New automation technology may change the game for the NFHS Network

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The NFHS Network, launched in 2013, is a revolutionary idea that has changed the way high school sports are covered.

It brought live streaming coverage to all types of events, including various state championships. It took off in Colorado, and continues to grow through outreaches like the School Broadcast Program, which allows schools to use the Network as an extension of the classroom.

The next idea in that revolution may change the game even further.

The NFHS Network has partnered with Pixellot, which will allow for a full automated production of a broadcast. That production includes a camera that follows the action, and allows schools or school districts to schedule broadcasts.

"It's pretty amazing," said Cherry Creek Schools district athletic director Larry Bull, who purchased eight units for his district.

Examples of the technology, on display at various conferences and events in Colorado over the past few months, are stunning. It pans and zooms to follow action smoothly in football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and other sports, such as wrestling.

The system, which is designed to be installed at stadiums or in gymnasiums, comes with four weatherproof HD cameras, a computer for creating the automated production, a device that plugs into a scoreboard (to translate that data to the broadcast), and then an audio board, which allows for the optional inclusion of announcers.

It drops perhaps the biggest barrier to starting a School Broadcast Program: No longer is someone required to run the broadcast. Once scheduled, NFHS Network support staff will start and stop the broadcast.

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"It's an exciting new technology that's going to impact high school athletics, and the coverage of high school athletics by schools," said Che Vialpando, who oversees the School Broadcast Program in the Rocky Mountain Region. "It allows them to produce live and on-demand content that they never would have been able to do in the past."

According to the Network, 35,000 high school events were produced in 2016. But that means more than 90 percent of all events across the nation went uncovered.

PlayOn! Sports CEO David Rudolph called the partnership, announced in June, a "quantum leap toward comprehensive coverage" of high school sports.

Already, the NFHS Network has sold more than 20 units to schools or school districts in Colorado. The expectation is that 40 units could be in place by the time fall sports begin in August. Nationwide, that number could be 400.

Cherry Creek Schools is installing Pixellot units at its two stadiums — Stutler Bowl and Legacy Stadium — as well as inside the main gymnasiums at all of its six high schools.

"The thing that's nice about it is it's gender equity," Bull said. "We've got field hockey. There's not many people that stream field hockey, but now we can stream field hockey."

The Pixellot technology will not only eliminate a barrier to entry for some schools, in that it will no longer require a staff to operate broadcasts, but will also allow existing programs to expand what they are already doing. And increase their quality.

"It's really caught fire in our district," Bull said. "It's creating opportunities for males and females, opportunities for athletes from freshman to varsity, and then it's also an opportunity for kids that are into the streaming and the broadcasting and the story-writing."

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Vialpando gave an example of Cheyenne Central High School in Wyoming. They produced 23 events during the fall season as a first-year program, an amazing output. Once Pixellot was installed in their gym, they produced 19 events in 16 days in January, and then 33 events in February.

"The number of events produced by a school is going to be huge, and will include sub-varsity broadcasts," Vialpando said.

Those interested in inquiring about the Pixellot technology from the NFHS Network can reach Vialpando at Che.Vialpando@nfhsnetwork.com.