The demand for live televised college sports has never been higher.
From all of the biggest and best college football programs to sports that you may never have seen before, the heat is on to produce the type of high production quality that viewers expect. With colleges and conferences building their own networks, it's no wonder that crews are busier than ever. Where do we start?
Are We There Yet?
Producing and directing live college sports is about the most exciting a job you can get. What a rush! There's so much pre-production involved — crewing, logistics, the list goes on. We're talking multiple cameras, trucks graphics, uplinks and downlinks. This is hard work for serious road warriors, but I wouldn’t trade all of my live experience for (almost) anything.
What is live production like right now? I had the good fortune of catching up with my old friend and colleague Josh Greenstein, Director of Operations from Thistle Communications to talk about a recent college sports production that really put Josh and the crew through their paces.
PH: Josh, tell us a little bit about yourself and some of the prep work and the process of getting ready to do a major event like the recent championship weekend you just did.
Josh: Well, I think I am just about like everyone else in this part of the business. I got my start learning the ropes and working in smaller regional live and uplink trucks in New England and on the eastern seaboard. I’m not going to lie, it was and still is hard work. Long hours on the road for sure. But at the end of the day when it all goes right, that is a pretty good feeling. As far as the getting ready, that can start weeks or months ahead of the production. From camera placements to finding the right production people, it just has to be right the first time.
As a provider of OB trucks, we get to work some pretty fun events. Last weekend was no exception when we provided one of our HD mobile units “The Third” as production facilities for the video presentation portion of the 2018 NCAA Championships.
PH: Tell us about some of your camera gear and what you were responsible for during the production.
Josh: We use Ikegami cameras in tandem with split feeds from the broadcast trucks. The production team is working inside the truck alongside the creative team calling the show presented fans with live looks, instant replay, “fan cam” style entertainment and sponsored elements. Our trucks have HD production with full graphics, cameras and playback capabilities in a midsize footprint.
PH: What else should we know?
Josh: Our engineers work with the creative teams to technically execute a production that engages fans and adds to the excitement of seeing a live event. We are on the road a lot but we love what we do and the clients we work for!
A New Way of Covering College Sports
While Thistle Communications is built on a more traditional production path, many colleges and universities are taking a new more diverse path when having to cover multiple sports, many on the same day. This new production model is one built on many needs with a limited budget. You may not know this but for some programs, coverage of non-revenue generating sports is built into the coverage contracts for the schools that have bigger self-sustaining sports teams.
For example, a college may have a football or basketball team that is on television a lot. Under some contracts, the network may have to cover cross-country, track or field hockey live. Let's find out how the University of Iowa does it without going broke.
Wading Into the Stream
With 24 NCAA Division I teams, the University of Iowa needed a way to cover a ton of teams and try to stay within the budget. HawkVision Productions, the school’s digital media arm, has upped its production game with a solution that for helps cover more games and events live. This, in turn, increases visibility for some of the lesser-known programs. A win-win for the school, the parents and supporters. I know for myself it was great to be able to stream my son playing college lacrosse for a championship season since I couldn’t make all the games.
How do they make streaming work for them?
HawkVision has adopted a LiveU At Home Production solution that removes the connectivity and budgetary roadblocks typically associated with covering outdoor sporting events. This solution eliminates the need for a production truck or satellite uplink. The TD, graphics, Replay Operator, commentators and a LiveU server to receive the live feeds all sit in a centralized studio location and the onsite camera operators capture the live content via LiveU portable transmission units.
So far, the production team has been able to cover cross-country, field hockey, soccer, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. They’ve also produced live coverage of football press conferences and plan to cover baseball and softball this spring. Their live content is available via Hawkeye subscription services and select games are also available on W24 sports. Big Ten Networks and ESPN have picked up many “plays of the day” from HawkVision’s coverage.
Where to From Here?
College Sports is here to stay no matter how your viewer wants to watch them. Whether it's big-time football or tennis and you can get it produced live, you will be fine. Don’t get me wrong, I love big truck remotes. It’s what I cut my teeth on. Big truck remotes are not going away anytime soon and are a great place to learn everything there is to know about production. But if the production model says you should stream your games live on YouTube or Facebook, then buckle up and get the gear you need to start your own sports empire. It's a win for you no matter which path you choose.