The buzz on campus in South Bend, IN, is at a level Notre Dame hasn’t seen in an awfully long time.
It’s still six weeks off, but the university is in the National Championship game, and the Fighting Irish, led by potential Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te’o, have proved a captivating story all season long, and it has made for a challenging but exciting fall for the crew at Fighting Irish Digital Media.
“I think to myself, thank God this happened this year and not last year, from our standpoint,” laughs Dan Skendzel, director of digital media at Notre Dame. “We were not ready to deal with this. But I also think, man, if this were next year, we’d be that much further ahead.”
Brian Kelly’s undefeated squad is not the only team on campus that enjoyed a breakout season. Fighting Irish Digital Media has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time.
“We’ve come from the stone ages,” says Skendzel, commenting on the department’s live-streaming capabilities. “We’re making huge strides. Frankly, we were way behind in media production, and, through the leadership of [Athletic Director] Jack Swarbrick, it’s become a priority, not only to catch up but to leapfrog.”
That process began last spring when Notre Dame brought on board lead technologist Scott Rinehart, who had spent more than a decade as a director at NASCAR Media Group.
He was able to lead the planning for construction of a 3,000-square-ft. production facility, named Fighting Irish Digital Media Center. It includes a studio (which is roughly 12 x 15 ft.), a control room, two edit rooms, a voiceover booth, and a workplace for staff.
“We were in four different locations in terms of people when I got here,” says Rinehart. “Just getting everyone into the same room has made a huge difference on the communications side. It’s an open area so the ideas flow back and forth. It has become a very interactive and creative environment, which is what the dream has been: to get more creative.”
It’s not all just football in South Bend, though. This academic year, Fighting Irish Digital Media will live-stream more than 150 events, including Olympic sports, live press conferences, and postgame shows for football and basketball. Using a variety of NewTek TriCasters and, for graphics, LiveText, the department is able to broadcast live games in women’s basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and even fencing and swimming.
For live game coverage, typically, three cameras are deployed. For a marquee opponent, that total is raised to four. According to Rinehart, the department’s emergence has helped gain it more opportunities on campus.
“We have improved our camera positions this year because we’ve been able to show people that, if they let us put it here, it makes for a better show,” he says. “We’ve been able to demonstrate what we can do and move the ball a little bit on that. That’s tough, I’m learning here at the university sometimes.”
For its live-streaming services, Notre Dame has partnered with iStreamPlanet, whose streaming infrastructure and asset-management system made HD broadcasts possible.
“Having this facility and the ability to bring back live feeds and store them directly to a [software-asset-management system] has made a world of difference for us in terms of both live streaming and archiving,” says Skendzel. “Live streaming is the perfect platform for us to show who we are.”
As the Fighting Irish Digital Media Center receives and encodes video feeds, it also uses iStreamPlanet’s content-management system to archive footage. As a result, Notre Dame’s streaming player — which was designed in partnership with NBC Sports — is able to customize each of its players by sport, allowing fans to access on-demand content of a certain team while watching a live event.
iStreamPlanet’s infrastructure also allows the school to more finely tune its targeted-ad insertion.
“I think they are setting a really great example of what college broadcasting can be,” says Jennifer Baisch, senior director, product and services marketing, at iStreamPlanet. “Because they are having such a fantastic football season, this is going to be a great year for them, but it also has to do with the fact that they’ve brought all of these other sports online. They’re an excellent case study for how a college can take up its own interests and really bring their content to market.”
Notre Dame is the only collegiate partner that iStreamPlanet is able to speak about on record, but Baisch acknowledges that it is a growing market for the company.
“Colleges are becoming a bigger piece of the content mix,” she says. “As the cost of this technology comes down and these solutions become more flexible, these colleges are becoming pretty savvy broadcasters in their own right.”