UNH, Pack Network Transmit HD Broadcasts Via IP With VidyoCast

Another sell-out crowd has packed into the Whittemore Center in Durham, NH, to support their beloved Wildcats men’s hockey team. Fans and students who weren’t lucky enough to snag a ticket or two to one of college’s liveliest venues, however, still have pretty good seats. They gather around their televisions and enjoy the game in Full HD. Yet, back at “The Whitt,” there’s no satellite truck parked outside.

This winter, UNH has teamed up with Pack Network, a Boston-based production company, to produce HD broadcasts of men’s and women’s hockey and men’s and women’s basketball to nearly 2.5 million homes across the Boston and Manchester, NH, markets on public-affairs network WBIN-TV. And it’s all transmitted over the Internet via IP.

“The consistency and quality of it has been remarkable,” says KJ Cardinal, who co-founded Pack Network in 2007 with former Northeastern Sports Information Director/Assistant Athletic Director Adam Polgreen. “It’s cutting-edge technology, and some people are a little bit apprehensive to go this way just because satellite has been the surefire way for decades. Now that there is another solution out there, I think some people may be a little apprehensive and think ‘can you deliver a true HD signal over the Internet?’ To which, the answer is yes.”

The transmission workflow is relatively simple. Pack Network arrives on site with an HD Newtek TriCaster and produces the game. From the TriCaster, the HD output is taken with an HD-SDI connection and sent to a Vidyocast encoder on-site. From there, the signal is sent over IP to the WBIN studios, where it is sent through a VidyoCast decoder and fed into master control.

“Basically, we’re able to offer a full HD production for roughly the amount that it costs for the uplink to the satellite truck,” says Cardinal. “Being able to take the satellite truck out of the equation enables us to offer a very affordable HD solution for schools.”

On broadcast nights, Jared Fieldsend, UNH’s video and public relations assistant, coordinates with Pack Network, WBIN, and a crew of three student camera operators. Working from the press box above the arena — affectionately referred to as ‘the crow’s nest’ — during hockey games and courtside on press row during basketball games, the Pack Network production team sets up shop with the switcher and the encoder next to the team’s radio announcers.

To create the illusion of a TV-exclusive broadcast team, the radio announcers will tape an on-camera open, which Fieldsend uses to begin the broadcast. That helps create a seamless transition, with the  play-by-play and color commentators used for both the radio and television feeds.

It may sound like a patchwork operation, but there’s no arguing with the results.

“From a financial standpoint, as the budget continued to be cut and the need for putting on games continues to grow, we did it really out of necessity, but it’s worked out quite nicely,” says Tom Wilkins, assistant athletic director for media and public relations. “We’ve increased our television exposure and decreased budget considerably.”

This new production workflow replaced UNH’s former methods of televising its games, which mostly entailed shelling out money to have local TV outlets — such as Comcast 8, New Hampshire Public Television, or NESN — come in and produce the games. It was costly, the games weren’t in HD, and networks were mostly interested only in men’s hockey games.

“It just creates a lot more exposure for the area and the school,” says Fieldsend of the Pack Network-WBIN relationship. “This opens up a whole other realm and gives us the opportunity to show every sport that we can.”

UNH began their broadcasts in November and have televised men’s and women’s hockey and men’s and women’s basketball. The crew has a busy couple of weeks ahead, with a men’s hockey broadcast on Saturday, a women’s basketball game on Sunday, and a men’s and women’s hockey doubleheader on Jan. 28.

Pleased with the results, the school will look to expand the operation. UNH has a rather limited allotment of spring sports — no baseball, softball, or men’s lacrosse — so the next major goal is to get Wildcat football games onto TV next fall. And why not with an affordable opportunity that continues to help UNH sports exposure across New England?

“We’ve found a really good niche,” says Cardinal, whose company targets mid-major programs. “We know how the budgets are. Everyone is trying to do as much as they can on a shoestring budget.”