Students from the 11 Big Ten universities are helping the
Big Ten Network expand its already extensive slate of high-definition
In addition to the 350 live collegiate sports events
produced in HD by the network's own professionals, students equipped with
Panasonic cameras and flypacks will capture around 300 games and events in HD
this year. And that number could hit 500 next year as BTN
adds more flypacks and cameras.
Most of the student HD productions are made available
online, where they can be watched on a pay-per-view basis, but some make it
onto the channel. BTN is a joint venture
between Fox Cable Networks and the Big Ten Conference.
"It allows us to shoot a lot of events and sports that don't
get much airtime and that we wouldn't normally be able to shoot," said BTN
chief engineer Mike Wilken.
Students are currently involved in HD productions of such
sports as women's basketball, men's hockey and wrestling, as well as press
conferences and other events.
The program dates back to the beginnings of the network,
which launched in 2007. "The same fall we launched, we also bought the Panasonic
one for each university," Wilken recalled. "We had the students go out and
shoot an event that we weren't covering and we would integrate that footage into
our nightly sports recap."
In 2008, the network bought two flypacks, which were shared
by the schools, as well as six of Panasonic's AG-HPX170
all solid-state handhelds, three cameras for each flypack. Then, in 2009, they added
four more flypacks for a total of six.
"We are probably now doing 300 events in addition to the 350
events we do for the regular network," Wilken noted. All coverage is produced
in HD, even though most games are later downconverted for Web video.
Looking forward, BTN adds
to add five more flypacks so one is available for each of the 11 schools in the
conference, he said. Each of the flypacks includes a computer-based switcher
and the Panasonic AJ-HPM110 Mobile HD Field recorder/players, and three of the Panasonic HPX170 P2 HD
handhelds. Students send their footage to BTN's
Chicago studios over a wide-area
BTN has also purchased some
of Panasonic's HPX2000
2/3-inch, 3CCD handheld P2 HD/DV camcorders, which are sometimes taken along
with the flypacks for telephoto work.
"The price point was right for the cameras and they've been
extremely reliable and produced very good pictures," Wilken said.
The network sendsa director of operations to train the
students on using the flypack and a coordinating producer to teach them how to produce the
events. "We have follow-up calls every week where we critique them and tell
them how they can improve their performance," Wilken said. "The Panasonics are
very easy to use. We save the setups so they can recall them and we will do a
white balance for them."
From 12 to 30 students at each university may be involved in
the program. Wilken estimate that "hundreds" have been involved since its
launch; some have gone on to work as freelancers with BTN.
Some students come into the program with little or no TV-production
background, he added, so getting them up to speed can be a challenge.
"But it can also be to your advantage
because they are so interested in learning," said Wilken. "They do everything
they can to make the production as good as they can. There is a competition
between the universities. They each want to be better than the next one."