Denver Turns Olympic Sports Into RSN Gold With Altitude, LTN Global Communications

Regional sports networks are always looking for quality, local, live programming to fill out their massive calendars. College content is a natural fit, but smaller viewing audiences (for Olympic sports) make the business model for building a production a tough sell. Even with many Division I schools capable of producing their own live events these days, there still remains a significant obstacle to linear-network distribution: transmission technology and costs.

DenverLogoThe University of Denver is working with Colorado-based RSN Altitude Sports to get around those challenges via technology developed by LTN Global Communications. LTN’s Video Transport Service enables Denver’s Pioneer Vision to access the company’s cloud-based, proprietary network, which makes transmitting the signal to Altitude’s master control a fraction of the cost of traditional satellite transmission or even a direct fiber line, which the two entities used to connect last spring to broadcast DU’s lacrosse games.

“[LTN’s system] has reduced our expenses even more,” says Steve Hurlbut, ‎VP, production and programming, Altitude Sports & Entertainment. “We’re actually in talks with other schools about them getting an LTN ‘send’ unit so that we can receive their games and air more original live content.”

For the better part of a decade, Denver University has had a strong relationship with another RSN in town, ROOT Sports, to carry the program’s highest-profile sports: ice hockey and basketball. However, with trips to three of the last four Final Fours, the Denver men’s lacrosse team has spurred a new buzz around the Pioneers in the Rocky Mountain area.

Earlier this year, Altitude pounced on the lacrosse program’s growing popularity and inquired about carrying games on its air. The success of those broadcasts led to both sides’ wondering if there was an opportunity for other Denver sports to be added to the Altitude lineup.

“It’s a local product, and that’s so valuable,” says Hurlbut. “With DU being right here in town, that increases interest and helps us fill some gaps from the ESPN syndication deals [we’ve lost].”

The deal was a no-brainer for both sides as Altitude valued the programming and Denver’s athletic department already had a strong live-video-production team in place. Per the agreement, Altitude supplies one of its own fulltime producers and purchased the LTN hardware needed for transmission. From there, Pioneer Vision does the rest.

Just last year, Denver renovated its centralized control room — which is fibered to Magness Arena (basketball and ice hockey), Hamilton Gymnasium (gymnastics and volleyball), and Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium — to HD.

According to Ed Henderson, associate director of technical services, Denver University, administration worked with Denver-based technology-solutions provider Burst on the control-room renovation, with JHW serving as consultant. The facility features a 2M/E Ross Carbonite production switcher, a ChyronHego Duet with Lyric Pro for graphics, two Grass Valley K2 Dyno replay systems, and a Yamaha LS9 digital audio mixer. Pioneer Vision deploys Hitachi Z-HD5000 cameras onsite during events.

A typical game-day crew is made up of approximately four camera operators, two tape operators, a graphics operator, a technician, a director, an audio operator, and the Altitude-supplied producer. Much of the crew is filled out with Denver University students.

“Believe it or not, many of our students started as Work Study students who had near to no experience, and we trained them,” says Debbie Welke, assistant athletic director, technical services, Denver University. “We want kids that are motivated and just know sports.”

Under this new agreement with Altitude, Pioneer Vision has produced 22 live events this fall and plans to produce another 15 in the spring.

“For us, the exposure is almost a two- to three-hour commercial for our university and our athletic teams,” says Ryan Peck, associate vice chancellor for external affairs. “Deb and Ed have done an amazing job taking advantage of those TV timeouts or halftime [showing] our university and our athletic program and some of the academic and community-services pieces we’re doing as well. In this day and age, as our budgets are shrinking, I look at that as a commercial for everything we do and where we don’t have to directly buy commercials. It’s a new platform for us to tell our stories. There are [elements of] exposure that we struggle with, and this gets us on TV.”

Pioneer Vision streamed events (soccer, gymnastics, volleyball, lacrosse) in the past — and will continue to do so on the school’s athletics Website, even under this new agreement.

“That’s what’s so awesome about the Altitude agreement,” says Welke, noting that Altitude also allows Denver to use its own Pioneer-branded graphics package. “They’ve agreed to let us stream and broadcast at the same time. They basically saw what we were doing on our multicamera streaming productions and said [they] wanted to get involved with this.”

Getting involved finally made sense economically when LTN’s technology became the transmission bridge.

“LTN’s fully managed broadcast-transmission solution makes perfect sense for Denver University and Altitude Sports,” says Tom Buffolano, regional VP, sales, LTN Global Communications. “The reliability and ease of installation and use — plug and play — that LTN provides enables any Pioneer athletic event to be scheduled in advance and broadcast flawlessly at a low cost. With the university producing these events and connecting to Altitude Sports through the LTN Network, DU can showcase the quality of their brand, athletes, and programs to a larger audience and fan base that would have been cost-prohibitive by using a satellite truck. We’re thrilled to be partners with both.”

Streaming productions have been valuable for Denver for some time, but, according to Peck, the benefit of having a presence on a regional sports network is huge in the crowded sports-media market that is Denver.

“I love to get those texts and calls from donors, fans, alums, and staff around campus saying they were flipping through the channels and saw the game,” says Peck. “For us, that’s huge, especially in this crowded sports region.”