Kansas State University Athletic Director John Currie has five keys to his vision of a model intercollegiate athletics program. The fifth, which is printed on all his administrators’ business cards, is simple: provide “the best fan experience in the Big 12 Conference.”
Kansas State is prepared to give a historic boost to that fan experience today at 6:15 p.m. (all times CT) with the launch of KStateHD.TV, an exclusive, high-definition digital network that will provide a worldwide connection to Kansas State University and K-State Sports.
The operation kicks off with K-State Gameday followed by the channel’s first live broadcast, a women’s volleyball game vs. Creighton at 7 p.m. That sets the stage for a busy weekend, which includes live coverage of Wildcats vs. Eastern Kentucky football on Saturday at 6:10 p.m.
Taking Its Own Path
Although the project may be seen as a direct response to the University of Texas’s new Longhorn Network, KStateHD.TV takes a different approach to a broadcast-level video operation.
“We’re looking for big-time exposure for K-State and trying to get ahead of the curve as far as what we feel might be the wave of the future,” says Brian Smoller, sportscaster/director of Powercat Vision, K-State HD.TV. “There are only so many schools that are able to do what some of the bigger ones can do with financial resources and partnerships on different types of media platforms, and we feel that developing this side of it first is the way to go.”
KStateHD.TV is a not a linear network but does offer appointment-viewing programming aside from live game broadcasts. Shoulder programming, press conferences, and newsmagazine shows will run in scheduled live timeslots. The subscription service will also provide classic games, encores, and features as part of its premium on-demand content.
The network takes advantage of the flexible broadcasting rights made available to Big 12 members — universities retain the rights to any games not picked up by conference media partners ESPN and Fox — and aims to provide the school with global exposure previously unknown on the Manhattan, KS, campus.
“We want to ensure that K-Staters anywhere in the world can watch the Wildcats,” says Currie in a university release, “and the fact that all of our new programming will be produced in high definition will also put us in a strategic position as we continue to explore future avenues for distribution.”
Investment in Gear
An all-in commitment to broadcast-quality video in high definition is the key component that separates KStateHD.TV from digital-content offerings of other universities. Robert Nelson, chief engineer at KStateHD.TV, confirms a Sports Business Journal report that the university has spent about $500,000 for cameras and equipment to produce all-HD content.
Among the major purchases are a collection of Sony PDW700 cameras, Fujinon 22x HD and 12x HD servo lenses, a Grass Valley Kayak 2.5M/E HD switcher, and an EVS XTnano for slow-motion replays. K-State will use five cameras for football games, four for basketball and baseball games, and three for volleyball.
The broadcast team will continue to work out of its Shook Mobile Technology production truck, which K-State has used for years to produce in-venue video-board shows at Wildcats sports events. The unit has been refurbished to accommodate the channel’s HD demands.
“It’s a 20-year-old truck, but it’s been immaculately maintained,” says Nelson, noting that the truck has the capability of broadcasting in HD, SD, and even analog. “The full transition to HD is not by any means complete, but we’ve tried to identify the critical keys.”
To ensure that most fans will be able to view live content on the best possible bandwidth, the truck will send its feed to its CBSSports.com provider through ViewCast Niagara 4100 encoders, which build three streams of different quality, allowing end users to view the video quality best suited for their Internet connectivity, even if it’s dial-up.
“The model we’re approaching makes KStateHD.TV accessible to everybody, not just people who have that cable feed or those that have a high-speed Internet connection,” says Nelson. “We are trying to make this accessible for anyone anywhere in the world.”
KStateHD.TV is a campus-wide operation, including heavy involvement by the Division of Communications and Marketing (DCM). “We have a pretty good infrastructure as it is with student participation just through the great instructors we’ve had through the courses on campus,” says Smoller. “Now we’re going to need that base to be even more magnified.”
Nelson says that, although there is a core group of juniors and seniors that are “up to speed” on live production, it will take some cramming to get a rotation of reliable students prepared to work with the new HD equipment.
“The production system is slightly different from what they’re used to,” notes Nelson, who has been helping run rehearsals to prepare student staffers. “The cameras are new, and we worked very hard to make everything native HD, and there are some differences there. So, yes, we will be cramming pretty hard.”
The channel is a win-win for the school: KStateHD.TV crews its vast number of games rather cheaply, and, in return, students get the opportunity to work with top-of-the-line equipment while gaining invaluable training.
“What we’ve heard from our television and media partners who have come in and taken a look at what we have as far as infrastructure and actual facilities is that these students are going to be prepared to exit into the work force and almost immediately be able to get jobs,” says Smoller. “That was a pretty good affirmation that we were going in the right direction with what we’ve got in place and should be a situation where we can get a good group of students and keep it going.”
The production crew will hit the ground running. Double-headers of live game broadcasts are slated for both Friday and Saturday. On Friday, the K-State volleyball team faces Georgia Southern at 12:30 p.m. and Idaho at 7. On Saturday, volleyball battles BYU at 12:30 p.m. Then, the crew will need to strike and change venues for K-State Gameday at 5:15 before kickoff of the Wildcats’ football-season opener against Eastern Kentucky.
That broadcast will mark the first time in school history that a live home football game will be made available solely online, and the administration hopes it drives up subscribership, which is currently priced at $79.95 a year, $9.95 a month.