College Football Kickoff: SEC Network Says Adios to Satellite Backup

When ESPN and the Southeastern Conference launched the SEC Network last summer, there was much made of the 23,000+ miles of fiber that was laid to connect all 14 campus and their venues with ESPN facilities in Charlotte, NC and Bristol, CT. This football season, ESPN production teams will lean heavily on that infrastructure, choosing to do away completely with satellite backup and using entirely fiber and IP paths for distribution of live broadcasts.

SECNetworkLogoEach SEC football stadium is hooked up to two fiber paths back to Charlotte and Bristol. From there, the feeds will be backed up with a third path by a ATEME Kyron encoder, which provides contribution over an IP network.

SEC Network football productions are relatively standard seven-camera productions for ESPN, though Ackles noted they would supplement select telecasts with a Super Slow Mo and SkyCam. There will also be a strategic use of two Marshall cameras, which are small box cameras that can be utilized for extra, cost-effective views.

“When you have a seven-camera show, these are two other cameras that can enhance our telecast by placing them in spots around the stadium that can help our content and storytelling,” says Steve Ackles, coordinating producer for football at the SEC Network.

Ackles also hinted that pylon cameras – which are currently being tested by ESPN on Monday Night Football – could possibly make their way on to SEC Network football productions later in the season as network production teams get more familiar with them.

Nostalgic viewers can also expect a bit of a throwback as SEC Network telecasts will feature starting lineups at the beginning of each game, a practice that has actually been phased out on main ESPN telecasts.

“We felt as a conference-affiliated network that we wanted to get those names and faces back into our telecasts,” says Ackles.

The action kicks off Thursday night with Vanderbilt hosting Western Kentucky (8 p.m. ET), before a Saturday slate of six games – five of which feature an SEC program ranked in the Top 25. As the network enters its second season of football coverage the feel around the halls in Charlotte is that ESPN and the SEC have truly built a Saturday destination for college football fans in the south.

“Like anything new it just takes time to get used to,” says Ackles. “I think people know where to find us and with the great help of our marketing and PR department, we get the word out and make sure that the schools know where to find us and that their Twitter and Facebook feeds are sending out channel information as well as the main network. Hopefully we just keep growing.”