It's been said that kids grow up a lot between their freshman and sophomore years.
The same is evidently true of MSG Varsity, Cablevision's network devoted to all things high school, which is about to return to school.
During the 2010-11 academic year, MSG Varsity will be presented in high-definition, kick off a "Friday Night Football" package, revamp its Web site and flanking interactive channel, and publish a magazine previewing the upcoming fall season.
MSG Varsity general manager Theresa Chillianis said the network will soft-launch in HD on Aug. 24, making MSG Varsity the only all high-school channel to transmit in the enhanced format.
"We recognize that viewers expect sports to be in HD," she said. "It represents an increase in professionalism and something we think our community is really going to enjoy."
After showing games live-to-tape during its rookie year, MSG Varsity will showcase its HD-quality images with its first live telecast on Sept. 10 with the "Friday Night Football" contest between Immaculata High School at Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, N.J. Steve Levy and Lou Brogno will call the match-up.
Rather than feature its usual split telecasts by geographic area, the 12 Friday night pigskin match-ups will air across all of the network's four regions.
"Friday night football is a big deal for a number of schools," Chillianis said. "We're looking at some very competitive games."
Those contests will come replete with pregame and halftime segments. MSG Varsity will also have a big presence on-site, with interactive booths and games to draw in the community.
Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 7, High School SportsDesk, the network's flagship daily news and information program, will start an hour earlier at 6 p.m. Hosted by Jared Greenberg and Shawna Ryan, High School SportsDesk features daily sports highlights, team breakdowns, athlete interviews and rankings from MSG Varsity's team of experts. On Friday evenings, the show will serve as a lead-in to the live gridiron telecasts.
After starting with 60 schools when it bowed last Sept. 24, MSG Varsity "established relationships" with 85% of the schools in its New York DMA footprint by the close of the 2009-10 school year. That meant forming ties with the principal, an administrator, athletic director, coach, teacher or media advisor at the schools.
"The first year was all about getting out there and making connections with the schools and the communities," Chillianis said.
Last year, MSG Varsity, under its "High School Sports Showcase" banner, aired 400 professionally produced games, featuring multiple cameras and on-air commentators; Chillianis said the network will match that in the upcoming campaign. Another 2,600 contests were shot by students and MSG Varsity staffers.
Chillianis also said digital enhancements will be unveiled on Sept. 7. In addition to new looks and improved navigation, there will be improved search functionality, video player and interactive photo galleries, as well as the ability to receive texts or alerts when new content about a school is added.
Channel 614 allows viewers to create their own personal MSG Varsity experience, making it specific or expansive. For those more interested in a hyperlocal experience, MSG Varsity interactive users can set preferences for a particular region or even their own school.
All of the content available on MSG Varsity.com can be viewed anytime on the interactive TV channel, offering more than 10,000 videos on demand. Students at the network's media partners -- armed with HD cameras, editing computers and training tips -- have created approximately 7,000 shorts, not only about sports. The student interviews cover everything from inside looks at school bands, debate teams and other clubs to other aspects of high school life.
During the week of Sept. 13, the network will begin distributing its publication MSG Varsity The Magazine. Sporting four regional covers, the 68-page magazine will preview football and other fall sports.
"We'll drop off 50 to 100 copies at the principal and AD's office at every school and also use them as on-site giveaways," Chillianis explained, noting the publication will also be available at MSGVarsity. com.
In keeping with its non-commercial bent, the magazine does not include advertising.
However, Chillianis said MSG Varsity is not averse to working with more "third-party providers that can add value to our students and schools.
To that end, the service in June reached an agreement with educational services firm Kaplan that enables Cablevision's Optimum customers to receive its PSAT and/ or SAT online prep courses online (a $99 value) for students to review and engage in testtaking strategies, as well as gain access to the company's exclusive Webinar series. Kaplan also is offering a 10% discount, through Oct. 15, off the retail price on some programs, including college and graduate test prep courses.