SEC Network Preview: Bama’s New Digital Media Center Gives Crimson Tide Productions a Leg Up

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 over a year. 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.

While many SEC schools have been scrambling to meet the technical and production standards required by the new ESPN-operated SEC Network in time for the network’s launch, the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide Productions boasts a distinct advantage. In March, the school officially unveiled a sparkling new 46,594-sq.-ft., $14.6 million Digital Media Center at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Encompassing three studios, three control rooms, 10 edit suites, and four radio studios, the Digital Media Center (DMC) marks the culmination of a massive joint effort of UA Athletics, the College of Communication and Information Sciences (CCIS), and WVUA, the university’s commercial TV station.

“We did this with two other parties on campus, so we had a lot of the infrastructure in place [for the SEC Network launch],” says Justin Brant, director of Crimson Tide Productions (CTP). “We had the central [facility], where our fiber runs back to, and then a router that we share with all the other groups. And we were able to get to all the facilities online and do all the things we needed to do to have a production at all of the [venues] that we have on campus.”

In addition to CTP, the DMC also serves as the home of CCIS’s professional media operations, including the Center for Public Television and Radio, WVUA, and Alabama Public Radio.

Digital Media Center Up and Running
CTP began operations from the DMC last fall, producing content for the 2013 football season. Beginning this month, it will serve as the home of dozens of SEC Network and streaming productions.

Crimson Tide Productions control room inside the new Digital Media Center

Crimson Tide Productions control room inside the new Digital Media Center

Although the DMC is one of the most technologically advanced video-production facilities in college athletics, the school still had to make a few enhancements to meet ESPN’s requirements for SEC Network productions. Chief among these improvements was the addition of a second control room for CTP, as well as some supplementary fiber at several athletics facilities.

“We were already doing several [videoboard] events, so we had to evaluate if we could do both with our current infrastructure or if we had to purchase new equipment,” says Brant. “As a result of that and ESPN’s surveys, we had to put some fiber in some additional places. [It] wasn’t a lot because we just went through a fiber exercise where we installed a ton of fiber all over campus about two or three years ago; we just had to extend it to the areas where the trucks would park and things like that.

Inside the Control Rooms
In addition, a second CTP control room was built, and additional cameras and lenses were purchased to accommodate concurrent events, as well as scenarios when CTP is responsible for producing both videoboard and SEC Network shows simultaneously.

Digico audio console

Digico audio console

The original CTP control room features a Ross Video Vision 3 switcher, Blackstorm four-channel playback system, and Xpression two-channel CG; DiGiCo SD10 audio console; Grass Valley K2 Dyno replay system; PESA router; and Evertz multiview system. Productions using this control room feature four Hitachi SK-HD1000 cameras outfitted with FUJINON lenses (two 23×7 lenses and two 72X lenses).

The second control room, which is already up and running, features Ross Video Carbonite switcher, Blackstorm four-channel playback system, and Xpression two-channel CG; DiGiCo SD8 audio console; Evertz multiview system and DreamCatcher replay system; and PESA router. Shows produced out of this control room also use Hitachi SK-HD1000 cameras with FUJINON glass (two 23×7 lenses and two 55X lenses).

“It has been a good partnership of the groups, with athletics and academics together,” says Brant. “The idea was to have one state-of-the-art facility where students can kind of learn but also one that was state of the art for all of the things that we needed to do as an operation as well as with the other groups.”

CTP’s set for its weekly ‘The Nick Saban Show’ inside the new Digital Media Center

CTP’s set for its weekly ‘The Nick Saban Show’ inside the new Digital Media Center

CTP used the original DMC control room in a series of ESPN “test productions” this past spring, including three UA baseball games.

“That turned out really well,” says Brant. “Having not had that Digital Media Center, I don’t think we would have been able to do those kinds of things.”

CTP is also continuing to build out its digital-asset–management and archiving infrastructure using its previously installed CatDV system.

Even More Student Involvement
In terms of staffing for the new DMC and SEC Network productions, CTP has hired four additional employees: two producer/editors, an engineer, and a program assistant for administrative support and scheduling.

“With all these new facilities and new events,” says Brant, “having somebody to do some administrative support was one of our key things: scheduling the students, helping us reach out to classes so we could start training students.”

In addition to Brant and his full-time staff, CTP currently has about 60 students set to work on live productions this fall (the majority of which are paid, with a handful fulfilling academic internships) and plans to recruit about 20 more this fall. The students are split into an A crew and a B crew to ensure that everyone receives the necessary number of reps and no single individual is overworked.

“Our goal is to use as many students as possible. We had a really good student[-recruiting] program before all this started, but this new space has really allowed us to recruit even more students,” says Brant. “As a result, we are able to get a lot more students, train and prep them, and get them ready for the SEC Network — rather than just starting cold turkey and trying to figure things out.

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