SEFFNER — Inside the cramped TV production truck, Bob Herman casually advises cameramen via a headset to stand by for specific shots during a recent Armwood-Winter Haven high school football game.
Then, with the touch of a button, technical director Mike Cutolo, who is sitting in front of Herman, switches from a shivering woman huddled under a blanket in the stands to a fierce Armwood linebacker named Petey Smith.
For Bright House TV viewers in Central Florida, the telecast of this regional quarterfinal game offers the visual feel of a network-produced college football game. The graphics look sharp. The replays seamlessly unfold between live plays. Two sideline reporters roam the field, offering live quips.
Thanks to the high-tech graphics and video replay equipment in the $2.5-million truck and its 20 on-site workers, Bright House Sports Network delivers a football game telecast that would have viewers believe — from a TV technical standpoint — they're watching a college game on a Saturday.
Bright House Sports Network spends about $15,000 to broadcast weekly high school football games in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties. For Nov. 28's game at Armwood High School, Bright House also paid $2,500 to the Florida High School Athletic Association for the broadcast rights of telecasting the game — a pittance compared to the billion-dollar rights deals cut between major networks and major sports leagues.
Bright House has invested nearly $4-million in camera, audio, video, satellite transmission and vehicular equipment, including $2.5-million for the 38-foot rolling production room; $750,000 for the grip van that contains gear such as tripods, light stands and lenses; and $350,000 for a live truck with a 55-foot microwave mast.
"TNT, ESPN, NBC are our competition," said Paul Kosuth, Bright House Sports Network station manager. "We have access to the same type of equipment that ESPN and NBC has. The only thing different is that our truck is smaller. It's not a 53-footer; we use a 35-foot truck."
To generate income from the games, Bright House Sports Network sells commercial time to businesses, including Famous Tate, Suncoast Chrysler, Walker Ford, Tyrone Square Mazda, Bartow Chevrolet and Dimmitt Chevrolet.
The telecasts lose money, but investing in broadcasting the games has business value, Kosuth said. It's original local programming provided for all Bright House Networks subscribers in the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas, he said. With 2.4-million customers in the country, Bright House Networks is headquartered in Orlando and Syracuse, N.Y.
"We do these games as a service to our customers," Kosuth said. "It's about the people who pay the cable bill. We tailor local programming for those communities."
Bright House uses six cameras — a primary one stationed in the press box for the plays; two that focus on specific players for "iso" shots; two hand-held for crowd and sideline reporter shots; and one perched about 40 feet above the ground behind an end zone. An NFL broadcast might use eight to 12 cameras, said Chris McCully, the BHSN high school football game producer.
It was the images captured by the cameraman in the sky behind the end zone that documented Armwood senior offensive tackle Justin Cabbagestalk punching a Winter Haven player on the final play of Armwood's 30-14 victory. Cabbagestalk was suspended for two games as a result of his post-play punch.
On game day, McCully gets to the field at 2 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. start and doesn't leave until 11:30 p.m. It's McCully's job to brief the cameramen on the story lines so their lenses frame the most vital players. As producer, he's also a kind of a beat reporter, interviewing coaches during the week to map the story lines.
The ratings of a high school football game broadcast on Bright House Sports Network, Ch. 47, are about half of those of a University of South Florida basketball game on the same channel, Kosuth said.
"We're not in every home in the Tampa Bay market. That cuts the number of homes where people could be watching the (high school) games," Kosuth said.
The on-camera talent includes two quarterbacks: former Bucs signal-caller Jeff Carlsen, who provides color commentary next to broadcast play-by-play man Drew Fellios, and current Tampa Bay Storm quarterback Brett Dietz, who offers commentary from the sidelines.
"It seems like (high school football) has become a bigger part of the station," said Fellios, a Leto High School and Florida State graduate who has called the games for the past three seasons. "What defines our station is our high school football games."