CSVS Q&A: John Kvatek, UCF Athletics Association, Director of Video Services

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 different member of the College Sports Video Summit Advisory Committee. This week, John Kvatek, director of video services for the University of Central Florida Athletics Association, shared his thoughts on the state of college sports video today, the virtues of 16:9 production, and how the CSVS can help solve some of the industry’s challenges.

When it comes to sports broadcasting at the college level, where are we in the HD transition?

It’s obvious to me that we don’t have a choice but to go HD. All of our broadcast partners are driving that way full steam ahead. I think if you’re in this market and you’re not building a plan to do production in HD, you’re probably going to get run over. I think you’ve got about two years and if you’re not HD you’re in trouble, so even in a bad economy, you have to be figuring out how you’re going to get there.

What is the toughest challenge colleges face to taking their video HD?

For large, established programs, the hardest part is figuring out how to bridge the gap. Not everybody can do it in one swoop because it’s so expensive, so how do you move it over in pieces? And, most importantly, how can you use old assets in new ways? How do you pour all these 4:3 assets over to 16:9 and HD, and not have problems dealing with it? That’s what I think is tough for those guys.

For schools like us, mid-majors who have really gotten into this thing in the last year or two, you better have already built a lot of your infrastructure around going HD. You should be buying components that can live in both worlds. For us the challenge is figuring out how to make enough of the move to keep the cost down, but make enough of an impact to be significant.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities a move to HD presents for an athletic department?

The big change to 16:9 is the dimensions of your picture, and you must have a plan for what you’re going to do with that extra real estate. And you must find a way to integrate 4:3 media, because all your old highlights and assets are in 4:3. You could expand the picture and blur it on the sides, but you could also sell that space as a marketing effort or find ways to integrate additional content there, and that is a huge opportunity.

The other thing to consider is how is a shift to 16:9 HD going to impact what you put up on the Web? YouTube can support some high def, but a lot of the Web streaming that we’re doing for live events can’t support HD, so you better have a plan for how you can down-convert that content to make it fit into media players. You can do everything in 16:9, but if your Web service provider that’s doing all your streaming only provides you with a 4:3 player, things get a little weird.

How can attending the College Sports Video Summit help solve some of those challenges?

The biggest thing is if everyone is at this event, we can start to look into the crystal ball a little bit. We should all be able to walk away knowing what everybody’s doing, and that’s a huge step in the right direction.

What these schools need to understand is that if they’re not ready to go HD that’s okay, but they do need to be prepared to go 16:9. Whenever this DTV transition happens, the world automatically becomes 16:9. For this school year we made a transition to standard def 16:9, and the reality is, with the digital technology that we’re using, our viewers can’t tell that we’re not HD. Sixteen-by-nine is the hallmark and “really clear” is the other hallmark, so if you can do really good 16:9 SD, most people are fooled. That is my view going into this event and it’s something to be discussed.

Is there still a place for SD video in today’s market?

There’s an absolute place for it. SD is fine for Web streaming, it’s fine for portable media for handsets and handhelds, SD is still good enough for all of that. We have choices we can make. When you go to play golf, you don’t go with one club in your bag, you go with 14 clubs in your bag. Every club’s got a shot, and there are still a couple of shots that SD can do better than HD.

The other thing that people need to be preparing for is how they can soften the budget blow when they do make that step. I’m probably two years away from doing it here with our one control room, and for me that’s only a half million dollar move. Florida State, for example, flipping a control room that was built around triax and studio-configured cameras, that was a $1.5 million conversion for one control room and they’ve got two or three. No matter who you talk to, they don’t have the bank to just go flip the switch, so it’s important to talk about how we can make this move efficiently, and the [College Sports Video Summit] event will be a great forum for that.