Horizon League Network Makes HD Leap, Expands Broadcast Possibilities

The Horizon League Network is primed to take the next step.

Earlier this month, the league’s athletic directors unanimously approved the purchase of equipment that will bring high-definition production to all Horizon League Network telecasts.

The league’s longtime Indianapolis-based production partner, WebStream Productions, assisted on-campus personnel with the selection of new gear and will also aid in the implementation and staff training. Webstream also plays a major role supporting the Horizon League’s Game of the Week –– which airs on local television affiliates –– and ESPN3-exclsuive games.

“We set out six years ago to provide standardized equipment [for Horizon League schools] and to make sure that each campus was working essentially from the same hardware,” says John Servizzi, CEO, Webstream Productions. “That’s always been important, and there’s obviously been some incremental upgrades during that time, but it was really time to do something wide-ranging and get everybody in the latest and greatest gear, and, obviously, at this point HD is the only way to go.”

All Horizon League members will receive a base list of HD video equipment with the flexibility to make upgrades if their production needs warrant it. For example, Webstream’s package for the league centers on the TriCaster 455 and base Sony HD cameras. However, schools can choose to step up to the TriCaster 855 and/or Sony EX3 cameras.

“Our goal isn’t really to say, here is the equipment, now go do it,” says Bill Potter, director of communications and new media at the Horizon League. ”We want to work with each of our members and figure out what they have, what they don’t have, what kind of support they need.

“The great thing about Webstream is, from the start, they have been so supportive and willing to go to all of our campuses to make sure things are working properly,” he continues. “Not only do they know exactly what will work, they know how to train people. Really, when you’re trying to run a network like this, having trained personnel at all of our campuses is ideal. Without those people, the network doesn’t work.”

Each of the conference’s nine campuses will be outfitted with a flypack system focused on the network’s signature sports, men’s and women’s basketball. However, the benefit of a light, portable flypack offers schools the ability to transport the cases to other venues on campus, making it easier to broadcast other sports, such as soccer, baseball, softball, and tennis.

“As the equipment has gotten smaller, flypacks are much more possible and practical,” says Servizzi, who founded Webstream Productions in 2006. “In this case, we’re working with four cases that all fit together. So the ability for a small crew to move that equipment from, say, the basketball facility to the soccer facility [is easy]. Really, what that equipment is going to enable the schools to do is to produce more content and not be locked into producing basketball and then maybe only producing volleyball because it happens to be in the same gym. We really want to get them out there.”

Gear is expected to begin arriving in the next couple of weeks when training will begin in preparation for the start of men’s and women’s basketball season in mid November. Potter expects things to be a little hectic at first as schools learn the new gear, but he thinks the overall upgrade shouldn’t change much of the network’s current workflow.

In the college-sports digital-network space, the Horizon League is a trailblazer. Since 2006, HLN has streamed nearly 3,000 live events –– including conference championships –– in all 19 of its sports. Last year, more than a quarter million unique visitors from more than 140 countries logged on to HorizonLeague.com to watch games, studio highlight shows, student-athlete profiles, and other campus events.

For Potter, the key to the network’s success has been the universal support from the presidents and athletic directors of the conference’s member schools.

“[In order to succeed,] you need buy-in from all of your athletic directors and your presidents, all those people that make those decisions up above the sports information directors or whoever is going to be put in charge of it once it gets up and running,” says Potter, who is in his third year at the Horizon League. “If you have buy-in from the people up top on the value the network and the product brings and they want to help make it good, then you’re going to be fine. If they don’t value it and you don’t have a set of standards to hold people to, then it’s going to be a bigger struggle.”

In addition to Webcasts available at HorizonLeague.com, the Horizon League will offer a free mobile app that users of smartphones can download to access content, including live games. The equipment upgrade will also add official instant-replay capabilities for all Horizon League men’s and women’s basketball games.

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