Big Ten Network To Expand Use of Flypack Systems for Student-Run Productions

The Big Ten Network is expanding its use of flypack TV production systems from six to 11 later this year, a financial commitment that points to the success the network has had with students produced events. “We’ve really been impressed with the creative solutions our students have come up with to work around some of the limitations of the systems, like no built-in replay and limited graphics capabilities,” says Michael Calderon, Big Ten director of New Media.

Each of the flypacks includes a computer-based switcher and the Panasonic AJ-HPM110 Mobile HD field recorder/players, and three of the Panasonic HPX170 P2 HD handhelds. BTN has also purchased some of Panasonic’s HPX2000 handheld P2 HD/DV camcorders, which are sometimes taken along with the flypacks for telephoto work.

The network uses Big Ten students on each campus to produce and announce these events, offering a unique opportunity for students to gain real-world experience. Of those events, approximately 120 of them are branded “Student U” and aired on the linear network on delay. Students send their footage to BTN’s Chicago studios over a wide-area network, helping us to produce women’s basketball, men’s hockey and wrestling, as well as press conferences and other events. From 12 to 30 students at each university may be involved in the program.

The additional systems will make it easier than ever for the students who use the gear to produce events as each Big Ten conference member school will have a system by the beginning of the fall semester. “They will bounce around within the campus to different sports, depending on the school,” says Calderon.

Having students run productions is a growing trend across the nation. In the case of the Big Ten Network key contacts within the athletic department, typically the video coordinator as they are often involved with scoreboard and other video productions.

“We travel to each campus and train the video director how to use the equipment and coordinate the use of the WAN with the IT department,” says Calderon. “We don’t overload a university on any given weekend as the students often assist ESPN or CBS during their broadcasts.”

Calderon says he has been impressed with the way students learn to work around limitations of the system. Some schools will add a fourth or even fifth camera to a production or use the Newtek Tricaster for playback, including replay.

“Students have also gone above and beyond in creating graphics and the kids have really enjoyed themselves and do more than we expected,” he says. “We’ve already identified a handful of graduating seniors who we will work into the mix for actual TV productions. We’re grooming the next generation.”

Bi-weekly conference calls give students feedback on how the productions are going and Calderon says it’s the announcer role that has proved to be the most challenging. Students are paid by the hour as early plans to have students work for credit proved difficult to manage from Big Ten Network offices in Chicago.

“We would love to be able to have students work for credit but that works better if it’s managed on the campus,” says Calderon.

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