Big South Centralizes Streaming Ops, With Some Room for Creativity

By Carolyn Braff
While BCS conferences debate the pros and cons of centralized media contracts and all of the restrictions that come with them, one mid-major conference is centralizing its streaming rights to great success. For the 2007-08 school year, the Big South Conference, comprised of 10 colleges in Virginia and the Carolinas, launched a subscription-based video player on its conference website. The EDGE serves as the streaming hub for live and on-demand content from all 10 member schools, aggregating content produced at each institution and delivering it from a central location, the conference website.
“By selling streaming packages that include all 10 institutions of the conference in addition to conference championships, we’re able to see a lot better return from the subscription standpoint,” explains Kyle Kallander, commissioner of the Big South Conference. “Some schools do some of their own content, but all live events go through the conference website.”
Through the JumpTV-hosted player on BigSouthSports.com, each school is required to stream all home basketball (men’s and women’s) and football games, along with a minimum of a Game of the Week in a selection of other team sports (men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, baseball and softball). In 2007-08, the first year of a three-year streaming agreement with its member schools, the conference also streamed 13 of its 17 championships and nearly 600 live events in total.
To help its members get a running start in the streaming business, the Big South spent more than $100,000 on equipment. Each institution was outfitted with a package including 3 Canon GL-2 Mini-DV 3CCD cameras; a DataVideo HS-500 Studio kit, which consists of an SE500 switcher, TLM702 monitors and RKM772 rack; a Thomson Grass Valley Canopus ADVC-55 converter; and a Toshiba Satellite U205 laptop. The conference made a deliberate decision to provide each school with three cameras, not one, and expects each to utilize all three.
“It’s a point of some pride that rather than do the minimal to get something up there, we want it to look a little bit more like a TV production,” explains Mark Bryant, coordinator of new media for the Big South Conference. “As games go by, you notice the production value goes up. The students coming out to run the three cameras give it a more polished look, as opposed to using just one high camera.”
With sports information offices notoriously understaffed, in most cases, students from the university’s journalism or communication programs run the cameras, with direction from the sports information staff.
“The labor is a barrier to streaming as we want to stream it, to the level of broadcast television,” Kallander says. “We obviously want to take the next step to have full graphics packages, instant replay, slow motion and really begin for it to look more like what you’re going to see when you turn on the television at home. Those are the next challenges.”
The Big South and JumpTV held training sessions to ensure that at least one person at each institution knows how to operate the three-camera setup, but when it comes to camera positioning and production details, the schools have plenty of room to maneuver.
“There was general training done so that we knew there was a core of people at the schools that were familiar with the equipment setup, the basic operations and some fundamentals of broadcast production, but after that it was up to their creative juices,” Bryant explains. “In terms of proper positioning and directing and switching, those things come more with practice than with anything else.”
The amount of practice any school can get is, at this point, up to the schools. Although a Game of the Week is required in each of the Olympic sports, most schools stream more than just one, and the conference does not currently restrict the number of events streamed through The EDGE, though that is a matter up for discussion.
“We encourage the schools to do as many as possible, but all of those events will be accessed through The Edge,” Kallander explains. “We have to discuss whether we have to stream everything, or should we key in on the events that will be viewed the most or have the most subscribers. We’ll be doing those evaluations over the next year or two.”
Also up for evaluation is the ever-present debate of quality vs. quantity.
“We want to keep our product accessible to the most people at the best quality we can and that’s a delicate balance,” Bryant explains. “You could stream at a higher rate but could everyone get it without their computer locking up? You have to figure out a simple base level and operate within that.”
After just one year, Bryant is already looking into equipment upgrades and other outlets for the schools’ content, including podcasts and mobile devices, but as year two approaches, he is most excited to see how each of the Big South schools will top the success they achieved in their first year in the streaming business.