SVG-U Q&A: Mark Chambers, Director of Multimedia Services, Boston College
At Boston College, being two-faced has its advantages. Perched between Alumni Stadium, home of the Eagles’ football team, and Conte Forum, BC’s hockey and basketball venue, Boston College’s control room pulls double duty, looking out on both the indoor and outdoor stadiums. BC’s multimedia team — under the guidance of director of multimedia services Mark Chambers — has completed phase one of a three-part move to high-definition that will have Conte Forum fully HD in time for hockey season 2009. Chambers sat down with SVG-U to talk about the process of moving to HD and how it will affect the school’s streaming operations in the coming seasons.
How far are you in the process of moving to HD?
We have put the infrastructure in our control room so we can go fully HD by the time the 16:9 LED video boards come in next summer [the bid for the boards will be awarded within the next few weeks]. We got rid of all the legacy equipment that was analog, and right now we’re pumping all digital.
The control room was actually two luxury boxes when I got here. The two were separated by glass, so the video and the audio sides of the room could not talk to one another. When I was hired, they had already decided to put in HD video boards, but, with a dinosaur of a control room, you were not going to be able to successfully operate those boards.
We had a very short window to turn this room around. In eight to 10 weeks, we gutted it, down to the wood paneling on the floor. We used an integrator, Little Bay Broadcast Services, the same engineer I had worked with in putting in an HD control room when I worked for the Boston Bruins. I knew how I wanted the workflow to be set up. My goal was to make the room as clean and open-air as possible, without cables running all over the place.
We are going to re-cable for fiber next summer. We’re not sure yet what mode of fiber to go for right now, but obviously, more production units are coming in and want to go HD, so there is a large project on tap for rewiring of both the football stadium and Conte Forum.
What equipment did you put into your new control room?
Instead of having a monstrosity of a monitor wall with nine individual television screens all stacked on one another, we got a 50-in. plasma Panasonic monitor that shows an array of nine screens, and we can configure this wall within the plasma any way we want. We upgraded to a Ross switcher that’s hi-def–ready; we upgraded the Utah Scientific routing system that is really the heart and brains of the room. We have two Sony cameras with Canon lenses, but we will need to buy HD cameras next summer. We currently use a Mackie sound mixer and Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, and Illustrator and Daktronics V-Play and Venus 7000. We will need to upgrade to an HD replay system, HD editing tools, and HD video-playback system to fully go HD.
How does your control room support your streaming operations?
We stream our content through ACC Select, which was just acquired by CBS College, but we were able to keep all the equipment that Turner provided us. They gave us a streaming kit that we configured into our rack system, so when we do women’s hockey, women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, and men’s basketball from Conte forum, we stream our feed from the control room. All the replays are in it, all the graphics, all the promotions, and, if you sit at home and watch it on the computer, instead of getting a full television broadcast, you get more of what the arena experience is like.
Because of the way the roof is built in Conte Forum, we can’t have a center-hung scoreboard, so we have video boards on both ends, which poses some challenges when we’re streaming. When you have a player go to the line to shoot foul shots, you can’t have any moving video on the board, because it’s in his sight line. So we have to put up a still graphic and cut away to another camera on the stream so the person at home can watch the foul shots. You have to assign one person to focus on the Web stream all the time.
We also have a campus in Newton, where the lacrosse, soccer, and field-hockey fields are, so we use a mobile unit that Turner gave us that serves as a mini production unit. It has four cameras, a switcher, and cabling, and we roll the whole thing out and set it up wherever the games are. You just tie it into the Internet, and it streams the signal. The productions from the control room are a little bit better than the field unit because the field unit is a little bit more restricted; you can’t really do replays, but the main purpose of it is to get it on the air. We also use the field unit for baseball and softball.
We’re the only ACC school with a hockey program, so the one difference on our platform is, our women’s hockey games will be broadcast on our Website through CBS College Sports, not ACC Select. All together, we’re going to stream 80 events to the Web this year.
Who staffs your productions?
It’s mostly students. We have about 20, and they are really smart kids. You would think that they’re all concentrated on television, but they’re not; I have one person that’s a communication major, and she wants to do public relations. So none of my kids have a television background. There is no pressure on them here.
We understand that we’re not ESPN, but, at the same time, we want to do a good job and promote our school to the best of our ability. On a football day, I might have some professional freelance camerapeople come in and maybe a professional technical director to switch on the big games.
What is the biggest challenge you face in extending your video offerings?
I think a lot of it is technical, keeping up with the technology. That was one of the goals with this control room. The Web is really your own television station, and how successful the site can be depends on the resources and what you put behind it. It takes a lot to handle content on the Website, so you have to start slow. We don’t have a huge staff of people monitoring the site and the content on it, so it becomes a challenge. With 31 sports played on campus, that’s a lot of ground for me and my assistant to cover.
Logistically, our football field is not in the middle of a farm; it’s in a very wealthy neighborhood in a very tight space. We are in the process of rebuilding our truck bay, physically moving the patch bays from one position inside a room to outside. We raised a brick arch to highway-bridge height to allow the trucks to fit underneath it and widened our traffic circle so the trucks could maneuver more easily. When it comes down to a network deciding whether they do a game at BC or Auburn or Ohio State, the decision might come down to the facility itself. It used to be an incredibly grueling process to park trucks out there, so we built a new road so there can be an upper level to house trucks, as well. We should now be able to handle three productions with both A and B units with plenty of room.