The Mtn. Tips Off HD Basketball Coverage

By Carolyn Braff

The Mtn. — Mountain West Sports Network — does not believe in test runs. For its first experiment with live high-definition programming, the network produced a football doubleheader, complete with an on-site studio show. For its first go at HD basketball programming, rather than start with a single game, The Mtn. has committed to an entire tournament, airing five men’s and four women’s games from the 2009 Conoco MWC Basketball Championships in HD.

“We got such a positive response after the football coverage that it was kind of a no-brainer to do basketball,” explains The Mtn. VP Jon Rees. “From some aspects, basketball is easier, but some of it is much more difficult because of the number of teams. We were only dealing with four teams for football, but we’re dealing with 18 for basketball.”

All nine conference teams — both men and women — will take part in the tournament, which takes place at the Thomas and Mack Center on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas.

For the football broadcasts, studio programming was upconverted to 16:9 to match the HD programming from the field, but the time and expense involved was not worth the effort it would take to match that for the 18 teams on the basketball court.

“We’re going with a straight upconverted SD-to-HD without going 16:9 for our studio, so we’ll have ‘wings’ there,” Rees explains. “All of the game content will be produced in HD, but the studio support and on-court pieces we do in Vegas will be in SD.”

Those on-court pieces will be produced by an anchor on-site using Glowpoint Technology and a bonded T1 line. That anchor will provide right-off-the-court interviews and post-game analysis, and live press conferences will also be shown on the network, broadcast in SD, incorporated into the studio show, and be available on The Mtn.’s Website.

“We figure there will be a lot of interest in these press conferences by the fans because this is the only way for fans to really hear in any kind of depth what their coaches and student athletes are talking about after the game,” explains Steve Hurlbut, senior executive producer and director of programming for The Mtn. “They’ll have a highlight on their local news, but the video really has added value for our viewers.”

Two successful football broadcasts last fall also showed the 10-year-old network what changes to make when taking the HD experiment into a basketball venue.

“When we did football, we took everything and rendered it in HD for tape and then loaded it in by tape,” Hurlbut explains. “This time, we’re going to do an XFile transfer so we don’t having to spend time converting stuff and putting it on tape. We’ll just dump it into an XFile for our EVS as well as for the spot box. I think that’s going to be a big time-saving for the truck in preproduction.”

As was the case for football, HD graphics will be incorporated into the game content using a Chyron Duet.

In addition to the five men’s games and four women’s games that The Mtn. will broadcast from the tournament, two other broadcasters — CBS College Sports Network and Versus — will pick up additional games. Luckily, the three partners can share broadcast and uplink facilities for the duration of the tournament. NEP Supershooter 20 and Peak Uplink will be onsite for all three networks to use.

“It is going to be a much simpler situation now that we can all use the same box,” Hurlbut explains. “We’ve been able to have all three of us have some sync in sharing the same mobile facilities.”

The Mtn. will also broadcast a live show from its Denver studios with a number of live hits from the arena between the men’s and women’s championship games, which will be played on Saturday March 14. Versus will simulcast that show on its network as well.

“With CBS College being a 50% owner of our network and Versus being in the Comcast family with us, we’re starting to get used to this type of cooperation and content-sharing,” Hurlbut explains. “We’ve shared some work during the season — particularly with Versus — and we’ve traded some features with CBSC as they fire up their studio again for the tournament, so it really has been a very cooperative arrangement between the three partners.”

The Mtn. is looking forward to broadcasting even more games in HD, balancing the cost and equipment needs involved with the programming opportunities that abound for a network dedicated to a single athletic conference.

“For any sports network, we realize that HD is the end game,” Rees explains. “We’re getting better and better at it, and this tournament is the continuing evolution of our HD programming.”

The evolution continues on Wednesday March 11, when The Mtn. tips off its HD basketball coverage with a first-round men’s game at 3 p.m. MT.