SVGU Q&A: Mike Bilbow, University of Tulsa

Despite an undergraduate enrollment of fewer than 3,000 students, when it comes to streaming athletic events, the University of Tulsa is one of the nation’s biggest. A member of Conference USA, Tulsa is one of only a handful of schools across the country with a dedicated video production manager who handles the school’s streaming content and takes charge of technological initiatives in the athletic department. Mike Bilbow, Tulsa’s video production manager and the man responsible for taking Tulsa to HD this summer, sat down with SVG-U to shed some light on the Golden Hurricane.

What sports content do you currently stream on your website?

Our conference has mandated to us that we basically stream everything, so we stream every home game for every sport except track, rowing and cross country. That’s more or less conference mandated.

How do you get the content?

We capture content in two ways. First, every game that goes through our control room is streamed. We take a program feed from the video screen, add the audio from our radio broadcast and stream it through a Dell desktop in the control room. We use a Sony A/D converter that is connected via firewire into the computer and Windows Media Encoder.

For events that don’t go through the control room, we just hook a camera up to a laptop. We have three cameras that we use for this, a Panasonic AJ-DVC200 large format DV camera, a Canon GL-1 and a Panasonic HVX-200. We have a Dell and a Toshiba laptop that we use for streaming, both of which run Windows Media Encoder. We also have two USB Creative webcams that we use if we need to set up a camera for building construction, like we’re doing now for Chapman Stadium.

What equipment do you have access to and what is your budget?

The conference bought every member school a Canon GL-1 camera, a Toshiba laptop and a Canopus firewire A/D converter. Some schools needed the equipment but we didn’t – we’re pretty well set up, so that made it easier. I got on board about eight years ago and I have a news and local sports production background. I was a producer, photographer and a reporter, so I took a little bit of technical background with me when I moved into this, but I still picked most of it up along the way.

We have a whole video control room with five or six cameras that I bought based on gear I had worked with and past experiences, but I also did a lot of reading. We’re in the midst of blowing up our control room and putting in a new one, since we’re going all HD this summer in anticipation of getting a new big screen video board in our football stadium. I don’t know what the new HD equipment will be just yet, but I do know that we are going to shoot and edit HD using Sony XDCam 355 and EX3 cameras and Apple Final Cut Pro.

How did you handle budgeting?

In terms of a budget, they told me to put the control room together and then tell them what it costs. Since we’re a private university, we don’t have to go through the RFP process. I can’t go put in whatever I want, I know around where I have to keep it, but we don’t have a budget, per say. I have talked to a couple of integrators about purchasing equipment for us but the decision is mine.

Who staffs your productions?
I do, I run them. I work with a mix of some students and some local freelancers, but I do the majority of the producing. In a lot of schools, the video production work is dumped on the only person in the athletic department that knows anything about video. Luckily for me, I come from that background, but nine times out of 10, that person is the football video coordinator. Schools that don’t have a person that does what I do, the video production work gets put on them.

What is the biggest challenge you face extending your streaming offerings?
I think it’s the transition to HD. The engineering part of it and production are important, but everything’s a lot more expensive in HD. In redoing our football stadium, we wanted to future-proof ourselves with a video board that can handle an HD signal. When we realized that our present control room is not capable of feeding that board, we knew we were going to have to redo that control room.

I felt that we would be best served to put in HD equipment. I was pushing for it very hard, and luckily there are enough people around the school that allow me push that way, from the director of facilities and athletic director all the way up to the president and the board of trustees.

If you want to make a commitment to video, you can put together a decent control room, not the mother of all control rooms, but you can get a nice clean picture out of something that costs $200,000 – but not in the HD world. If you’re going to spend that $200,000-$300,000 today, two or three years from now, nobody’s going to want to look at anything in SD. The hardest part for us is financing that transition.

Interviewed by Carolyn Braff