With HD Studio, Quinnipiac Is Well Equipped in Fight for TV Time
By Carolyn Braff
director Jack McDonald arrived at Quinnipiac University in 1995,
television networks were not exactly falling over themselves to
broadcast games from the Division II athletic program. Within 10 years,
however, McDonald transitioned the university to Division I, saw
colleague Peter Sumby construct a
$2 million HD production studio, and put together an elaborate media
agreement with the New England Sports Network (NESN), putting the small
university in a prime position to beat out big-name programs for
coveted TV time.
“We discovered that, if you wait long enough, after NESN gets through with Bruins and Red Sox and Big East basketball, there may be some openings in the schedule,” explains McDonald, who ushered Quinnipiac through the transition to Division I in 1998. “We were flexible enough that they allowed us to go on, and the relationship began from there.”
That relationship, in the form of a time-buy arrangement with NESN, puts the university’s men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and men’s ice hockey teams on television 14 times this year — quite a feat for a school located in Hamden, CT. Through the time-buy, which began five years ago, the university pays NESN a fee for airtime but sells advertising and produces the game in-house.
For each broadcast, Quinnipiac rents a production truck from Long Island-based Singer Productions and hires a mix of freelancers and student workers.
“Because we handle the production truck ourselves, it’s at our expense and our workload,” McDonald says. “We try to use our School of Communications students as much as we possibly can: working the time-out clock, running stats, or even some on-air opportunities. We get the airtime from NESN, but NESN requires a quality product before they allow it to go on.”
Committed to the value of that product, Peter Sumby, associate director of Quinnipiac’s Ed McMahon Mass Communications Center, in 2004 pushed the administration to upgrade the 11-year-old studio to high-definition. The 30- by 40-foot studio is now equipped with a Sony 8000A switcher, Sony digital router, a Grass Valley 3034 Profile server, three Sony HDC910 cameras, an Avid Deko HD character generator, 25 Final Cut Pro workstations, and six Pro Tools workstations for audio.
“What’s sort of unique is, we have a full hi-def setup but we’ve also had to integrate analog standard-definition within it, so we have a number of upconverters and downconverters in order to use standard-def DV or DVCAM,” Sumby explains, noting that the multiformat studio supports DV, DVCAM, Beta SP, SDHS, and HDCAM. “One of the challenges is managing and being able to use all the different formats at the same time.”
The studio is also equipped to handle more virtual sets for the university’s scripted shows; the unscripted shows, Sumby notes, are more likely to use conventional, standing sets.
As a former track coach, McDonald is familiar with squeezing media outlets to get as much exposure as possible for a fringe sport. He has brought that same mentality to the Quinnipiac campus, using new media to promote the athletic program at a school with an enrollment of just 5,400.
“In addition to putting the game on television, we take the game, highlights, and interviews and put them up as podcasts on iTunes and archives on our Website,” McDonald explains. “Our audio/video page is getting 100,000 hits a month. We’re not a big school, but, technology-wise, we’re way ahead. For every one person that listens to a game live, there’s probably 100 that listen to it on a podcast.”
Another way to ensure media exposure for his teams is to be flexible, so McDonald is more than willing to shift tipoff times in order to accommodate television schedules.
“I don’t think there’s a game in our schedule that doesn’t require some kind of tweaking,” McDonald says. “You have to be flexible, maybe some days taking a Saturday-night game and moving it to Sunday if you want to get that NESN window. Everybody can’t play Friday night at 7:00, so you have to be willing to move around.”
If NESN is not available, McDonald shops his sports around to MSG Network, MyTV 9, or Connecticut Public Television, working to appease opposing coaches and help them understand the advantages of playing a televised game, even if it begins at 10:30 p.m.
“We carry more of their games than some of the other, bigger schools because Quinnipiac is so aggressive in making their games available,” says Len Mead, director of program development and acquisitions for NESN.
Content that airs on NESN cannot be streamed live, but McDonald ensures that all such content is archived and uploaded to the school’s Website for later viewing. As often as possible, games that are not on local television are streamed live.
“We’ll get a student with a camera, combine that with the student radio,” McDonald says, “and it’s a pretty good broadcast.”