Big West Builds Its Own Production Truck to Feed Digital Demand
Innovation can come from places that you least expect. In the world of live sports remote production, the latest development in truck technology is coming out of Irvine, CA.
Just over a month ago, the Big West Conference launched its own mobile-production vehicle, one that will help it produce content for live digital distribution for up to 50 events over the remainder of the academic year.
“It’s great for us to be able to tell our story,” says Steve Chen, digital content/new media director at the Big West. “As great as our TV partners are, this is very different in that I’m working with a producer that’s going to be covering the Big West day in and day out. Everything is more tightly integrated in the office, and being around our staff that knows our teams is tremendous.”
Built on an IP transmission model, the truck is designed around a proof-of-concept that fits a complete high-definition production solution into a 23-ft. Mercedes Sprinter van.
Ross Video plays a major role in the control room in the form of a Carbonite switcher and an XPression graphics system, which makes consistent on-screen branding possible. On the replay end, Big West went with the NewTek 3Play 425 and left room and infrastructure available for a second replay system in the future. Audio runs through the Behringer X32 digital audio mixer.
On-site, the Big West TV-production team deploys four cameras for basketball: three Panasonic HPX-370s (one at high center court and one under each basket) and a Panasonic HPX-500 with a longer lens (next to the high-center cam for tighter shots). For certain events, such as the women’s volleyball championships, GoPro cameras are set up on the sides of the net, and the shots are used for interesting replay angles.
The crew, which usually totals 12-13 people including on-air talent, runs fiber for all the cameras (two 100-meter runs, two 200-meter runs, and one 300-meter run) and digital audio feeds for the communications lines. There’s a few thousand feet of cabling inside the truck as well.
Setting up IP for transmission is rather simple: the truck gets two hard lines when it arrives at a venue, one straight into the encoder and the other the network for the truck itself. The crew is also very excited for the truck’s inclusion of ARQ (Auto Request) technology: if a decoder misses a packet, it requests that the packet be re-sent and chronologically inserted into the timeline before going out to the buffer, thereby eliminating packet loss.
The Big West hired Andrew Lahey to serve as executive producer on the project and to completely build and integrate the truck. He expanded on the Sprinter van, which serves as the control room, with a 14-ft. attached trailer housing the engineering pod.
“It’s any tech geek’s dream [to build a truck from scratch],” says Lahey. “When I met with Steve to take on this project and saw where they wanted to go with it, it was pretty much exactly what I had imagined I would do with it if I ever had the opportunity. The Big West has really brought me in as one of their own, and we’ve been able to tackle this in, I feel, an incredibly short amount of time. It was an honor and a great experience.”
The Big West’s discussions on building a truck began in November 2012, when the league’s first-tier television-rights package were up for negotiation. The concept got the formal OK from Commissioner Dennis Farrell in May, and the truck was built in less than a month in late summer and early fall.
As for using the van, Chen says the Big West will produce two basketball games per week, staying within a driving radius of the Irvine offices, which includes five of the conference’s member schools, to limit wear and tear. In scheduling, extra care will be taken to include games with schools from outside that radius.
To start, Chen notes, student crew members from a nearby non-Big West private school — Chapman University in Orange, CA — will be deployed so as not to show any bias towards one member institution.
“Andy and his crew are teachers,” says Chen. “All of these students coming to us are learning how to produce live events professionally. I think they are doing a tremendous job, and these students are benefitting, and it will benefit the industry in the long term.”