Custom Flypack Turns Big Ten Schools Into Production Centers

In order to stream more than 200 sporting events annually — in HD quality — at BigTenNetwork.com, the Big Ten Network (BTN) needs some outside help. That help is coming from the conference’s 11 member schools, which last summer began to experiment with a network-designed flypack of production equipment to help them produce those events. By this fall, each campus will have a BTN flypack to call its own, and network executives have equipped each school with the expertise needed to operate it.

Online to On-Air
“This really started as a way to produce events for the Internet and looking for a cost-effective way to do that,” explains Mike Wilken, chief engineer of the Big Ten Network. “We decided that, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it in HD. That way, we can also use that content for highlights, and, if it’s good enough, we can possibly put it on the linear network.”

Indeed, the quality of the content produced has been good enough to do just that. The majority of the events streamed online are edited for time and then rebroadcast on delay on the Big Ten Network.

Small Size, High Quality
To produce that high-quality content, the BTN team designed a flypack of all-HD equipment for its schools. The network staff built six of them last summer and has rotated them through the schools over the course of the academic year, so that all 11 campuses will be ready to utilize them full-time when they receive their proprietary flypack in the fall.

“The equipment we chose was based on, number one, it had to be HD-capable,” Wilken says. “Then, we decided that it had to have a minimum of three cameras. Then, we started working with the budget to make this work.”

Size was also a major factor in selecting and designing the equipment.

“We wanted to keep this to a manageable size so that it can be moved around from location to location,” says Rex Arends, director of university technical operations for BTN. “There are things that both Mike and I would have loved to have had in the first year, but we were trying to stick to not having a huge, bulky, we-don’t-have-anywhere-to-store-it type of thing.”

Adds Wilken, “We had to make it so that the students could carry it. If they had to bring it up the stairs to the press box at a soccer field, they needed to be able to do that.”

To fit the size and HD requirements, BTN chose the Sony Anycast production switcher as the heart of its flypack system.

The Web’s the Limit
Each online event is completely student-produced. A video services director at each member school oversees the students in terms of recruiting and scheduling, however, and students are put through a rigorous training program before they are dispatched to produce live online events.

“As we deploy the flypacks to each university, I go to each campus and do six to eight training classes for the students within a two-day window,” Arends explains. “I go there and train them on the equipment. We also have a coordinating producer who comes for a training class or does a conference call with them to talk about the production of a live sporting event. By the time I leave and our coordinating producer is finished, they have a pretty good concept of how to do it.”

The number of events that each school produces is limited only by student will and schedules — and the amount of airtime available on BigTenNetwork.com.

“It’s as many events as they can do and we can get streamed,” Arends says.

Find Out More
Arends and Wilken will present a case study on these flypacks — what’s in them and how to use them — at the second-annual College Sports Video Summit, taking place June 8-9 in Atlanta. Click here to register at a discounted rate through May 15.