Penn State Sets Out on Olympic-Size Broadcast Upgrades

Pennsylvania State University is undergoing some massive changes. With two control rooms being built, a third under renovation, a student broadcast center under construction, and a new hockey arena in the works, Director of Broadcast Operations Jim Nachtman has his hands full with planning, budgeting, and staffing for a dramatic increase in video production.

“I feel like we’re building an Olympic compound on a smaller scale,” he says. “If NBC was going to Penn State to cover the Olympics, they would ask the same questions that we are asking. We’re building several broadcast centers, and we’ve got to tie them into our smaller venues. We’re constructing a brand-new broadcasting complex, we’re renovating one control room, and we’re going to be adding an ice-hockey facility. It’s very exciting.”

Outfitting an Old Facility With New Gear
Rec Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus, is the subject of a major renovation as part of the campus-wide broadcast upgrade. Home to men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s volleyball, and men’s wrestling, Rec Hall will soon house two control rooms. One will be used in-house to produce video-board broadcasts for the five sports that compete in Rec Hall. The other will provide a signal to Big Ten Network headquarters in Chicago, which will air the HD video on TV or stream it online.

“There are a few main goals with this project,” Nachtman explains. “One is to provide our student athletes and fans with the best experience we can, so that, whether they’re at Beaver Stadium for football or Rec Hall for wrestling, our students see the same game experience regardless of their sport. That’s the rationale for the HD control room for the video boards.”

For the second control room, he adds, there is a teaching element involved. “Being in a university setting, we want to be able to provide content to the Big Ten Network. If it does go on-air or online, we want that production value to be what the network wants it to be, which is broadcast quality. That’s the quality control that we’re striving for, but we also want to get there using students in the College of Communications.”

Top-Quality Equipment Prepares Students for Anything
The new control room will feature industry-standard equipment, including a Sony 6000 switcher, Sony monitor wall, a Chyron HyperX3 for graphics, and an Abekas Mira for tape playback. Although Nachtman’s team could have chosen lower-cost equipment, he decided to make the investment required to enhance the college experience for students and provide the best product to fans.

“We want to provide the students not just with production experience but production experience at a level that, if they sit down in front of a Sony 6000 or a HyperX3, they’re going to be able to say that they’ve already done 75 live events, so they’re ready to go,” Nachtman says. “And, if you can handle a 6000 switcher or a HyperX3, you’re going to be able to acclimate down to whatever piece of equipment a smaller market is using. We want to help our students graduate with skills that they’re going to be able to use right away.”

When the two control rooms in Rec Hall are completed, Nachtman’s team will be able to connect them via fiber to other venues around the campus — including softball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey — so that students can work on the video board and Big Ten Network productions remotely (and solve the problem of softball’s currently having a video board but no control room).

“Connectivity is a big challenge when you’re talking about trying to tie together multiple buildings,” Nachtman says. “That’s one reason why we’re working with Sony. Because of their history of working with large-scale projects, I know that they appreciate the magnitude of this project. I will be able to call them up when we’re ready to add another venue on, and it’s not going to take six months to get up to speed on what we already did.”

Planning for the Future Today
A third control room, located inside the Bryce Jordan Center, is being upgraded from SD to HD. That control room will handle video-board productions for both men’s and women’s basketball and football. A brand-new sports-broadcasting complex, named for current football and basketball play-by-play announcer Steve Jones, is under construction, and planning has begun for the new hockey arena, which is 2½ years down the road.

“Budgets are being created now, and the control room is going to be installed in June and July,” Nachtman says. “I need to take those things into consideration now, and that’s a challenge.”

Compounding that budgetary challenge is the cost of staffing. Even with a campus full of students at his disposal, Nachtman must pay all of his student employees, either through internships or part-time wage payroll, and those costs can add up fast.

“We start our students at $8 per hour, and the minimum time for a basketball game is four hours,” he says. “A StudentU crew for the Big Ten Network averages between 10 and 14 people, our big-screen production averages between 10 and 12 people per crew, and football is easily 28 people. There’s definitely no free labor.”

Even with a $1.75 million budget for the Rec Hall construction, money is tight.

“Our initial budget for wiring from the venue side came in at $400,000,” Nachtman says. “When you subtract systems design and installation, you’re cutting that in half to get the equipment that you want. If someone said, here’s a half million and you don’t need to worry about wiring or trying to train students on the level of equipment that we’re doing, then that’s not a big deal. But to get quality gear, budget is always an issue, especially when you’re trying to upgrade an old building.”

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