CSVS Q&A: Leon Schweir, Executive Producer/VP Production, The Big Ten Network

In anticipation of the inaugural College Sports Video Summit (CSVS) to be held June 9-10 in Atlanta, the Sports Video Group has assembled a seasoned advisory committee that includes some of the game-changers in the business and technology behind college-sports broadcasting. Each week leading up to the event, College Sports Video Insider will feature an interview with a member of the College Sports Video Summit Advisory Committee. This week, Leon Schweir, executive producer and VP production for The Big Ten Network, discusses some of the challenges he faces in working with 11 universities on a daily basis and how he thinks each athletic department can benefit from attending the Summit.

How does the Big Ten Network get video from each of its member schools?
We’ve used interns, video coordinators, and other A/V-department people to do coverage and reporting for us for our nightly show. We use students who we’ve paid and interns to do press conferences for us, and, when we do events, we almost always try to work in students. I think there are many more experienced students than there were just a few years ago.

In terms of equipment, we’ve pretty much had to take the lead there. We’ve decided on a system — Panasonic P2 — that is pretty much the standard for cameras we’ve placed on campus for students to use and send content back to us. We’ve taken some coverage from universities that we’ve integrated into our programming, but there are issues with formatting, as everybody has a different format.

What is the biggest barrier to getting more school involvement with the network?
The biggest issue for us is, we’re HD and so much still is not in HD. We’d like to push more work to the university level — in particular to the students — especially work that can be used not only for the linear network but for the Internet, but we find lack of HD for the campuses to be an issue.

I think there’s a little bit of settling still to be done in the world of HD. If you’re going to buy a new camera, cameras are under $10,000 now for HD, so universities are willing to purchase them. But what format you’re using is a separate area where there are still a lot of issues. Even on our professional-production side, there is a great disconnect on what should be recording in trucks when you try to do clean feeds.

The universities are not necessarily fully in touch with all industry standards, so they’re more susceptible to price points and to equipment vendors who best pitch to the university’s needs. You could go around and the mix of equipment at each place is pretty amazing.

How can the Big Ten Network help build the future of college sports video?
As a college network, we have great opportunities for students in school to not just make a résumé reel but actually post their content on a network, whether it’s Internet or the TV network. With 11 schools, it’s like almost anything: half of them are pretty aggressive about getting students to work with us, and the other half are less than aggressive.

On one hand, I have all these students who just graduated and are doing interviews with my coordinating producers looking for an entry-level job, while at the same time, at the schools where we have the ability to take content produced by students, we’re really having trouble finding people. When it comes to streaming especially, the camera people and graphics people of the future are on these campuses, so here’s a chance to go do it.

There is that disconnect between that athletic department and the journalism/communications schools. On the athletic side, we have no shortage of people that can be our SIDs of the future — they know how to write press releases, collect stats, and score games — but there is very little interest in the actual TV production of games, and we can change that.

How can the College Sports Video Summit help?
College athletic programs are not in the business of making huge revenues off of anything other than football and basketball for the most part, though every school has an athletic program that they are proud of, so we need to show them how to fold those Olympic sports into a venue or network presentation that is profitable for a media entity.

When it comes to streaming, there is a crucial mass a company like ourselves and CBS has to hit for streaming to be successful. We’ll do it, and we’re doing it now, but more for publicity’s sake and programming balance versus any kind of revenue. From a school side, you have a program that you want to get exposure for, and, if you do enough exposure, you’ll start making money on it.

At Penn State, for example, women’s volleyball is very, very popular and has reached the point now where it makes sense to do that on a linear network with a full production unit. There are other schools that are developing their volleyball programs, and, whatever you can do to help a media entity like ourselves do that production on a lower-cost basis, we’ll do it more frequently, and you’ll get the publicity. Hopefully, with publicity and exposure comes better student athletes, and the program ultimately enjoys more success.

What are some of the key issues you hope to discuss at CSVS?
The lack of transmission options at so many facilities. So much in college requires a satellite truck to be pulled up. There are a fair number of basketball arenas that do have fiber installed, but, for football, there are very, very few. There are other sports that a network like ours considers part of our core programming — hockey and baseball, for example — and these facilities have no transmission options other than pulling up a satellite truck or dish.

On the streaming level, there could be a lot more streaming done if the schools had the ability to have Internet or broadband connection at their more popular venues.

New facilities are being built that still do not talk to true TV people, because architectural firms will say that they have a TV expert on their staff. It’s important to think about lighting and the camera positions that best show off your venue, and invite [television networks] into the conversation during planning and construction.

There is an economy of scale that we would like to have colleges think about. If they have a particularly robust Olympic-sports program, it’s to their benefit to make it easier for a network like us or CBS to do low-cost productions. That requires an investment in your infrastructure, but it’s important to know that it’s actually helping your sports program.