‘The Road to CSVS’ Tackles Importance of Going HD

‘The Road to CSVS’ Webinar series is designed to explore topics critical to the success of video at the university-athletic-department level. SVG, in partnership with NACDA, will host a new Webinar each month leading up to the fourth-annual College Sports Video Summit (CSVS) in Atlanta in June.

Sports fans have rather refined palates. Whether sitting courtside or with their feet propped up on their coffee tables, they demand broadcast-quality video when they watch their favorite teams. Today, that means nothing less than high-definition.

Sponsored by XOS Digital, the second edition of SVG’s monthly “The Road to CSVS” Webinar series, HD Video Production on Campus: Why It’s Critical to Your Success, offered an in-depth look at three institutions at various budget levels that have succeeded in going HD.

With nearly 200 industry professionals in attendance, Tom Buffolano, moderator and chair of the CSVS, was joined by Brandon Meier, associate AD, broadcast operations, at the University of Oklahoma; Chris Taylor, an instructor of telecommunications/sports immersion and executive producer of Ball State Sports Link; and Imry Halevi, manager of video production at Northeastern University on Wednesday.

Even for a small-budget mid-major school like Northeastern, investment in hi-def video made sense when the 101-year-old Matthews Arena — home to the Huskies men’s and women’s basketball and hockey teams — was renovated two years ago. A center-hung scoreboard and video board was installed, and Halevi’s job was to program the new board while also broadcasting games online.

At Northeastern, 101-year-old Mathews Arena was renovated two seasons ago. A center hung scoreboard and video board were installed, as well as a control room.

“Part of the reason we upgraded to HD was to provide high-quality, high-definition, high-bitrate content for that board,” said Halevi, whose department shoots in 720p (Oklahoma and Ball State shoot in 1080i). “For us, HD doesn’t mean entertaining just in-arena fans; we also produce all of our games for distribution online, and we really wanted to provide that HD quality online.”

All three panelists presented comprehensive equipment lists as part of their presentations, analyzing codecs in particular.

Oklahoma uses three main codecs headed by Avid DNxHD. The department also has a clip server at each venue, playing H.264 files to fit the need for instant playback for boards at each video-board–ready venue. In the field, OU shoots on XDCAMs in 50 Mbps.

Ball State Sports Link works under a very similar model (with H.264 as the standard). Compression levels do vary when sending programming to local television affiliates or national syndicates like ESPN3.

Northeastern, meanwhile, uses a different codec depending on the footage and destination. H.264 is used for online streaming; postproduction, though, turns to Sony XDCAM EX  for footage shot with JVC cameras.

Ball State Sports Link utilized a university-owned production truck for its live broadcasts.

The most common concern expressed by the audience was justifying the expenditure on HD equipment: how in the world do you get administration to pay for this?

“People will just watch online for free and then not buy tickets to the games” is the common pushback that many video departments hear when seeking to begin or improve the quality of streaming live events. The answer to that issue depends on the market and size of the fan base. For a mid-major program like Northeastern, streaming games can actually be critical to increasing attendance.

“We’re in Boston, so we’re obviously not the only show in town,” said Halevi, adding that his program invested about $250,000 over four years to get to where it is today. “So, for us, our goal right now is not to hold onto our rights. It’s not to limit the amount of people who see our productions; it’s not even to monetize them. It’s to get people interested in Northeastern athletics. So, on the production side, we do as much as we can to showcase the excitement and the passion of the game-day experience for fans watching online. Our goal in all of this is to get butts in the seats, and we are doing that partly by streaming our games.”

XOS Digital’s Bryan Bedford joined the panel, assuring attendees that the jump to HD doesn’t have to be such a frightening proposition.

“You have to have a plan for the basics,” he pointed out. “You have to figure out, what do you have in place and what do you have to do infrastructure-wise? Then, you have to get into things like staffing and asset management and those logistical things. It’s important, then, to find a good partner to help you execute on that. There are many partners out there, including us, that can guide you from the beginning-consulting phase all the way through implementations and execution and support on the backend.”

Bedford also noted that the difference in pricing between HD and SD isn’t sizable enough to justify not making the leap into HD. Plus, much of the SD gear in the field today is either no longer on the market or is difficult to get service and parts for.

On a larger scale, the University of Oklahoma has progressively invested around $2 million to build the multi-platform SoonerVision HD network.

Meier concurred.  “There is no one in their office using a computer that is 13 years old,” he cracked. “Why should I have to use a camera that old? No one is using Windows 98.”

It was noted, however, that nothing, not even equipment, could replace great storytelling, which is the best way to drum up support for both athletic programs and video departments.

“You have to produce a quality production that allows people to want to invest in you,” said Taylor, whose student-run Sports Link is one of the foremost live-remote-production units on any campus. “I know there are a lot of people who can’t go to production trucks like we have; there’s different levels. But HD can be as simple as an HD Flip Cam and shooting and telling good stories as much as it can be a full-blown production truck and network distribution. So I think, for a lot of the smaller schools, HD can start with one camera that you can buy for less than a couple hundred bucks and just produce content for your Website, and then it can start and grow.”

Be sure to check back to sportsvideo.org for an archive of this Webinar, including a full audio file and PDF files of presentation materials, including equipment lists for the participating panelists’ productions. In addition, be on the lookout for updates on the next edition of “The Road to CSVS,” coming up in January.