College Football Preview 2014: New Fiber Infrastructure Boosts SEC Network Football Telecasts

Much has been written about the innovative workflows deployed throughout the Southeastern Conference and the valuable production work that will be done by the schools themselves, but make no mistake about it: on football game days, ESPN rolls into town.

Deploying a collection of 53-ft. mobile-production trucks from Game Creek Video, Dome Productions, and Lyon Video, SEC Network football productions and the compound will have the feel of a major ESPN college-football telecast, beginning tonight with the network’s first football telecast: Texas A&M at South Carolina (6 p.m. ET).

ESPN Coordinating Producer Steve Ackles will oversee production of Saturday-primetime football telecasts on SEC Network.

ESPN Coordinating Producer Steve Ackles will oversee production of Saturday-primetime football telecasts on SEC Network.

“Whatever the viewer has seen for the past 30 years on ESPN, we’re going to have the same quality of telecast,” says Steve Ackles, coordinating producer on SEC Network’s weekly primetime Saturday telecast. “Our telecasts are going to be exactly like what you see on our primetime games.”

The production crews will benefit greatly from the new SEC Network model, thanks in large part to the newly laid fiber infrastructure across the SEC footprint. Approximately 23,400 miles of fiber was installed to connect more than 150 SEC venues to on-campus control rooms; the SEC Network mothership in Charlotte, NC; and ESPN’s main studios in Bristol, CT. Although SEC football stadiums were more than capable of hosting major-network productions in the past, the new fiber lines open up convenient new opportunities for the SEC Network crew.

“It actually makes things easier for us because we have direct paths from each truck going to Charlotte and to Bristol,” says Ackles. “Say we shoot some ENG on a Friday night and our SEC Nation crew needs that for the next morning. Instead of bringing satellite trucks in and getting lines up, with those fiber lines open, we can begin feeding content back and forth. SEC Nation may be at Ole Miss, and we may be at South Carolina, but we can start feeding stuff back and forth. So that really helps us a lot.”

SEC Network Saturday-primetime games will feature nine or 10 cameras, but, for tonight’s big debut in South Carolina, ESPN will deploy 14 cameras, including Skycam, a jib, and a couple of super-slo-mos. Saturday-afternoon telecasts are expected to field seven or eight cameras.

Camera positions tend to be the biggest challenge faced by many of the major broadcasters when they do a show at a college venue. Ackles advises colleges to assist in the process by making available on the day of walkthroughs a staff member who has a strong understanding of what position options are achievable.

“We need to know what challenges they may have if we want to put a slash somewhere but that leads to seat kills or blocks handicapped seating,” says Ackles. “Just to know all of the options when we get to that first meeting. Be open to ideas. I know there are safety and blocking issues, but we’re trying to get more coverage of the game, so, if there are options to, say, put pole cams in the stadium, we want to do something like that.”

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