SEC Network Preview: Florida Preps ‘The Swamp’ With Revamped Control Room

The highly anticipated and publicized launch of the SEC Network is imminent, but it has had an impact on the conference’s 14 member institutions, their respective video departments, and network partner ESPN for the better part of 14 months. As part of SVG’s countdown to the SEC Network, we will take you inside the cases, faces, and places that will make this progressive video-production endeavor a reality on Aug. 14.

When the SEC and ESPN formally announced their partnership to create the SEC Network in May 2013, the technological capabilities of each of the conference’s athletic departments varied widely.

One of the schools in the best position to welcome the production workflows that come with programming a national linear and digital network was the University of Florida.

University of Florida's rebuilt centralized control room is located in the College of Journalism and Communications building.

University of Florida’s rebuilt centralized control room is located in the College of Journalism and Communications building.

Less than a year earlier, in summer 2012, the University of Florida had invested in designing and building a centralized control room that was fibered to every athletic facility on campus (except for the tennis venue). Its original purpose was to run videoboard shows at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (football) and the Stephen C. O’Connell Center (basketball, volleyball, swimming and diving, and gymnastics), but, technologically, the control room had been developed with the vision that it would shortly begin live-streaming events from those venues as well as softball, baseball, and soccer.

“Thankfully, our engineering team here had the foresight to be thinking about this type of thing,” says Jon Rubin, director, multimedia operations for GatorVision, the university’s online-content provider. “So we have the fiber infrastructure in place. When ESPN said to the conference that they wanted everybody to have a centralized control room, we were already in good shape.”

Control-Room Evolution
The athletic department’s investment to equip the control room in 2012 was substantial and proved to be both fruitful and timely.

Located in the university‘s College of Journalism and Communications building, the original control room was built around a Grass Valley Kayak (2.5M/E) production switcher, two Tightrope Media Zeplay 8440HD replay servers (with controllers), a ChyronHego MicroX (single-channel) graphics engine, a Graphics Outfitters Score HD graphics system, a Yamaha DM2000VCM (96 Input) audio console, a Harris (now Imagine Communications) Platinum 144×104 router, and three Harris Predator multiviewers. The venues were connected via Telecast Fiber Systems solutions.

Naturally, some modifications needed to be made once the partnership with ESPN came into play. ESPN had specific gear requirements and requests for getting all schools on the same page and working in sync with the network’s production home, located at its ESPNU facility in Charlotte, NC.

The control room has been redesigned to handle simultaneous live streaming and in-venue videoboard productions.

The control room has been redesigned to handle simultaneous live streaming and in-venue videoboard productions.

In addition, Rubin knew, it would be critical for the control room to be refitted so that it could handle multiple in-venue videoboard and live-streaming productions simultaneously.

“Our big thing from the beginning was to create as much flexibility as possible from a technology standpoint,” he says. “We talked to our Daktronics rep to make sure that his needs were taken care of. We talked to our marketing and game-presentation folks and, of course, the ESPN folks to ensure that we were not missing anything when we were putting our plan together from a control-room standpoint to build upon what we have already and create the most flexibility possible.”

A second switcher (a Grass Valley Kayak DD1 repurposed from the College of Journalism & Communications) was added. One panel supplies feeds to the Daktronics displays in each venue; the other, to the SEC Network.

On top of that, Florida swapped out its graphics servers to install a two-channel Ross XPression graphics system, added a Tightrope Media Zeplay controller and three Imagine Communications Predator multiviewers, expanded its existing Platinum router, and boosted its Telecast Fiber Systems capabilities.

GatorVision and Florida’s engineering team turned to BeckTV, the integration team that had helped them build the control room less than a year earlier.

“We’re very happy that we contracted initially with BeckTV on our control-room project. They engineered a fantastic design that can be easily scaled for additions, such as the SEC Network feed,” says Brad Noblitt, director of engineering for the College of Journalism and Communications and WUFT, the university’s TV station, in a BeckTV official release. “It’s risky and complex to take a control room that has been operating well with known sources and then add new systems to it without disrupting existing programming — a puzzle that requires the highest levels of integration expertise.”

Expanded Programming
GatorVision is already established as one of the conference’s leaders in live event streaming, having produced Olympic events live for the department’s Website since before the control room was built. The SEC Network, however, means a larger programming commitment.

ESPN requires that each school in the conference is responsible for producing 40 live-streaming events and must meet a minimum equipment requirement. That alone increases GatorVision’s workload from an average of 70 shows per year to well over 100.

“This is going to be a major step up for a lot of our sports from a streaming standpoint,” says Rubin. “There’s some sports we have been streaming for the past five or six years with just one camera. Now we’ve got to step up to the minimum four cameras with replay, graphics, the whole deal. That’s the biggest thing for us, upping the quality of our production on those sports.”

To shoot these events, GatorVision has a solid stock of Sony cameras, including four PDW700s and three PMW-EX3s, which are fitted with four Canon KJ17 17X (with extender) ENG lenses and one Canon 23X (with extender) box lens. All of that gear was purchased in 2012 to support the original control-room construction. In the latest round of upgrades, three PMW400Ls, two FUJINON ZA17 17X (with extender) ENG lenses, and a FUJINON XA55 55x box lens have been added.

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