Fighting Irish Digital Media Connects Notre Dame with Itself and the World

Even when the National Championship is on the line, the Christmas Spirit is still alive and well in South Bend, Indiana.

FIDM's center includes a 12x15-foot studio (pictured), a control room, two edit rooms, a voiceover booth, and a workplace for staff.

FIDM’s center includes a 12×15-foot studio (pictured), a control room, two edit rooms, a voiceover booth, and a workplace for staff.

On Monday night in neighboring Mishawaka, IN, the entire Notre Dame football team was at a Meijer store with 100 underprivileged children from the St. Joseph County area. The Kelly Cares Foundation, founded by Irish Football head coach Brian Kelly and his wife Paqui in 2009, donated a $100 gift card to the store to each child and paired them up with a member of the football team to help them do some holiday shopping for their families.

Telling these stories; that’s what Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick had in mind when he began to lay the groundwork upon his arrival in the fall of 2008 for what is today the Fighting Irish Digital Media Center, the university’s state-of-the-art on-campus broadcast facility.

“[Jack] brought an understanding of the importance of media and the importance of being able to tell an institutional story through media,” says Dan Skendzel, director of Digital Media at University of Notre Dame. “[That] was something we were severely lacking. We had fallen significantly behind in our ability to produce multimedia content. So it became his initiative and mission to build a multimedia organization that can serve not only athletics but ultimately the university.”

For Notre Dame, the construction of a 3,000-square-foot production facility is not simply a source for streaming live events and sports features, it’s a university-wide initiative.

“We’re trying to leverage athletics to support the educational and faith-based mission of the university,” says Skendzel. “We understand that athletics can drive the ship from the standpoint of [meeting] that fan craving for content. The ability to monetize that is what ultimately needs to be done here so we can use it for educational purposes.”

The control room is built around NewTek's TriCaster 8000 and 3Play 820.

The control room is built around NewTek’s TriCaster 8000 and 3Play 820.

Born out of the idea came designs for a digital network, meaning that, while being rumored to be one of the only schools capable of it, Notre Dame will not pursue its own cable television network for the foreseeable future.

“We looked at a lot of different models,” says Skendzel. “Would we have liked to follow the Texas Longhorns and create a cable channel? In one sense, yes, but on the other hand, we knew that we couldn’t get the distribution that we needed through that medium, so we focused on a digital network and digital distribution.”

Official plans for the facility began to be drawn up in the fall of 2011, but the project really began to accelerate when Swarbrick and Skendzel plucked industry veteran Scott Rinehart from NASCAR Media Group where he was Director of Internal Operations.

The relationship between Rinehart and Skendzel began in the spring of 2010 when the pair met at SVG’s College Sports Video Summit in Atlanta. They began talking innocently about preservation of film, a topic that was close to Rinehart in his final years at NASCAR Media Group.  A couple of months later, Rinehart welcomed Skandzel and Swarbrick down to Charlotte to see the work NASCAR was doing with managing digital assets.

“It really started off as more of a global campus question than an athletics question,” says Rinehart. “How do we get our hands around digital media? How do we find what we need? How do we avoid replication of content? The same problems everybody’s got.”

The project was an ambitious one to start. After coming on board at Notre Dame in April of this year, some of Rinehart’s early meetings with university IT left staff members stunned at the amount of bandwidth and performance needed in the department’s SAN in order to get everything done.

An open workspace area allows for streamlined communication among FIDM staffers.

An open workspace area allows for streamlined communication among FIDM staffers.

“When I started laying the plans and the numbers out for them, you could see their eyes go as big as saucers and say, ‘You’re kidding, right?’” laughs Rinehart. “I said ‘No, and we have to be able to sustain that for four to five hours straight.’”

Construction began in June. With integration done by The Systems Group, Rinehart, Skendzel, and the FIDM staff began piecing together the gear to make the center hum. To counter the bandwidth issues, FIDM went with Telestream’s Vantage for transcoding and ingesting P2 materials. The center also uses Cisco AS8100 Series Media Processors for streaming (they also partner with iStreamPlanet), AJA FS2 frame syncs, AJA fiber boxes, Blackmagic Design routers, and Panasonic P2 cameras.

NewTek plays a major role in the operation as well. The digital media center is built around a TriCaster 8000 switcher and 3Play 820 for replay. For broadcasting live remotes, crews bring a TriCaster 450 or 300 in a travel case.

“We’re not doing anything groundbreaking, yet,” says Rinehart. “And I put the word ‘yet’ in there because there are things to come and we’re going to get there, but the purpose of this facility is to get our feet under us and to stabilize our world in terms of digital assets so we can find them and use them. We have already seen great advantages in finding assets that have been scattered to and fro on USB drives and such.”

Another of the digital media center’s primary goals is to link up the entire campus, not just athletics venues. Fortunately for Rinehart, since he’s arrived, the connection process has gone rather smoothly.

AJA FS2 frame syncs and fiber boxes help internal technical operations run at FIDM.

AJA FS2 frame syncs and fiber boxes help internal technical operations run at FIDM.

“We are a very fiber-rich campus,” says Rinehart. “When they have pulled fiber places, they have been very smart with pulling additional, so it just came down to terminating the fiber. For example, when we pulled fiber into this facility, we pulled 144 strands and we’re using probably 30 right now. But with Div-X and Level 3 products coming in, that’ll take four or six. We’ve got other things coming in that will take two or four each. It will be onesie-twosies from here on out. But they were smart and they insisted that we need to put this in now.”

FIDM is currently hooked up to sites around campus, including the football, soccer, basketball, and hockey facilities. By spring season, the plan is to have lacrosse, baseball, and softball venues up online as well. This academic year, Fighting Irish Digital Media will live-stream more than 150 events, including Olympic sports, live press conferences, and postgame shows for football and basketball. Other campus events will be done, such as mass from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, once the building’s SD control room gets a much-needed upgrade.

“The mission is not just athletics and that’s what I find is really exciting about this,” says Rinehart. “As I go around campus and talk to my constituents, it’s a problem that’s just everywhere. We have these situations across campus and I show them these tools. We’re using Fighting Irish Digital Media as a lab, for lack of a better phrase, where we can plug in things and try it to see if they work and you can take what we’re doing here and apply that to what is happening in another division of campus, which can than roll in to the university as a whole. That’s what was exciting to me.”