SEC Network Preview: Georgia Turns Focus From Board to Broadcast
The highly anticipated and publicized launch of the SEC Network is imminent, but it has had an impact on the conference’s 14 member institutions, their respective video departments, and network partner ESPN for over a year. As part of SVG’s countdown to the SEC Network, we will take you inside the cases, faces, and places that will make this progressive video-production endeavor a reality on Aug. 14.
Entering his 10th academic year with University of Georgia Athletics, Executive Producer Mike Dewsnap has spent the past decade designing and producing videoboard productions to entertain in-venue Bulldogs fans. His reach is about to get much broader.
With the launch of the SEC Network (now just two days away), this year promises to be far different from the previous ones. Much like at the other 13 SEC institutions, Georgia’s video team has spent the past year preparing, adding infrastructure, gear, and experience needed to provide support for the 24-hour linear and digital network.
Chiefly, that meant investing in expanded capabilities for the centralized control room (which is entering only its third season of operation) located inside the program’s football facility, Sanford Stadium, and growing the campus’s fiber infrastructure.
“We are in a pretty good spot,” says Dewsnap, who is actually an employee of videoboard and digital-signage giant Daktronics. “The last couple of months, it’s just been a few little tweaks. We already had our cameras in the right positions. We’ll have to grow and learn how to produce a neutral show and not one that’s so Georgia-friendly. That will be a shift.”
The Bulldogs already had a strong control room in place to program the videoboards at Sanford Stadium and the school’s basketball venue, Stegeman Coliseum. However, the demands of the new SEC Network have shifted the Georgia video team’s primary focus from in-venue entertainment toward accommodating live, television-style productions.
As a result, Dewsnap and his team added a second branch to the existing control room to meet the needs of producing live events for the SEC Network and the SEC Digital Network and enable simultaneous production of multiple events for both in-venue and SEC Network distribution.
The primary control room is anchored by a Sony MVS7000X production switcher and features an Abekas Mira server for replay, ChyronHego MicroX 3.1 for graphics, Mackie 1604VLZ4 16-channel audio mixer, and two-operator shader station. The room is clearly built for its original function: to produce a show for the in-stadium big board.
The secondary control room features a Sony MVS3000 switcher, Ross Video Xpression graphics engine, and additional Mackie 1604VLZ4 16-channel audio mixer. For replay, the Abekas Mira server in the primary control room is shared with three-in, one-out per operating station.
Streaming live events is nothing new for the Georgia video team, but Dewsnap is the first to point out that the production level was nowhere near where it needed to be to meet the quality expected for ESPN and the SEC Network. When possible, the department streamed events to georgiadogs.com, but it was little more than a one-camera show taking the program feed from the in-venue videoboard show.
ESPN minimum requirements for the SEC Digital Network include four cameras on all streaming events and the possibility of producing simultaneous events, so Georgia had to massively expand its camera arsenal. Now the video team has three Sony HSC300Rs, three Sony HXC100s (which have been discontinued, according to Sony’ s Website), two wireless Sony cameras, two Canon HJ40x14B IASD-V EFP lenses, and seven Cartoni tripods.
As at all SEC institutions, ESPN technical personnel — including Scott Hecht, Jeff Willis, and Rex Arends — traveled to the Georgia campus and hosted numerous conference calls to ensure that the transition was a seamless one for the Georgia video team. A primary goal for Georgia was learning the major production differences between a show for the in-stadium videoboard and an ESPN-caliber production for the fan watching at home. Included in that process was a set of rehearsals for a Bulldogs baseball series, for which Hecht was on hand to offer guidance as the Georgia staff produced a live Webcast for ESPN3.
Entering the year, most of Georgia’s production crew will be made up of students, an outstanding opportunity for those majoring in live event production in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Dewsnap expects to hire between five and 10 new students this year and supplement the crew with local freelancers.