest challenge and the most time consuming because it was a mini-project unto itself, essentially, but it was something we had to solve before we could proceed further with actually doing the live streaming of that event.”
On the day, students and staff volunteered their time as film crew and commentators and in exchange for their time they gained valuable broadcasting experience.
“…there were some hard days, they were 10, 12hour filming days for the first couple of days,” Nunn says.
“And the first day I think the odds were stacked against us, we had a poor student in the field who had an issue and he was down for almost half the game for his team, and it was raining, so it wasn’t a nice start.
“It wasn’t ideal … because, water and cameras don’t mix.”
Despite conditions, the events were a hit with viewers worldwide.
“For both carnivals we had about 55,000 views for the week, and in almost a dozen countries as well.
“We were pretty happy with that,” Nunn says.
Families and friends aside, there is another group of eyes Nunn hopes may have been watching the TCC students in action.
“I would say it gives the opportunity for the students to be put on a stage ... it’s always nice to give the talent scouts the opportunity to tune in and watch the games live or on demand, so they can go back and re-watch it, share the video link around,” Nunn says.
“Hopefully it gives them a bit more sort of help, if they’re looking at sport as a career option.”
With the right infrastructure in place, Nunn says technology can work wonders for the Rockhampton school.
“Technology, for us, is the equaliser,” he says.
“For us technology really breaks down that barrier of distance – it means anyone is able to participate in school events. It puts us on that level playing field with those big schools...”
For other schools who may be thinking about making their own live-streaming debut, Nunn says it’s important to plan ahead.
“Don’t leave it to the last minute, make sure that you know what you want, know what the demographic is expecting from your live stream.
“I mean, we always said from the onset that we’re not going to be like a Foxtel, that level of coverage I don’t think anyone should ever expect, but, we were looking at a more personalised touch, so we use staff for our commentators, we use students on our camera crews, we have student assistants setting up,” he says.
It’s also important to have patience and learn from mistakes ... we’re not professional broadcasters, and neither are our students.
“So there was multiple cameras, we had to teach each student what to capture.
What we want ideally for them to capture, how far they zoom in, how to follow the ball, those sorts of things.
“So that really played a big part, if we’d just turned up a couple of days out, it wouldn’t have been as good as it was, nowhere near.
“So I guess advice to schools is just, toe in the water, and take baby steps until you’re comfortable to run with it as a concept and then you can just sort of branch out from there.”
Just like in the games they were filming, Nunn says the product is only as good as the team behind it.
“The Cathedral College currently has four fulltime ICT Support Staff within the ICT support team employed at the college.
“I do not believe we would be able to achieve innovation if we did not have a team of ICT support staff who were able to rapidly adjust to supporting unfamiliar technologies, and therefore internally driven projects such as the live streaming of the QISSN and Confraternity State carnivals would not have been possible without their hard work.”