Penn State’s Formula for Streaming Success

During Jim Nachtman’s two decades at Penn State University, the athletic department’s Web streaming operations have undergone quite a transformation. originally featured single-camera streams using natural sound but today showcases multicamera HD-quality events that are of high enough caliber for rebroadcast on the Big Ten Network. As director of broadcast operations for the university, Nachtman has overseen this transition since joining Penn State Athletics in 1999.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen an incredible acceleration of both the possibilities and the expectations when it comes to Webcasts,” he says. “One thing I constantly share with our incoming students, as well as other schools or teams that call, is that you just have to start doing it. It doesn’t matter if it’s one camera with no sound or a multicamera TriCaster show with dedicated announcers. Create a plan, shoot to cover the basics and fundamentals well, and next steps will reveal themselves.”

The Evolution of a Webcast
From the one-camera shoot on a borrowed laptop that Nachtman’s department started out with, the next step was one camera with a PA feed, followed by one camera with volunteer announcers, one camera with communications students as announcers, and one camera with announcers from the College of Communications dedicated to covering the team for the entire season.

“We’re in an incredible position where our fans who are starving for the most fundamental coverage would be thrilled to see a one-camera production using the PA feed,” Nachtman says. “Everything begins at that basic level and grows from there.”

Penn State’s programming has grown to four-camera, TriCaster-produced streams that incorporate video playback and pre- and post-game interviews with a sideline reporter. This year, the department took another leap forward. In partnership with the Big Ten Network, Penn State’s StudentU productions included more than 25 live HD multicamera events, 18 of which aired on tape delay on the Big Ten Network.

Equipped for Success
Nachtman’s department currently owns a TriCaster Studio, which he expects to trade in for the new TriCaster TCXD850 this summer. The camera inventory includes three Sony DSR-500s, one Sony HVR-Z1U, three Panasonic AG-HVX200As, and one Sony PDF 150. All video is edited on three Apple Final Cut Studio workstations, which serve as an edit suite. For audio, there is a Mackie eight-input audio mixer, three Sennheiser announcer headsets, and a handful of lavalier and shotgun microphones.

In addition to the game coverage, each home event usually has an ENG shooter assigned to it as well.

“This way, we obtain footage for Big Ten Network, as well as specialized shots for use in features, future packages, etc.,” Nachtman explains. “This always comes in handy when the NCAA, Big Ten Network, ESPN, or local media need specialized footage.”

The relationship with the Big Ten Network has allowed Penn State’s productions to improve immensely.

“Beyond using their equipment, we have a real partnership and are able to share and exchange production information that would never have happened otherwise,” Nachtman explains.

Plenty of Planning
Prior to the beginning of each sports season, Nachtman reviews each sports venue’s IT infrastructure, connectivity, camera positions, announcer locations, and general broadcasting capabilities for both TV and radio.

“We create a plan for each venue so we’re prepared going in, and, that way, setup time is as efficient as possible,” he says. “We’ll be meeting with our IT staff over the next month and review each venue that will be used in the fall.”

With home schedules in hand for each team competing in a given season, Nachtman prioritizes events, determining which ones deserve multiple cameras and which, due to conflicts, might regress to single-camera productions.

“Depending on the number of events going on simultaneously, there are times where we need to revert back to a one-camera production, but, once you establish a level of programming, it’s hard to turn back,” he says. “When this happens, we’re sure to communicate that to our audience so there’s no confusion.”

Nachtman also works with the Big Ten Network to establish the StudentU events. Any home event that is not declared a StudentU event will automatically be designated as an All-Access event on and will be available to Penn State’s All-Access subscribers.

“If there’s a home event and TV is not broadcasting it, then we’re streaming it, no question,” he says. “If TV is present, we’ll still produce an audio Webcast using the dedicated announcers.”

Nachtman is quick to point out that none of this streaming success would be possible without a total team effort from the athletic teams and coaching staffs, athletic communications department, IT staff, marketing and promotions group, and Nachtman’s own production team.

Cross-Campus Connections
Nachtman continues his cross-campus meetings at the College of Communications, where he reviews announcer needs for each team. He also has meetings with his internal production staff to evaluate equipment and staffing needs for the season, including the number of interns he’s looking to hire. This fall, Nachtman’s team will comprise about 20 part-time staffers, at least 10 interns, and a full-time staffer who oversees in-game video-board operations for football and basketball, in addition to editing all promos and special projects. A second full-time intern manages all live Webcasts, and Nachtman hopes to add another full-time staff member to manage the 150 live Webcasts he expects to produce in the upcoming year.

During the season, his staff meets weekly to review the previous week’s live events, highlight editing for the Web, discuss features under consideration for future Webcasts, and review features currently in the works.

“We started these ‘official’ meetings about 10 months ago and quickly realized that I should have been doing this years ago,” Nachtman says. “They are very helpful for the students and my staff and give us an opportunity away from a live event to discuss pertinent issues. Our productions’ overall quality has improved greatly since these meetings began.”

Nachtman will continue this discussion in person at the College Sports Video Summit, June 8-9 in Atlanta, where he will be speaking on two panels. Click here to register today!

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