CSVS Advisory Committee Q&A: John Heisler, Senior Associate AD for Media and Broadcast Relations, University of Notre Dame

In anticipation of the inaugural College Sports Video Summit (CSVS) to be held June 9-10 in Atlanta, the Sports Video Group has assembled a seasoned advisory committee that includes some of the game-changers in the business and technology behind college-sports broadcasting. Each week leading up to the event, College Sports Video Insider will feature an interview with a different member of the College Sports Video Summit Advisory Committee. This week, John Heisler, senior associate athletic director for media and broadcast relations at the University of Notre Dame, shares his thoughts on the growing importance of video to the entire university ecosystem and how an athletic department attempts to predict the future.

In terms of the state of video production on college campuses, where are we?

I think this is a huge subject on an awful lot of campuses, in particular because everybody senses the way that video is becoming so much more important to your communication as an institution, not just in terms of athletics. I think the challenge is that, even at the Division I level, everybody’s a little bit different; every campus has their own challenges, their own sets of circumstances and video resources already in place, either within athletics or somewhere else on campus.

Those of us who work on campuses exchange notes a lot, and everybody has their war stories, but the thing that you find is that everybody’s a little bit different in terms of how they’re going about this. Everybody’s philosophy continues to evolve, and evolve very quickly.

How difficult is it to communicate the importance of video to university departments outside of athletics?

I think it’s becoming easier. The whole model of communications for institutions is rapidly changing. How many months ago, if you had mentioned the word Twitter, would people look at you like you’ve lost your mind? Now all of a sudden, that’s become a hot button. That’s how fast all of this is evolving.

When it comes to video, there isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong answer to any of the questions that are being asked. There are differences in what makes the most sense, what are our priorities, where are our audiences, and what are they interested in seeing.

With video, the good thing about all of this is, you can get back some feedback anecdotally and in terms of viewership, so that you have the ability to make decisions right away. You know exactly how many people are looking at what you’re doing, whether it’s a feature or a live press conference or a live event or archived video. That’s one big positive: that you have the ability to make some decisions based on knowing what the reaction is to things that you’re currently doing.

You are participating in the panel View From the Top: The Network-University Rights Relationship. What do you think is most important to bring up during this discussion?

One of the biggest things that has changed for those of us on the college end is that, for a long time, electronic rights for game contracts were never really addressed other than the basic live-television rights. In our contracts for football, for example, there was a very generic phrase that talked about the ability to do some kind of a replay, but, in a lot of cases, you found that those phrases didn’t necessarily match up with some of the conference contracts that schools were a part of.

All of the television/video/new-media rights, all of this is becoming much more specific, complex, and detailed than it ever was before. A lot of these things were never really addressed, and in some cases, we were making it up as we went along. That’s probably the reality of how it was going.

If our football team was going to go on the road, it wasn’t always clear-cut to find out what we could do relative to our Website, particularly in the college-football vein, when the home team owns the rights through its conference and has some kind of contract relative to all of those rights. We continue to try to come to grips with what that means from a Web standpoint, but the people at the network levels are paying way more attention to this now than they ever were before.

I would use NBC as an example for us. For our home football games, in addition to doing the game on an over-the-air basis, coming out of the Torino Olympics, by the next fall, there was a half-hour pregame and half-hour postgame show that was strictly online that NBC initiated. I think that’s pretty typical relative to what’s happened at the network level, which obviously impacted us institutionally in terms of our athletic programs. Whether it’s the volume of coverage or just how it’s come about and where you find it, there’s a lot more of it, and it’s in different places than it was half a dozen years ago.

What is the biggest hurdle you face in increasing the quality and quantity of your video production?

I think one of the biggest challenges for all of us is trying to predict the future: where is all of this is going to go? For each of the last two years, we’ve streamed close to 100 events on our Website, and we’re constantly asking questions about how we do it, why we do it, can we improve the quality of what we’re doing, and is it worth whatever the expenses are from our end to make that happen?

At least right now, we may not be capable of having our production look exactly like what NBC or ESPN would do, given what our resources are on campus, but what are we capable of doing? We’re asking those questions with other people in other departments at the university as well, and I’m guessing that these conversations are going on at just about every campus, large or small. If you don’t have as many resources, people are trying to figure out where does video fit in terms of priorities for us moving forward.

How can the College Sports Video Summit help in that process?

I think the event will be a great opportunity for a sharing of resources between a lot of people who have an interest in what this is all about and are trying to expand what they’re doing. It’s all about gaining a better understanding of the challenges and the opportunities relative to everything from streaming live events and how you go about that to all of the other potential things that can be done with video.

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