Conference USA’s New HD Model Promises More Live Games

Fans of Conference USA schools will not only be seeing more games this upcoming season, they will be broadcast at a much higher quality.

Commissioner Britton Banowsky announced a major HD Broadcast production and distribution initiative that will enable more live games to be available on broadcast, spearheaded by associate commissioner Kelly Carney.

C-USA produced two Rice baseball games in HD, using the NewTek TriCaster850 and 3Play instant replay unit, and distributed over the public Internet, using Haivision encoders/decoders and ZiXi transport software. The games were broadcast simultaneously on the CBS Sports Network using satellite delivery.

Conference USA pushed for the test in order to break new ground with technology, and eventually enable more C-USA sports to reach consumers through traditional and IP delivery that can be supported through ad sales and sponsorship. Carney tapped college sports industry veteran Tom Buffolano to put together an end-to-end solution, which had no blueprint to follow.

“The most challenging piece was to use best-in-class solutions that fit within a limited budget,” said Buffolano, who has served as Chairman of the SVG College Sports Video Summit since 2009. “The fact that Rice University provided us with an excellent infrastructure was critical to our success.”

“We were excited to be the site for the test transmission, and believe that this is a vital new development in the drive to bring in the highest-quality video to fans of college athletics,” said Chuck Pool, assistant athletic director, media relations. “We are committed to making this happen. There is no doubt that the day will soon be here when our fans will enjoy this kind of production for a wide variety of Rice athletic events.”

The games were executive produced by Joel Kitay of Kitay Productions, Inc., in conjunction with D2 Productions LLC, both of which have outstanding reputations in live sports production. The announcers, crew and equipment were locally sourced, and additional support was provided by the Rice University Athletic Department.

“We produced these games just as we would any other, and the home viewer could not see any difference in production quality. As a result, we believe that this is a game-changer that will break the barriers for entry, not just for colleges, but for other sports and entertainment organizations, and get more games on live television,” said Joel Kitay, president of Kitay Productions, Inc.
NewTek’s affordable product line is widely deployed in live sports production, especially in the college market.

“With this test, we’re seeing the future of live television production and transmission,” said Philip Nelson, senior vice president of strategic development for NewTek. “This event shows that it is now affordable and practical for sports teams and organizations, at all levels, to leverage these innovative technologies to broadcast their games and events.”

The ZiXi transport system was selected based on the ease of integration with any digital encoder/decoder, and the reliability of its system across the public Internet.

“We are thrilled to have worked with Conference USA and the other technology partners to successfully broadcast Rice University’s baseball games,” said Israel Drori, ZiXi CEO. “This is a groundbreaking collaboration that will set a new standard for how live sports is produced and transmitted, globally.”

The ultimate goal was to create a model that could be followed by C-USA schools with limited additional investment, and provide them with the ability to create incremental sponsorship opportunities and generate revenue through wider distribution.

“We were able to look at a side by side comparison of the IP-delivered feed,” said Carney. “The results were extremely close in terms of quality of the consumer lean- back experience, and the production and distribution cost was about a third of what we’d normally spend on an individual game.”

“We believe strongly in embracing new technology to deliver as many live events to fans of Conference USA as we can.  To be able to accomplish this in HD, and more than cover our costs, is extremely significant to our overall strategic vision,” Banowsky stressed. “Our membership expects that type of forward thinking from the conference office.”

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