One of the things that really sets Dragon Con apart from other cons is DragonConTV. DCTV is broadcast on each of the host hotels throughout the con. What in the early years was composed mostly of black-and-white Adult Swim-style bumpers and parody commercials now includes interviews, music videos, and streams of the most popular panels. This year includes even more interesting new adventures for the DCTV crew and their fans.
If you bought a membership for Dragon Con, you can pay ten bucks, and that’s going to give you an HD stream of DCTV during the event and for three months afterwards. (Only three months because that gives you time to recover from your post-con malaise and gives them time to ramp up to 2017.)
You do have to have a Dragon Con membership, at least for this first year of the service. “We do want to open it up to more than the members of Dragon Con, but we’re not 100% sure what that will look like yet,” said Brian Richardson, DCTV co-founder and director of videography. “It’s not a technical issue, but one related to how we present the content and if there are any restrictions from guests and their agents.”
Unfortunately, some panels can’t be re-broadcast at all because of agent or movie deal restrictions. DCTV will clearly mention in the schedule when these panels can’t be shown, and they expect it to be no more than one or two panels each day.
But because they can now live stream from both the Centennial ballroom in the Hyatt and the Marriott Atrium, the stream will now feature the Friday Night Costume Contest broadcast live.
Other ballrooms have also been added to the stream this year, including the Hyatt Grand East-West. Re-broadcasts will be available from the Sheraton Grand Ballroom, Westin Peachtree Ballroom, and Hyatt Regency 6/7.
“One of the nice things about the streaming membership isn’t just live access, it’s the ability to present panels that couldn’t be shown on DragonConTV at con,” Richardson said. “We start uploading those once Dragon Con is over, and fans get access to those for three months after the show. We’re looking at adding some features that make it easier to watch us at home, possibly even a Roku channel.”
You can buy your streaming membership from the Dragon Con store when you get to the con. (Earlier announcements mentioned that they would be available online only through August 26, but they appear to still be available there.) You’ll receive a code to enter at dragoncon.tv/signup, after which you can watch from just about any computer, tablet, or smartphone.
The parade on TV
Through a partnership with The CW Atlanta (WUPA, channel 69) and the work of Billy Messina (director of marketing for Dragon Con), Jan Price (parade director), and Pat Henry (convention president), all of Atlanta will get a piece of Dragon Con when the the popular Dragon Con Parade is broadcast live on The CW for the first time at 10 a.m. on September 3.
More than 3,000 Dragon Con attendees participate in the costumed parade through the streets of downtown Atlanta. Over the years, it’s become increasingly difficult to get a good spot unless you’re willing to get up early on Saturday after a few days of con. Watching it on TV is not a bad way to go.
Richardson will be hosting the parade, and I’m looking forward to the show. I had to ask how you even begin to choose what to wear to host a series of some of the world’s most amazing costuming work. He said, “I am not a style maven, so I already don’t put much thought into what I wear. I think I’m fine as long as I don’t wear anything that conflicts with the CW brand, so less Mickey Mouse and more Bugs Bunny. It will probably come down to which tie goes with my favorite kilt … as soon as I figure out which one that is.”
DCTV Land spreads
You know TV Land, the channel that spawned from Nick at Nite’s syndication of old shows? DCTV-Land is that for Dragon Con. Or, as Richardson self-deprecatingly puts it, “less ‘best of’ and more ‘best we could do.'”
“DragonConTV has been producing videos since 2002, and I started doing highlights DVDs for the convention in 2004, so we have a pretty deep back catalog of content for our fans,” he said
Last year saw the premiere of DCTV-Land in four of the host hotels (Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton). This year guests in the Westin, Omni, and Ritz-Carlton will be able to enjoy it as well. That allows folks in seven hotels to watch over 24 hours of Dragon Con history.
For those of you who need to plan ahead, here’s where you can find each channel when you get to your hotel:
How does all this happen?
We’re all geeks here, and I’ve always been intrigued by the glimpses DCTV has given us into the work of getting all of this content into so many hotels. I’ll let Richardson explain:
Every hotel has at least one conference channel, commonly referred to as a “dark channel”. I know “Dark Channel” sounds like the title for season 2 of Stranger Things, but it’s just a channel the hotel sets aside for conventions that come in and want to provide their equivalent of the hotel TV loop (a mix of ads for the hotel chain’s other properties, buffered by movie promos by that guy from Saved by the Bell . . . no, the other one). Since Dragon Con is more amazing than the average convention, our “dark channel” (wow, I love that phrase) is more amazing as well.
Let me take you back in time to 1995, when Atlanta was preparing for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The city needed infrastructure to move video from a variety of venues and broadcast locations, so miles and miles of fiber optic cable were run under the city too busy to hate. After the Olympics, the city was too busy to figure out what to do with that much fiber, so now people can lease it when they have a specific need. When we started to expand DragonConTV outside of the Hyatt, this fiber network was the perfect way to connect the host hotels.
DragonConTV has a TV-studio-style master control system. About four years ago, we went to a 720p HD workflow, based on the BlackMagic ATEM production switcher. This year, to accommodate internet streaming, we upgraded to Livestream Studio. Livestream provides a software platform we can run on any computer, and we expand capabilities by adding different input/output cards for HDMI or SDI video. Whatever we send to the hotels (480p video over fiber optics) is what goes to Livestream (720p & mobile-optimized streams for the internet).
Distribution in the host hotels is a classic “last mile” telecom issue. Some hotels have television and telecommunications in the same room, others have them in entirely different rooms. One hotel, a very tall tower with a fabulous rooftop restaurant, moved all of their video from the basement to the roof when they switched to a satellite TV provider. All but one of the hotels uses analog video for their internal distribution, so we have to scale our beautiful 720p HD signal back down to hipster-quality analog video. That’s something I hope to fix as hotels upgrade their infrastructure.
Since DCTV-Land isn’t live programming, we don’t need the complexity of LiveStream Studio and a fiber optic network . . . but we can’t fit over 24 hours of content on a DVD. One of the hotels we work with has the ability to just play whatever we provide on a USB key, but the rest still rely on DVD players for conventions to provide content. Unfortunately the shiny round disc of yesteryear doesn’t fit our needs. So we’ve taken one of your favorite toys, the Raspberry Pi, and turned it into an automatic video player that temporarily replaces the hotel’s DVD player.
We use a slightly modified version of the Raspberry Pi Video Looper script, with a small framebuffer tweak that adds a corner bug (the little station ID graphic you see on TV). The Raspberry Pi will output HDMI or standard definition analog video, so it’s a pretty versatile box. We’re actually planning to customize the looper script to better fit our needs, so it’s possible we might have our own Github project soon.
A sneak peek at 2016
Finally, each year GeekMom has the privilege to bring you the first look at one of the year’s new DCTV pieces. This year it’s an ad for Improvie, ready to fix a whole host of movie failures. Enjoy!