NCAA begins massive archive project

The NCAA has begun an ambitious project to digitize tens of thousands of hours of past championship performances as it begins taking more than 100 years of film and video recordings and converts them to digital data storage.

Greg Weitekamp, NCAA director of broadcasting, says the goals are two fold: to preserve the NCAA’s history but to also build a digital archive that can more easily meet the needs of Hollywood, commercial, and corporate clients who request historical video.

That’s one of the reason’s the NCAA tapped Thought Equity, a company which builds digital archives and also manages business transactions. The multi-year deal involves a share of any licensing revenues.

“You can tell yourself you’ll spend a certain amount to preserve content but you need some sort of ROI,” says Weitekamp.

The library footage is not available to the public and is designed instead for entertainment, creative and corporate production companies (those interested in previewing and purchasing footage can visit The collection includes plays from 88 NCAA championships in 23 men’s and women’s intercollegiate sports from Divisions I, II and III, including basketball, football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, softball, volleyball and more. Thought Equity will produce and make available for licensing agency quality clips from current events both in film and HD formats.

About 1,000 hours will be available for instantaneous download so producers can quickly search and access video clips. “The 1,000 hours will include more clips from games rather than complete games,” says Weitekamp. The system was recently used by producers of Glory Road to get footage from the 1966 Texas Western/ Kentucky NCAA men’s basketball championship game.

Massive archive projects are always a financial challenge. Weitekamp says that when the NCAA realized the project would be too expensive it decided to reach out and find a partner to help digitize and monetize the system. That’s when Thought Equity entered the picture.

Kevin Schaff, founder and CEO of Thought Equity, say, “We have a very sophisticated video refinery that lets us take material to be archived and then preserve it on a minute-to-minute basis, cleaning up the material and restoring it,” he says. “We then store the material at 50 Mbps.”

All material is stored on Storagetek hierarchical storage tapes. “Storagetek delivers the material at a high speed and manages the video in a way that matches our strategy for content preservation and licensing,” says Schaff. “It’s a dependable system and its cost per gigabyte is very attractive.”

The NCAA project involves digitizing everything from 35mm film to Betacam tapes from the mid-1980s. A Snell & Wilcox Archangel restoration system helps material look as clean as possible as it is stored. “The scale and speed with which it can work on a realtime assignment adds a lot of value to the footage as we process it,” says Schaff.

There are seven people working on the NCAA project and combined they’ll digitize more than 2,000 hours of material each year. If all goes as planned the material will be completely digitized within five years.

The trick of any archive, says Schaff, is to find the 10% of the archive that generates 90% of future revenues. “It might be finding a guy who wasn’t a big star in college but then makes a big play in the pros, so our system helps find that footage and retrieve the digital master in realtime,” says Schaff.

Thought Equity is currently in the midst of a massive digitization project of the entire archived library of NCAA championships coverage, beginning with footage captured as early as 1906.

“One of the primary reasons that the NCAA has joined with Thought Equity is for the preservation of our extensive video archive collection,” says Greg Weitekamp, NCAA director of broadcasting. “Our video library is one of the most sought-after collections for two reasons. One, it represents the broadest range of men and women’s collegiate sporting events available in any single library. And two, NCAA sports are a compelling and effective way to illustrate key concepts such as teamwork, spirit, success and excellence.”

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