SVG-U Q&A: Charlie McCoy, Technical Director, Stanford University
Stanford University is one of the nation’s top universities both athletically and academically, and
that’s a double-edged sword for technical director Charlie McCoy. When Maples Pavilion, home to the Cardinal basketball and volleyball teams, was rebuilt in 2004, McCoy made a quick transition from audio engineer to streaming director and taught himself how to successfully stream every home game for nearly a dozen men’s and women’s varsity sports. McCoy sat down with SVG-U to talk streaming and staffing challenges at Stanford University.
What sports content do you currently stream on your Website?
We stream almost every athletic event here on campus. We cannot do water polo because of the 15-mile limitation on scouting. Because of that regulation, it defeats the purpose when you Webstream.
We Webstream everything that’s not contracted by television. I don’t think we’ve streamed a football game yet; Fox has that contract. Most men’s basketball we cannot, but most women’s games we do. We stream almost all volleyball, men’s and women’s. We just added wrestling last year, and I was surprised at how many people were watching that. We do lacrosse; we don’t yet have the infrastructure to do field hockey, but I think we’ll be doing that next year. We also do softball and baseball.
How do you get the content?
Anything that’s within Maples Pavilion, our arena for basketball and volleyball, we have a board show, so that’s pretty easy. I just take the out from the switcher and stream the board show. I’ll mate the radio broadcast with that, so the audio comes from the radio, and video comes from the board.
All the others, we put cameras out on the field. Baseball is a three-camera shoot. We have a small switcher/director combo so the cameras go in. We’ll take radio in some cases. Sometimes, radio isn’t supporting baseball, so we’ll do an ambient mike, and we’ll do PA and do an audio blend on that.
It’s a one-, two-, or three-camera shoot depending on the sport, depending on how much money the athletic department wants to support it with.
Aside from the switcher, what equipment do you have access to?
We use Canon cameras, right now the XHA1. It’s actually a hi-def camera only because the standard-definition in that version is more expensive. We use Canon GL2s for some of the meets. It’s not that we’re being sponsored by Canon in any way; it’s just that we find that they have a pretty good product.
We go straight out of the encoder using laptops. We use Media Encoder 9, and we send it to CBS College, which manages our Website. They have the exceptions to the firewall, and that’s it.
Who staffs your productions?
Just for Web streaming, we have eight part-time people for cameras. For the most part, we don’t hire students; the students around here are pretty tied up with studying. It’s not really a sports atmosphere here. Stanford’s different: we only have about 7,000 undergrads, and they’re focused on this whole thing of studying.
I do have a couple of graduate students, and I have some people that are former students just because they like the experience of being here.
I was a mechanical engineer and then the audio engineer for many years at the stadium; as far as having a video-engineering background, I don’t. Everything that I know, I’ve learned, and I learn every day, but it’s really not that complicated. To set these streams up is pretty painless.
What challenges do you face to extending your streaming offerings?
There’s not much more we can add. We stream almost every home game as it is.
Video is so explosive around here. I can’t believe how fast the technology is expanding and the potential for everything. A lot of ideas that I get come from the kids. They’re the ones that you really want to cater to. Your production has to match their standard, and if it doesn’t, you’re not going to get much viewership. You’ll get Aunt Mary in Wisconsin picking it up because she wants to see her nephew, but you want it to be exciting; you want the student body to get involved with this, so let their ideas flow.
It’s kind of exciting to watch, but I don’t know where it’s going.
Do you have plans to transition to high-definition?
A few years ago, we made the commitment to stay standard-def. If you’re sitting at home looking at the video, that’s fine, but if you’re at a venue looking at a video board, it doesn’t make sense to spend all that money because everything is provided out there. The experience doesn’t support it. When we rebuilt our stadium a couple of years ago, I made the decision to stay standard-definition because I think you’re crazy to spend that kind of money on it. Our $2 million-$3 million video-production room would have to be blown out and rebuilt with video-production gear.
The San Francisco Giants have a new hi-def board, and I don’t think they get their bang for their buck for it. I think it’s a $13 million-$14 million outlay, and the maintenance is even more costly on that gear. You have to look five years down the road to see where your budgets are, and it just didn’t make sense for us.