At Age 3, The Mtn. Hits Growing Pains

By Carolyn Braff
The nation’s first television network dedicated to a collegiate athletic conference is experiencing some technical growing pains. The Mtn., which launched in 2006 to provide exclusive coverage of the Mountain West conference, is housed in a former
Comcast
Media
Center
control room in
Littleton
,
CO
. Now preparing to kick off its third year of operations, the Mtn. has officially outgrown its nursery.
“When we launched, we basically took over an existing studio and control room that was 20-25 years old,” explains VP Jon Rees. “We launched within six weeks of signing the contract, so we would have had no time to build a new control room. We were fortunate that this facility existed.”
The outdated equipment in that facility included a
Grass
Valley
4000, Sony audio board, and Ikegami cameras, all based on Digital Beta and Beta SP tape formats. In year one, there was little budget available for technical upgrades.
The network made do for the first year but did make “some notable additions,” Rees says. “We added a Duet for our in-studio graphics package and added iNews, and then we added a couple of Avid edit bays for our promotions. That’s what we had as our basic setup when we started. We had no external newsgathering in terms of ENG field production.”
For year two, The Mtn., which is jointly owned by Comcast and CBS College Sports Network, purchased Sony XDCAMs to beef up its field production and added Leitch Velocity editors and storage arrays. Going into year three, many more purchasing decisions are on the table, but all remote broadcasts are still handled by a third party, Kansas City, Mo.-based Metro Sports.
“Most of the equipment that we have, the things that we launched with, is well past end-of-life,” Rees explains. “We’re looking at a rebuild next summer.”
With college athletics in session from August through the end of May, the network has a short, eight-week window in which to complete any kind of operations overhaul. Thinking big, The Mtn. is planning to replace almost every piece of equipment in its plant during the summer of 2009. The current router will be replaced with a centralized routing system, a Sony 9000 is the new switcher of choice, and an audio mixer to be named later will also be installed. The Ikegami cameras the network currently uses are capable of 16:9 production, so the network will wait another year to replace the cameras.
A complete digital workflow system will be part of the 2009 installation, including Final Cut Pro systems for desktop editing. Rees hopes that digitizing the workflow will allow for one common ingest with distribution and transcoding done on the backend, thereby avoiding having five different workflow models for the same video clip.
“We have to get to a centralized workflow,” Rees explains. “When we launched, we were editing on Beta to Beta, tape decks to tape decks. We had very little integration work that was going on, meaning that we had multiple workflows. All of our products were silo-based. In this third year, workflow integration between all of our different product lines is going to be key.”
One workflow The Mtn. has already streamlined is bringing in content from its nine member schools, which are located in seven states. The Mtn. enlisted the video-conferencing services of Glowpoint, which provides an IT-based Campus Cam system to each school, enabling the network to conduct interviews with its athletes, coaches, and administrators without having to send a crew on-site.
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The network is set to launch with DirecTV on Aug. 27, complicating plans to increase its Web presence$throughevent sPreaming$
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ÜWe `o have @D plans,” Rees says. “Everything that we’ve bought since we launched has been HD-compatible. That was a big component
with evKrything we–re doijg.‥ No tiae tablehas beeh set asof yet,but the(small saze of tLe netwoPk means that quick changes are always possible.
“We’re still young enough that we can make pretty rapid changes when we need to,” Rees explains. “We’re not stuck in multiple levels of bureaucracy so, if we find out sAmething #8217;s not woraing, we can chadge it pretty quAckly. WI’pe alwayS willini to trynew and innovatAve prodUcts, so that makes it fun.”