College Q&A: Pac-12 Networks EVP, GM Lydia Murphy-Stephans
Lydia Murphy-Stephans is a former Olympic speed skater, competing for the United States at the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, and yet she will be the first to admit that nothing in her life has happened at such a breakneck pace as the construction of the Pac-12 Networks.
When Murphy-Stephans was hired in November of 2011, Pac-12 Networks had only a small handful of employees, hadn’t teamed up with any technology partners, and hadn’t even picked out a facility yet. In less than nine months, seven linear networks broadcasting in full HD would be up and on the air.
As with any network launch, Murphy-Stephans and the executive team at Pac-12 Networks have dealt with their share of carriage issues (the Networks are still yet to strike a distribution deal with DirecTV), but the main channel is available in over 60 million homes and the mission of broadcasting over 750 live events in the company’s first year powers on.
With the Pac-12 Networks’ first football season behind them, Murphy-Stephans now looks ahead to a full slate of men’s and women’s basketball and a spring season that should see the company make tremendous technological advances in cost-effective production.
What’s a – and I use the word very liberally – normal day for you like right now back in the offices?
Well, because it’s our launch year and still in Phase 1, the whole group, not just myself, are putting in 12-14 hour days consistently. There are a lot of meetings; meetings with the production side, with marketing, with promotion, with finance. I cannot predict; there is no ordinary day. A good day for me is when we get through and no dilemma or crisis has happened that we couldn’t fix in that day. It’s everything, with what’s happening on the distribution side, to a TV truck not showing up where it’s supposed to, where’s a producer, to a flight is delayed, to what is happening the next three days. So, no, there is no ordinary day.
Since launch day, what has struck you most about the job and what you have to do? Is there anything that’s surprised you?
I knew going into this that it would be a huge, collaborative process. I underestimated the extent of the collaboration and it involves each university, not just the athletic department but the university as a whole, the Pac-12 Conference, and the Networks all working together.
You guys have done a good job figuring out not every broadcast can have a huge production truck there. How close are you to using flypacks and other tools of that nature?
Not yet, we’ll get there. Right now we have the games broken up by A, B, and C models but currently all of those models have a production truck and to separate A from B from C is the number of cameras and the size of the truck. But right now everything is being done in HD and all done without a flypack, without a multicam. We will get there. Once all of our university networks are fully fibered, we will get to the multicam and flypack model but we’re not there yet. It will probably be another three months or so.
When you get to that point, what do you think Pac-12 Networks’ impact on the broadcasting industry will be as far as setting a standard for how to do things cost-effectively?
Well, we’re already using more than 10% of all of the HD trucks in the country. So I think that there will be more demand for more equipment and technology that can facilitate producing events efficiently: flypacks, multicams, different cameras that can be utilized by a single person to produce content versus taking a squad of two to three people. So I think we will push the ‘predator concept’ to a new level, not just on our linear side but also for our digital networks where we’ll be dealing with volume. This year, we are at 550 live events. Next year, regardless of distribution, we’ll be at 750 live events. Our digital side will probably add anywhere from 500 to 1,000 events to that.