The Affordable HD Odyssey, Part 1: Do Your Research
By Carolyn Braff
The following is the first in a series of articles examining how college athletic departments solve the HD challenge without the budget of a major broadcaster. This first edition looks at the research process that every athletic department must undergo before moving its operations to high-definition. Coming next week: some creative ways to cut costs.
Every Saturday, more college football games hit the airwaves in high-definition than ever before, and the schools hosting the productions are starting to follow suit. College athletic offices are enhancing their video departments with HD-quality control rooms, often at less than HD-quality prices. Without the budgets afforded to the broadcasters shooting their games in HD, college athletic programs are finding ways to make high-definition affordable, relying on inside expertise, outside opinions, and plenty of outside-the-box thinking to make the system work.
Building the Team, In-House
Just like any improvement project, moving a video department’s operations to high-definition requires plenty of research conducted by a knowledgeable team.
“The first step is to do the homework, understand what options could be available for the program and then the technology that would fit what you are trying to do,” explains Joe Castiglione, VP for intercollegiate athletics programs and director of athletics at the University of Oklahoma. OU unveiled its HD-equipped control room and its new HD video boards at the beginning of this season. “Sometimes, people get overwhelmed because they don’t have a grasp of what they can do and how they can find an affordable means to make it happen.”
To prevent that, Castiglione brought the expertise in-house, hiring Brandon Meier away from the Houston Rockets to serve as the university’s executive director of video production. Boston College made a similar move, hiring its director of multimedia services, Mark Chambers, from the Boston Bruins’ staff.
“Somebody who knows the business can help people look for the key elements so they know how to make the right decision,” Castiglione says. “I have to rely on the people that live and breathe and eat technology every day to have a vision of what’s next. Hiring Brandon was one of the most visionary things that we’ve done.”
A Little Help From Your Friends
Video coordinators homegrown in the college ranks — without experience on the professional level — are not doomed; they have plenty of resources to help them in the research process. Making calls to colleagues, former colleagues, and friends at various industry levels can be as helpful, if not more so, than reading a trade magazine or picking up a product catalog.
“I find that talking to the network of people that you build up over years of being in this business is really helpful,” explains Mike Bilbow, director of video services at the University of Tulsa, OK. Before taking the job with the Golden Hurricane, Bilbow spent 10 years working at NBC’s Tulsa affiliate. “Those are people you can call and say, what do you think about this as an alternative to this? You have to talk to people you trust.”
Trade shows are also good opportunities to take stock of what affordable products are available in the marketplace, although going in with an idea of what you want to see often helps the search.
“Obviously, everybody’s going to tell you what you want to hear at a trade show,” Bilbow warns, “but when you get to see and put your hands on a product, that sometimes can make a big difference in your evaluation.”
For the University of Oklahoma, the timing of the school’s RFP coincided perfectly with the 2008 NAB show and made a huge difference in the final makeup of the Sooners’ control room.
“We awarded our RFP the day before I left for NAB, so at NAB, I made some changes,” Meier explains. “We ended up with Sony cameras and an Evertz router, because it worked so well with the multi-viewer that we bought from Evertz.”
Bringing In Backup
No matter how experienced or knowledgeable a video director is, outfitting an entire HD-ready control room is not a one-person job. Hiring an integrator helps shoulder the burden of the hundreds of product decisions that loom in the outfitting process and according to most, is well worth the investment.
“We had to have a consultant on a project this big,” Meier says, “but I had final say on design, equipment, everything.”
Oklahoma’s multipurpose control room allows Meier to operate the HD screens at both the football and basketball arenas out of the same facility, so it was important to bring in an integrator who could coordinate the needs of both locations at once.
“It’s important to find somebody that you can trust,” Bilbow says. “The reality is, you can upgrade to HD for whatever you have the money to spend; you’re just talking degrees. You have to work with somebody who understands your budget, knows your limitations, and is willing to work within that.”
Tulsa’s HD control room opened this season in the newly renovated H.A. Chapman Stadium.