Ball State Students at Center of March Madness On Demand
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament shifts into high gear today, but, for 21 students at Ball State Sports Link, today’s action just continues weeks of preparation for serving as online producers and social analysts for NCAA March Madness On Demand.
“We’ve done enough live run-throughs, and we think it’s going to be great,” says Michael Adamson, VP of sports new products and services, Turner Sports. A Ball State graduate, he believes the effort is the first step in larger opportunities for college sports-broadcast students to build a résumé and have real-world experience at a national sports network.
The students will be located at Ball State and act as “social-media screeners” for games, press conferences, and other events related to the tournament. A typical shift will have two to four students monitoring Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media for the best content (and content free of vulgarities) to share with users of March Madness On Demand.
“It’s an experiment,” says Adamson, “but, at the same time, we like the idea of fine-tuning the wild west of social media and giving fans a condensed look.”
Why Ball State? Along with the alma mater connection, he says that the school’s new media program is “amazing” and that Turner Sports has worked with it on an advisory committee for handling NCAA.com.
“Ball State Sports Link is taking on production for the MAC and is turning into an honest-to-goodness hands-on experience for students,” Adamson says. “So it made sense to delve into the social-commentary area with them as no one knows social media better than students.”
Ball State Sports Link instructor Christopher Taylor and graduate assistant Steven Albritton will serve as online producers and social analysts for NCAA March Madness On Demand. In addition to the entire program’s involvement, they will serve as two of the tournament’s online hosts, with assistance from senior Alex Kartman and junior Ben Wagner as overall and morning-drive-time producer, respectively. Junior Kyle Binder and sophomore Chris Renkel will perform the same roles as afternoon-drive-time producers.
Taylor says the Sports Link program includes students who want to be everything from on-air anchors and journalists to producers and directors. So the opportunity offers them more than just a chance to work alongside Turner Sports and CBS Sports; it’s an opportunity to observe what it takes to excel in sports broadcasting from a very close perspective.
“Our students will be tweeting back and forth with the talent and seeing how they go to break and how the director and producer cut the show,” he explains. “You can’t re-create that in the classroom, and they are already getting tons of ideas from the production books, schedules, and a wealth of information.”
Students will look at a variety of things during the games: storylines that are trending in popularity in social media, stats that are noteworthy, and more. Four to six students will be scheduled in four-hour shifts, even on non-game days.
“We will have what we are referring to as a morning drive and an afternoon drive that will be focused on more than the games,” says Taylor.
Analyze the online conversation
A technology called Crimson Hexagon Analytics is helping students find the most popular content. It analyzes the entire social Internet (blog posts, forum messages, tweets) by identifying statistical patterns in the words used to express opinions on different topics. It then delivers the nature of the online conversation, the key themes, their relative size, and how they change over time, with what Crimson Hexagon says is up to 97% accuracy.
“The students are the demographics for this kind of content as they will watch the tournament on three different screens and are looking for different layers of value,” says Taylor. The goal is to find content that adds a layer of value to the TV coverage.
Ready for anything
The biggest question related to the online content, both video and the social-media content, is whether the infrastructure will be able to handle peak-traffic demands. This is the first year that all four games will be available to all viewers who have cable and/or satellite TV. That could, potentially, lessen the demand for streaming because fans will not need to rely on the Internet for out-of-market games. But the popularity of iPads and laptops could keep traffic up as fans watch two games (or more) at once in their living room.
“We are prepped both technically and procedurally, and all the infrastructure teams have run loads tests,” adds Adamson. “We are planning for a big number of streams, and then there are different fail-over scenarios should we need to move from one CDN to another.”
March Madness On Demand is pulling out all the stops. A live customer-support operation will be available via e-mail, chat, and phone if users have problems with their devices.
“We walked through forecast models, and an interesting trend is that iPhone and iPad uploads are significantly higher this year as fans don’t mind watching in alternative ways,” says Adamson. He expects people watch the games on TV with their iPad open to view stats and the social-networking aspects of the coverage.
NCAA March Madness On Demand, produced by Turner Sports Interactive, is available across multiple digital platforms, including online (http://mmod.ncaa.com/), as an iPhone and iPod Touch app and, for the first time, as an iPad app.
Above all, says Taylor, it’s a time for the students to shine. “We have told the students to respect this opportunity as it is their names and our program that is being put front and center for the next 23 days.”