Big Ten Network gears up for HD launch
By Ken Kerschbaumer
The Big Ten Network is putting the finishing touches on a 40,000 sq. ft. facility in Chicago that promises to be a cutting-edge example of broadcast technology as the network looks to deliver upwards of 85% of its schedule in HD. “This will be more HD than anyone has seen before,” says Leon Schweir, Big Ten Network executive producer and VP of production. “Right now we’re going to be above 80% and we believe that within a year we’ll be close to 100%.”
The facility, built by Azcar Technologies, will be fully functional by August 10 before going live on August 30. Plenty of live and taped sporting events will be on the schedule along with coaches programs, a woman’s sports program, plenty of wrap-up and highlight shows, and even non-sports programming that focuses on other Big Ten activities will all be in the mix.
The tapeless facility can handle up to 10 incoming channels and six playout channels via an Avid Unity Isis storage system. Avid and Apple Final Cut Pro editing systems will tape into the Isis system and allow for incoming games to be cut down to two-minute packages for the highlight show. A Sony production switcher and Ikegami HD cameras operating at 720p/60fps on two sound stages are also featured at the facility.
“The file-based workflow presents all kinds of new challenges,” says Joe Coffaro, Fox Sports national director of engineering. For example, there is still a large amount of videotape that exists at the Big Ten schools. That’s why a wide variety of tape machines are on hand.
Schweir says that while football and basketball will get plenty of coverage the network will also give Olympic sports like wrestling, field hockey, or swimming a chance to shine.
Those lesser events, however, need to be produced more cost effectively which is why Mobile TV Group, the company that built the four production trucks the network will use, came with an innovative design that features not only a production area but also power generating and transmission capabilities.
“Many of the Olympic sports venues are not fully powered or fibered so having the satellite dish plus the generator on the truck is a great solution,” adds Schweir.
The Olympic sports will be the programming focus for three or four days out of the week with Tuesday being heavy on football press conferences. And while the sporting events will be in HD those shows will be produced by the schools and are expected to remain in SD for a while.
“We’ll have professional help at all the schools but we also thing this partnership [with the schools] will be a way for them to increase their broadcast journalism program,” says Schweir. “Sometimes we’ll have students shooting an event.”