SVG-U Q&A: Brandon Meier, Executive Director of Video Production, University of Oklahoma
Game-day production at the college level is rapidly rivaling that done at the professional level, so the University of Oklahoma got one step ahead of the game, bringing in an executive director of video production from the professional ranks. Before moving to
Brandon Meier spent four years as a production manager and producer for the Houston Rockets, so he was happy to help choose the industry-standard equipment to power
new HD control room. SVG-U caught up with Meier before the start of the football season to talk HD, streaming, and the college band.
What was the impetus to move to HD?
We were in desperate need. We skipped the whole digital standard-def revolution, so we were still analog composite everything. When I heard how big the big screen we were getting was — the pixel dimensions of our new board are 3,168 x 600 — I knew that our 720 x 480 composite analog signal that we were going to feed that thing was not going to look as good as you want it to.
We started planning right away to move our entire operation and build two control rooms and a big rack room where everything would be housed. We also wanted to build a multi-purpose video screen where we could do big screens, coaches’ shows, some simulcasting of events — to leave us the flexibility to broadcast an event while we’re doing a big screen of the event using the same hi-def cameras.
Who decided what gear would go into the control room?
We used a consultant out of
, but I had final say on everything. We awarded our RFP the day before I left for NAB, so at NAB, I made some changes. I helped a lot with the design of the room as well. We had to have a consultant on a project this big, but I had final say on design, equipment, everything.
What equipment is in your control room?
We have a Deko 3000 dual-channel HD character generator, a Grass Valley Kayak 3.5 M/E switcher, a Yamaha M7CL digital mixing console, Evertz VIP multi-viewer. The monitor wall is six 52-in. Bravia LCDs, and we have an Evertz router. We have four Sony HDC 1400 cameras and seven or eight frame syncs, so we’ll take the broadcast cameras as well. We have EVS with IP director, two Avid BMX HD edit suites, and six other Avid fiber stations hooked to our 16-TB Unity.
One piece that really is crucial is an Avocent KVM switch that can take 64 computers in and lets us have a 64 x 32 KVM matrix. That’s been huge, to have every computer we have on that. When I’m on the headset with students during a live game situation, if they can’t find a graphic, I can pull it up and say it’s right here, make sure you click on this. It’s a huge training tool.
This is a multi-purpose facility. We are operating our HD big screens in our basketball arena from the same control room, and we’re using all Telecast gear to do that.
Our cameras are SMPTE fiber cameras, but we are powering them locally and running them through telecast sheds. At each camera location, we have single-mode fiber. We did single-mode fiber everywhere.
We use an RTS intercom system with two Cronus units, one in our basketball arena and the other 2.5 miles away in our football stadium. Again, we’re using single-mode fiber, and that allows us to tie in our intercom at a venue that’s two miles away.
Who staffs the control room, and how do you train them?
We have five full-time staff, including myself; one GA; and about 30 broadcast-journalism students. Training all of our students to operate broadcast-quality equipment can be a challenge. It seems like, once you get them trained and they know how to use the EVS, switchers, cameras, After Effects, the Avid, our Daktronics scoreboard equipment, and the interfaces, they graduate, and you have a whole new set of students coming in to help.
We assign them all sports to cover, so they go out and shoot and capture video for that sport. Then they have a sub group that they work in — some kids really want to learn editing; some are more scoreboard; some want to get into the engineering side, directing, replays, cameras. Then, they each help us out in that aspect for our live-event shows.
We train them, and sometimes we bring in professional trainers to train both our full-time staff and our students.
What content do you currently stream on your Website?
We’ll stream anything and everything that is not broadcast that we have the rights to. We have a Digigram streaming system that we just put in to accept an SDI signal. It’s almost always going to get our switcher program out. We’ll probably run it off of an M/E so if, you’re sitting at home watching a stream, you get more of the cameras. The new switcher will give it more flexibility. Essentially, we can just patch in any of the 94 inputs that our router gives us.
We do about 90 live half-hour TV shows a year, 18 hour-long post-game wrap-up shows, and more than 100 live Web streams of our Olympic sports. If the event is in our basketball arena and we’re already doing a big-screen show, we have a lot of cameras out, and we can stream it easily. For softball, soccer, and other outdoor sports, we have three Panasonic HVX 200 cameras that our students take out to record the game and stream it at the same time. We do that for baseball, softball, soccer, track — we do a lot of streaming. We give our fans a lot to look at on our All-Access platform through our Website, which is run on the backend by CBS College Sports Network.
Right now, we also offer a Video Season Ticket subscription service, where fans can order DVDs of each game. We come in right after the game and edit together color shots and at least one view of every play that we have throughout the game. We get that under two hours and take it to a local company that makes the DVD dub and ships them out. We may go to a more Web-based type of platform for that, but, for now, we’re still doing DVDs.
Aside from offering the video on your Website, where else do you send your content?
We’re asked all the time for dubs. The Big 12 Conference does a five-minute highlight feed from every game that each team has to FTP up. That’s just a Quicktime file that we do, but all of our shows get fibered to our Cox affiliate in
. We have a direct fiber line; right now, it’s only an SD line, but we fiber all of our shows direct to Cox Cable, and then they send them out by satellite.
What’s the biggest difference between producing a professional show and a collegiate show?
The band is honestly the biggest difference. The band creates a different dynamic. That first game I sat in the producer’s chair here was completely different. In the NBA, music is going all the time. The very first football game I ever worked, there was no music played off of CD. The band carried the entire show, and that was completely different.