College video productions face challenge of gearing up, stressing out as more events hit Web

By Carolyn Braff

As more universities and colleges are charged with streaming digital content through their athletic department Web sites, those without an experienced digital video coordinator tend to face a common problem: where do they find the right equipment and personnel to handle the productions?

In some cases, the conference hands the school equipment to use and the school must adapt the gear to its needs, regardless of whether it fits. In other cases, someone in the sports information office is charged with purchasing the streaming equipment, whether or not he or she has any expertise in the field. Either way, choosing the right equipment is a difficult proposition, made more difficult by the ever-growing demand for new content.

Mike Bilbow, video production manager at the University of Tulsa, was told by Conference USA to stream every home event online that his video team could, using a standard setup that the conference provided. Bilbow had room in his budget to purchase additional equipment, but had no one to turn to for advice on what to buy.

“I equipped our video room with stuff I had worked with and based on experience,” Bilbow says. “I did a lot of reading.”

Bilbow is in the enviable position of having the freedom to purchase whatever equipment he needs – but he has no one on staff to tell him exactly what that is.

Tulane University, another Conference USA member school, plays its home football games at the Louisiana Superdome, so a Superdome operator runs the professional-level equipment for those streams. To stream content for other sports, Tulane uses a conference-provided laptop computer with an analog-to-digital converter that operates through a Firewire line. DV files are encoded through windows media encoder into WMV format for use on the Web site, a process that requires minimal technical expertise.

Travis Detillier, Tulane University director of video operations, purchased a Canon GL2 camera to supplement the Panasonic HVX provided by the conference. For baseball streams, he uses three fixed security cameras that came with the video scoreboard the school purchased. But incorporating quality broadcast equipment was never a priority.

“The cameras were always an afterthought,” Detillier says. “For basketball, we already had the camera and, for baseball, they went with the system in place because it was cheaper. I don’t think the people who bought it had streaming in mind.”

Having minimal equipment makes production easier for a staff of two or three, but using the same three pieces of equipment day after day puts more stress on each piece than it was intended to carry. Tulane’s cameras wear out faster than C-USA can afford to replace them.

“We basically use the same equipment over and over,” explains Roger Dunaway, assistant athletic director for athletics communication. “We’ve already had to replace the laptop because it’s not made for the amount of wear and tear that we give it.”

The University of Notre Dame faces a slightly different challenge. The athletic department is never at a loss for equipment, as streaming partner CBS College Sports continually outfits the video staff with new gear, but the equipment they get does not always match their need.

“Ninety-nine percent of our equipment is from CBS College Sports,” explains Alan Wasielewski, director of digital media for Notre Dame Sports Properties. “It’s not a case of us asking for things; it’s more, ‘Here’s what you’re getting.’”

CBS College first outfitted Notre Dame with Canon GL2 cameras, but now they use five Sony VX2100s. “We mostly use the Sony cameras for interviews,” says Wasielewski. “They came out to be more durable, but they do not have the greatest lenses or greatest microphones.”

Wasielewski is looking into purchasing additional equipment but, like Bilbow, has plenty of reading to do before he can make an informed decision.

For schools that do not receive equipment from a conference or streaming partner, maximizing resources is a high priority.

“We have a good radio and television department on campus, so we have been able to recycle some cameras that are no longer of use to them,” explains John Antonik, director of new media for the University of West Virginia. “We went out and purchased a TriCaster and we have three fairly good cameras that we can use, as well as some mini DV cameras that they cycled out.”

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