Pac-12 Networks’ San Francisco Facility Is Powered Up and Ready for Historic Launch

The countdown to one of the most anticipated debuts in college-sports–television history will end Wednesday at 6 p.m. PT when the Pac-12 Network and its six regional affiliates hit the airwaves.

Pac-12 Networks and its six regional affiliates launch Wednesday at 6 p.m. PT.

The term game-changer is thrown around liberally in the broadcasting and technology industry, but the all-digital, multiplatform media corporation has the potential to be just that.

Based in San Francisco, Pac-12 Enterprises promises to deliver 850 live sports events in its first academic year alone. In partnership with its partial media-rights holders Fox and ESPN, the Pac-12 is ensuring that every football and men’s basketball game is available live, while also offering an unprecedented amount of coverage to the conference’s other intercollegiate sports, including soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball, swimming/diving, wrestling, and more.

The mission of conference Commissioner Larry Scott and Pac-12 Enterprises President Gary Stevenson is to give the Pac-12 the exposure they feel it rightfully deserves. The Pac-12 boasts 2,020 individual and team national champions over its history, the most of any conference in the country. Despite that, Stevenson feels that Pac-12 sports don’t get nearly the attention they should on the national media stage.

“It was very bold and courageous of our presidents to say, there’s got to be a better way to do this,” said Stevenson during his keynote speech at SVG’s College Sports Video Summit in June. “A big part of the vision was taking control of our content, and equally important are the ways to distribute it. So that meant a coordinated strategy between broadcast TV, cable TV, and a full range of digital rights. It meant not just the assumption of one network but seven networks: one national and six regional. So we can do national programming and hyper-local programming.”

So, in a launch as robust as anything seen before, Pac-12 Enterprises will debut with seven linear channels and a TV Everywhere platform (supported by California-based video-solutions company Ooyala) aimed at delivering a boatload of content to Internet-enabled TVs, computers, tablets, and smartphones. The linear networks are carved out in the likeness of the conference’s footprint. The national network will be joined by Pac-12 Bay Area, Pac-12 Washington, Pac-12 Mountain, Pac-12 Los Angeles, Pac-12 Arizona, and Pac-12 Oregon.

In order to accommodate all the traffic that will be needed, the Pac-12 constructed a 2,000-square-ft. facility that includes a control room, studio set, editing bays, and recording rooms. In addition, to help alleviate some of the pressure of the accelerated build, Pac-12 contracted its distribution and master-control services to Comcast Media Center in Denver.

In a very similar way to how CMC recently supported NBC Olympics, fiber connectivity between the Pac-12’s schools and its San Francisco studio will permit the networks to centralize coverage while supporting as many as seven simultaneous live feeds whether to the linear or digital networks.

The home office and studios of Pac-12 Enterprises are in San Francisco.

The network’s San Francisco facility — which Diversified Systems has handled the integration work on — is using Cisco for its communications technology. Cisco routers and switchers are positioned all over the building, as well as on the campuses of the conference’s member schools.

“One of the advantages of being a campus or school network is that you have these schools who have the capacity and you can work with them to tap in and create a network on the backbone they had available,” says Leon Schweir, SVP of productions and operations at Pac-12 Enterprises. “So we’ve basically created an Internet network with all of the 12 schools connecting right through to here in San Francisco. It’s an IP-type network so this allows us to push and take; it allows us to do the multicam production if we desire. We’re really excited about it because we think that is something that has not been done quite on this level.”

As a backbone to the all-digital, file-based world that the Pac-12 will establish from day one, Enterprises has teamed with Dalet to employ its media-asset–management (MAM) system  both in San Francisco and at CMC.

“I don’t think I’ve had a media-management system focus so much from start to finish,” says Schweir, who acknowledges that an end-to-end file-based media-management system was new territory for him. “There are other great products out there that are good at the MAM or they are good at the server-based part but the editing part falls off to some other vendor or they don’t have the interface for logging. So, for us, we have a system in Dalet that covers everything from start to finish.”

Pac-12 will even use Dalet’s editing system, Espresso, and editors in both San Francisco and Denver will be able to access lo-res proxies,  reducing the traffic of large files between facilities. As an example, Schweir adds, after a football game concludes, in addition to cutting highlights, the edit and logging teams will cut the game down to a 60-minute show using Dalet, and the asset can be duplicated simultaneously at CMC.

Numerous other vendors make their presence felt in the network’s San Francisco building, including Evertz, which takes care of the core routing, multiviewers, encoders, and master-control switchers. Sony cameras are deployed in the Pac-12 Networks studio set, and Calrec audio mixers will be used in the control room with Chyron serving as the graphics engine for the entire network.

As for the almighty X-factor of distribution, the company hasn’t made an official announcement on the number of homes it will reach. However, tallying up the reach of the cable companies it currently has deals with, the total number of potential subscribers falls just short of 50 million. Compare that with the Big Ten Network, which launched with 20 million subscribers in August 2007, and Pac-12 Networks seems to be in good shape. The biggest dragons left to slay are the major satellite operators, DIRECTV and Dish Network, with which the Pac-12 is yet to strike a deal, although negotiations are reportedly ongoing.

Pac-12 Networks is certainly not the first conference network, but it is the first media company of its kind. While the biggest college-sports–television ventures are backed by major broadcast companies [Fox owns a 51% stake of BTN, and ESPN and IMG College own primary stakes in the Longhorn Network], Pac-12 Enterprises is solely owned by the conference. It will reap all the financial rewards but also assumes all the risk that is usually taken on by the major media company.

“There is no big parent media company coming in at the last minute saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to send you 10 production guys to help you get over the hump,’” says Schweir. “Any hump we want to get over, we have to get over it ourselves. It’s on our resources.”

When Pac-12 Commissioner Scott struck a nearly $3 billion rights deal with Fox and ESPN for its primary football and basketball package, he put that money toward startup costs for the networks. The network is completely self-sustaining, meaning the member schools did not have to contribute any funds and could see a windfall of incoming cash as a result.