The HD Odyssey, Part 2: Cutting Costs the Fun Way

By Carolyn Braff
The following is the second in a series of articles examining how college athletic departments solve the high-definition challenge without the budget of a major broadcaster. This installment looks at some creative ways that schools across the country have discovered to cut their costs as they make the transition to HD.
Every Saturday, more college-football games hit the airwaves in HD than ever before, and the schools hosting the productions are starting to follow suit. College athletic offices are enhancing their video departments with high-definition–quality control rooms, often at less than HD–quality prices. Without the budgets afforded to the broadcasters shooting their games, college athletic programs are finding ways to make HD affordable, relying on inside expertise, outside opinions, and plenty of outside-the-box thinking to make the system work.
Staying Within the College Budget
While they might be tempted to follow the broadcast model for HD production — especially if a national broadcaster’s production truck is the only contact they’ve ever had with HD — college athletic departments must forge their own lower-cost path when it comes to HD production.
“I think the trap you fall into is, you look at what the NBCs and the CBSs and the ESPNs of the world spend and think you have to somehow compete with that, but the reality is you can’t,” explains Mike Bilbow, director of video services at the University of Tulsa, OK. “There are inexpensive alternatives that deliver very well on the quality side; they just may not have all the bells and whistles that a $10 million production truck has.”
Every video director knows some tricks of the trade, places to cut costs in moving to HD. Mark Chambers, director of multimedia services at Boston College, for one, touts high-quality HD cameras in the $9,000-$10,000 range, a quarter the price of some equal-quality cameras on the market.
“The products are coming down more to the level of the consumer now,” Chambers explains. “Years ago, it was really out of reach. Now there are many consumer-level products; it just takes research and strategy to find the right one.”
Getting Creative
“People are figuring out that there is enough technology in some of the simplest applications that can really make a video, make a Website, make a feature story look like it was produced at a higher level,” explains Joe Castiglione, VP for intercollegiate athletics programs and director of athletics at the University of Oklahoma.
In constructing his own HD instant-replay solution, Bilbow has done just that.
“We looked at doing HD replay, and it was hideously expensive,” he explains. “So we took four Sony DSR 1000s and used those as our replay decks. We upconvert them to HD, and, honestly, nobody can tell the difference.”
Bilbow now has four replay decks for the price of a single HD channel, and even side-by-side, he says, critics have yet to see a difference.
Different Ways To Measure ROI
While an HD video setup may not directly bring in revenue in year one, its return on investment can be — and perhaps should be — measured in a variety of ways.
“The value on return for the investment we make isn’t always measured in monetary terms,” Castiglione explains. “There is so much more to be gained from having a fan base engaged.”
Attracting recruits, building the brand, and getting students involved in event production are all benefits that video coordinators tout as by-products of the move to HD, none of which can be measured in dollars.

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