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No. 1 Oklahoma works toward launching own TV network

POSTED August 30, 2011 10:22 p.m.

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — While rival Texas has been rolling out its Longhorn Network, top-ranked Oklahoma has been working to expand its television capabilities, too.
Reporters were given a tour Tuesday of the university’s SoonerVision HD production rooms that have been expanded through $5 million in improvements in recent years. With fiber-optic cables connecting the school’s athletic venues to side-by-side control rooms, Oklahoma plans to broadcast and webcast dozens more sporting events this year in high definition.
“It allows us to do broadcast quality. That’s the thing I don’t think a lot of people realize is that five years ago our webcasts were one camera at a game, at a volleyball match, and we’re still doing some of that,” said Brandon Meier, the executive director of video production.
“Now more of our webcasts are going to look like broadcasts that you’re going to see at home with all of the bells and whistles and the replays and the score bug. We’ve gone from the one-camera setup to the 32-person broadcast setup to make that happen.”
The expansion is another step toward the school’s ultimate goal of launching its own around-the-clock network in a quickly expanding television marketplace for college sports.
The Big Ten’s lucrative network is being joined by a series of Pac-12 channels and the Longhorn Network, created through a $300 million deal between Texas and ESPN.
As compared to those endeavors, Oklahoma has a part-time network. It produces and broadcasts dozens of live basketball games and events from Olympic sports on television, and offers other live sporting events through an online All-Access package that charges subscribers about $10 a month or $100 a year.
OU spokesman Kenny Mossman said eventually the university hopes to “dovetail” its online offerings into its own TV channel.
Kansas State became the latest Big 12 school to launch a similar package Tuesday with the creation of its K-StateHD.TV online channel.
“I think every school is investigating an Internet distribution system,” Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis said in a recent interview. “With the emergence and evolution of Internet television now, it probably behooves us all to get very serious about an Internet network.”
There’s still another big step from webcast of live events and on-demand content to the Longhorn Network’s offerings.
“I think there’s a lot of programming that would have to be done to support a 24-hour channel, and it’s been nice for us to kind of grow in steps. So, this year we’ll focus on producing really quality TV broadcasts,” Meier said.
“If next year whatever happens or years in the future, if there does happen to be a channel or a media partner, we have the ability to do the same thing — push them good content, whether it be in the studio shows or live games.”
Meier said Oklahoma’s facilities are equipped with the same type of cameras and production equipment that the major television networks use.
“If we were to someday launch a network like the Longhorn Network, there would still need to be a network hub,” Meier said. “This is really just for production of games and that sort of things. There is nothing that’s a master control for a TV station.
“Essentially this is a mobile production truck that never leaves the stadium and goes out to all of the other venues via fiber-optic cable.”
That cable spans miles from the nerve center to the basketball arena and baseball stadium. The soccer field will soon join the volleyball, gymnastics and softball venues as places that can accommodate a live online broadcast.
“It just isn’t realistic for us to rent a $60,000 high-definition production truck to go to a soccer game,” Meier said. “This facility gives us the exact same capabilities of renting a $60,000 truck.”
While they aren’t bringing in $15 million per year like the Longhorn Network contract, the upgraded production facilities are a money maker for the Sooners.
Just one example is that instead of paying an outside firm more than $100,000 to create a video for pregame football introductions, Oklahoma can now do it on its own.
“It seems crazy to go pay a lot of money somewhere else when you’ve got the capabilities to do it in house,” Meier said.
OU football coach Bob Stoops said he was happy with the exposure his program has received from participating in an all-access series with ESPN during training camp and “it’s good for people to be able to see” players’ personalities. To have an entire channel devoted to the Sooners, though, is hard for him to fathom.
“To project what that would do is hard for me right now,” Stoops said. “My focus is on playing ball, not a network.”

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