Despite Belt-Tightening, Ball State’s New-Media Initiative Continues

By Carolyn Braff

In the current economic climate, it is hard for any company to escape tightening budgets, but that tightening is particularly pronounced at state-funded universities.

At Ball State University in Muncie, IN, for example, plans to finish an upgrade to HD equipment have been delayed. But Timothy Pollard, associate professor in the department of telecommunications, hopes the university’s $17.7 million commitment to advancing new media will help SportsLink, a new sports immersion program that has been in place for one semester.

“Every year, you come up with your budget and go from the bottom up,” explains Timothy Pollard, associate professor in the department of telecommunications, home to SportsLink. “You’ve got to mix and match and deal when stuff gets cut.”

Ball State’s $17.7 million investment in the Emerging Media Initiative (EMI) is designed to foster economic development in a growing sector of the economy across the state.

“Ball State has the resources and the personnel to really become a national leader in emerging media, particularly in wireless and new technologies,” Pollard says. “That hopefully leads to jobs in the state and becoming kind of a Mecca for people to come to and talk about media that hasn’t even been developed yet. Even with the economy as bad as it is, we have opportunities, and we’re trying to take advantage of them.”

The five-year EMI plan invests resources in leadership and sustainability, faculty and research, student opportunities, and engagement and economic development. How much of that money will be directed towards sports programs is not yet clear, but Pollard is eager to engage the university-wide initiative as much as possible.

“This Emerging Media Initiative should really help us because the state, the governor, and the legislature all realize that media, especially new media with Web 2.0, can have a strong future,” Pollard says.

Through SportsLink, he hopes to impress companies with the emphasis his courses place on emerging media. “Not only are we doing the traditional-broadcast remote operations with seven cameras, an audio switcher, and a production truck, we’re doing material for DVD, material for the Web, and we’re repurposing the material we create for our iMedia project,” he says. “It’s taking what we traditionally do in academia and expanding it horizontally, across these multiple platforms.”

An interactive-video- and audio-research project, students working on iMedia repurpose the SportsLink material for the Apple iTouch device. Students and faculty from the Ball State community then view and comment on the content as played over the iTouch, so students take part in the research process as well.

Going HD

SportsLink is in the middle of a conversion to high-definition equipment, and, while plans are still in place to complete that conversion, the pace has slowed significantly.

“Luckily, we’re halfway there,” Pollard says. “The past summer, the switcher and a lot of the wiring were installed. It would be nice to have $10 million, but, since it doesn’t work that way, you have to be smart and think ahead. We know the end is HD, but how do we get to that point and spread it out over a multi-year period?”

Finding the means to reach that end is a bit easier with transition-friendly equipment, such as Pollard’s HD/SD convertible switcher that can work in both formats. The transition is expected to be complete by summer 2009.

“When we actually have the cameras in our hands and I’m touching them,” Pollard says, “then we’ll know when it’s complete.”

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