Texas A&M’s 12th Man Productions Makes the Leap to IP With Imagine Communications, Cisco at Kyle Field

Connecting four venues, the network relies on Imagine’s Selenio network processer, Cisco IP Fabric

Collegiate athletics are currently at a standstill, but, when they make their eventual return, Texas A&M University’s 12th Man Productions will be coming back to a centralized control room that is unlike most. With the help of Imagine Communications and Cisco, the SEC school has progressed from SDI production to a more IP-native model.

We’ve always had the existing system as a fallback and as a way to ensure that we have continuity,” says Zack Bacon, chief broadcast engineer, 12th Man Productions. “This project is driven purely by our own curiosity and desire to be better and to be at the forefront.”

The Vision: Texas A&M Searches for a Reliable Solution
Any project or initiative starts with a clear vision of what needs to be done. Bacon and his team had developed a plausible concept but needed to find outside partners willing to do the work.

Imagine’s Selenio Network Processor and Cisco’s IP Fabric are the foundation of Texas A&M’s new infrastructure. (Photo By Craig Bisacre/Texas A&M Athletics)

“Texas A&M was looking at new ways to address broadcast at their remote locations,” says Cassidy Phillips, VP, networking solutions, Imagine Communications. “They were looking for a high-density solution and asked us about our device, the Selenio Network Processor, which is able to keep some of their legacy workflows in play while leveraging the distance that you can get out of those new technologies.”

At its core, the Selenio Network Processor is a processing solution that handles uncompressed UHD signals over an IP network. The device has enabled the 12th Man team to move forward with its concept. Bacon understood that, after years of operating in a traditional baseband format, his crew would need additional help to make this technical switch, and this is where Cisco’s IP Fabric, a system that assists in migration from SDI to IP, came in.

“After their discussion with Imagine, Zack and his team started to investigate vendors that are SMPTE 2110-compatible,” says Patrick Murray, director, sales, media, Cisco. “He met us two years ago and struck up a conversation, which started to get down to a deeper level in terms of what that network design might look like.”

Campus-Wide Coverage: IP, Temporary Connections Handle Sports at All Venues
Prior to the shutdown of college sports, a chunk of the university’s new IP infrastructure was implemented for the spring athletic season. On a massive campus spanning 5,200 acres in College Station, TX, maintaining operations for all the institution’s athletic teams can be a difficult task. Whereas large venues besides Kyle Field are linked by IP for both broadcast and in-venue applications, Bacon has experimented with lower-scale deployments.

IP technology drives Kyle Field’s in-venue elements. (Photo By Craig Bisacre/Texas A&M Athletics)

“Currently,” he notes, “the system is being used at Reed Arena for basketball and volleyball, Aggie Softball Complex for softball, and Olson Field at Blue Bell Park for baseball. All three of those [facilities] connect to Kyle Field, but we’ve also tested some other products for temporary connections at Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium and Ellis Field for soccer in the fall. We’ve adopted an approach to find the right product for the right environment.”

The complex network provides more fire power than its predecessor. For Texas A&M, Imagine, and Cisco, it grew out of a continued partnership built on constant communication.

“A lot of the interactions that we have with Zach involve a deep understanding of engineering,” says Phillips, “but figuring this out together has always been the way we’ve operated. We couldn’t have done this without the relationships that we’ve developed, and I think everybody’s invested in making sure that it works and succeeds.”

For Murray and his staff, it wasn’t just about giving 12th Man Productions the solution that it asked for but about actively participating in conversations about how to improve the setup.

“From Cisco’s perspective,” he says, “we’re focusing on the media ecosystem, so we’re trying to understand how [our solutions] integrate with the systems of traditional vendors. When we get customers that are willing to implement these technologies, we’re working closely with those individuals to continually develop the product with feedback and work out any issues.”

Stake in the Ground: The Foundation of an Expanding Future
In recent years, integration of IP technology has become a more mainstream option. In the collegiate ranks, it’s a viable option for staying on a budget, but it also offers other positives that provide immense flexibility.

Reed Arena is one of the four on-campus venues linked to the IP network. (Photo By Olivia Treadwell/Texas A&M Athletics)

“Short term, if someone from the production side wants us to do something, we can accommodate that since we have a lot less in our way,” says Bacon. “That’s where you can start to see the immediate impact, but, long term, this system is setting up a foundation for what we want to do in the future while also trying to be responsible in a financial sense.”

In addition to benefiting the budget, Bacon and his team are continuing to learn as they go. And, to achieve a virtualized future that relies on IP, not rushing the process is important.

“Even after getting all of our venues online, it has been an ever-evolving process,” he notes. “We’re still implementing things, and our goal is to slowly transition and replace technologies to get to a full SMPTE 2110 workflow. It has given us the chance to learn, figure it out as we go, and feel comfortable.”