By Brian Galante
Special to Weekly Tech Roundup
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Sarina Fazan has established herself as a trusted source for local TV news viewers in the Tampa Bay region for nearly 20 years.
As a member of the news team at The E.W. Scripps Co.’s ABC affiliate, WFTS-28, Fazan established herself as an influential storyteller with a reputation for landing exclusive interviews, gaining national attention along the way.
Now, she’s ready to gain a worldwide audience, thanks to what’s essentially a video podcast.
It’s the culmination of efforts that began two years ago, when Fazan launched Sarina Fazan Media. Her flagship production, “On The Record With Sarina Fazan,” is a weekly podcast that largely uses the formula of local public affairs shows seen on broadcast TV stations across the U.S.
As of press time, Fazan has produced 63 episodes.
The rollout of “On The Record with Sarina Fazan” is thanks, in part, to Fazan’s time at WFTS. In 2013, she met the station’s then-Director of Engineering Lowell Beckner. He now serves as GM of CP Communications, the live content acquisition and production company and tech services provider that set up shop in St. Petersburg two years ago. CP, with Beckner’s assistance, helped Fazan to bring the video podcasts to life.
The video podcast proved to be a welcome pivot for CP. Known primarily for its live sports production, its mobile production trucks were idled when the pandemic hit. With the at-home production business rapidly surging, CP moved to serve clients in this arena at a much greater capacity than it already had been doing.
In 2018, CP launched Red House Streaming to fulfill at-home production needs. A year later, the all-in-one CamSTREAM systems for remote shoots were added to the roster of products. With plenty of space in St. Petersburg, a professional studio and network operations center were added.
For Beckner, overseeing the launch of Red House Streaming (RHS) including a talent search, with him sniffing out talent that wished to broadcast live from the RHS studio.
The RHS business officially opened in early January 2021, ahead of Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
LIVE, AND ON-DEMAND
As Executive Producer for “On The Record,” Audra Butler through the end of 2020 oversaw production in a small office studio that, while sufficient, had modest technical capacities.
“We didn’t have the ability to go live, so all podcasts were distributed as pre-recorded content,” Butler said. “That changed when we walked into the RHS studios. Most shows are now produced and streamed live from the set. It is a studio facility with that live broadcast feeling, even when the podcasts are recorded.”
Fazan’s first live-streamed podcast from RHS took place on January 15. The successful “test run” laid the groundwork for what was next.
Butler recalls, “By this point, the Buccaneers had won the NFC Championship and were headed to the Super Bowl. Sarina raised the idea of doing daily podcasts leading up to the game, which, in addition to the studio shows, included a live remote two days before the game. It was the perfect situation to create a podcast series with local and national interest.”
With Kurt Heitmann leading CP operations as CEO and providing the vision that led to RHS’s creation, the studios boast Panasonic cameras, vMix live production and streaming software, Simplylive all-in-one production systems, Aja KiPro quad recorders, and Blackmagic ATEM Studio 4K production switchers.
A professional editing studio, Dante-enabled audio production workflow, and large intercom matrix are also available, along with the adjacent NOC for signal monitoring and quality control.
The technologies are used for full in-house productions such as Fazan’s podcasts and for at-home productions. Clients include Carr-Hughes Productions, CBS Sports Network and Verona Productions.
Beckner notes that a chroma key wall and virtual sets have brought a unique visual experience to each podcast, which were helpful when the podcasts shifted from weekly to daily. The initial run of five shows swelled to eight, including one on Super Bowl Sunday.
Beckner directed up to four camera shots for most of the shows (and, for one special production, served as a camera operator), and assigned a full crew for other positions.
“We had a technical director running the switcher, an audio specialist producing the sound, and an engineer overseeing the entire production from the NOC,” he said. “We used technicians with different skillsets along the way, from experienced professionals to CP warehouse technicians that stepped up when needed.”
REPORTING FROM ANYWHERE
A list of enthusiastic guests, including current and retired NFL players, drove the series’ expansion to eight shows.
A special remote show highlighted Rebuilding Together’s Super Bowl-sanctioned event, Kick Off to Rebuild, which focused on helping families in need with home repairs. “We traveled to the Northdale community of Tampa,” Fazan said. “We had an established rhythm in the studio, but I was no longer behind the news desk. We were now on location, and needed to meet the same quality expectations.”
It was then that CP Communications’ at-home production model came to life.
“The human element of being back on a normal news set is amazing to me on so many levels,” Fazan said. “They are creating virtual sets with these very different and appealing backgrounds, while using our graphics and colors and giving us creative control. With streaming, it’s all about creating the content you want, and building your own audience.”
Now, Fazan is planning her next moves. CP Communications’ services and products will be involved. “I very much intend to launch my own channel on Roku, Amazon, and other OTT platforms,” she said. “My goal is to bring newsmakers and high-profile people on this show that can draw both local and national audiences.”
As audience numbers continue to rise, “On The Record With Sarina Fazan” has permanently shifted production to the RHS studios. With live streams and podcasts available over YouTube, Facebook, and Fazan’s website at https://sarinafazan.media/podcast, she is planning her next moves with CP Communications.