U-Florida Shifts Into Higher Gear With SEC

AUSTIN, TEXAS—John FitzRandolph says that about 80 percent of BeckTV’s work is systems integration for TV stations. However, he’s added that, “We’ve been dancing around the sports business for several years and we’re seeing that sector as a growth area.”

That means the Austin, Texas-based company’s recent install at the University of Florida was not only another step forward, but also notable for other reasons, said FitzRandolph, vice president and senior engineer for the firm.

For BeckTV, it represented deeper entry into a budding market; for the university, which had been using its in-house production facility for GatorVision streaming media platform at its sports venues, as well as Gainesville, Fla.’s PBS station, the upgrade ushered in the era of ESPN’s new SEC Network, which is slated for a mid-August launch.

University of Florida students try out the new master control at the school’s facility, which was upgraded by BeckTV. FROM THE TOP
BeckTV’s original install at the University of Florida was in 2012, to set up the controls for its GatorVision video boards at six of its sports venues and facilitate streaming coverage of its events. Then along came the SEC Network, and it was time for the company to revisit Gainesville.

“They knew that they couldn’t handle the SEC Network’s technical requirements, too, with just one control room,” said FitzRandolph, “so we added a second control room with enhanced facilities. That allowed its engineers to produce three shows/streams to three different venues simultaneously.”

That means that the University Athletic Association staff, in conjunction with the university’s College of Journalism, worked with Brad Noblitt, the director of engineering at the college, and his staff to develop a plan for the facility upgrade.

The idea was to be able to produce an SEC game broadcast, as well as video for the Daktronics scoreboard at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium or from any of the university’s other venues, while also producing streaming video for any other event, like baseball or volleyball.

The University of Florida install represented “the second time (after a similar project at Brigham Young University) that we had updated multiple venues that were all connected by fiber in one control room. That’s becoming the norm,” said FitzRandolph. “Manufacturers are starting to build to that solution.”

In 2012, the GatorVision project entailed routing, switching, multiviewers, replay, graphics, etc., according to FitzRandolph. The recent update called for the addition of a second control room, which includes a Grass Valley Kayak 2.5 ME, Imagine Communications ZP2-HD12-GX for terminal and multiview; three Sony HD-PMW 400 cameras, bringing that complement to eight (three of which have Fujinon lenses); three Telecast fiber transceiver systems with the CopperHead G3200; an RTS ADAM intercom system; an additional 360 Systems content server playback system; Ross XPression graphics system; with consoles by Beck Associates.

BeckTV held its final walkthrough in mid-July, when it completed final work for the upgrade. The university’s control room “was ready because of all of the venues they broadcast from and the fiber, so Brad really had a jumpstart,” FitzRandolph said, adding that “the installation has become the template for the other SEC schools.”

The primary reason for that jumpstart is that the university operates Gainesville’s PBS affiliate, WUFT-TV, and its two sub-PBS channels, Create and World; and GatorVision, from the same router. In addition, the University of Florida operates WRUF-TV, a 24-hour weather channel, and the College of Journalism’s 5 and 6:00 newscasts are switched out of another control room with its own studios.

In other words, it’s not your typical university setup.

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, home to SEC’s Florida Gators “When GatorVision went online in 2012, it was to support the venue video boards plus streaming productions. The initial goal was to get everything connected and online then,” said Noblitt, noting that the department produced 70 games of various sports that first year and 75 last year.

Then came the SEC Network. “And we had to look at our current infrastructure and see how we could support the new demands, as well as our videoboard shows for the UAA,” he said.

Noblitt, who used to freelance with the mobile companies, had experience with remote trucks and knew what the next step for the university would be. “We split our control room much like a duel truck is set up, so we could support two independent programs using the existing infrastructure, for the SEC and the Daktronics GatorVision feeds,” which are routed via fiber on campus, then on to the SEC Network via AT&T’s network.

Beck was the total integrator for the initial install, which made the company the easy choice to handle the upgrade. “They knew our equipment,” said Noblitt, “and they were touching the routers while we were on the air with our PBS affiliates. That’s not easy, since everything is interconnected here.”

FitzRandolph feels that the University of Florida’s upgrade serves as a template for other colleges that need to upgrade to accommodate new sports networks.

“But the most interesting thing [at the university], versus similar installs, is that it has a real drive to use its students to operate the equipment, and the station is using the facility to train and develop them,” he said. “At most college stations, they hire industry veterans. Brad has a different approach.

“This story may be much bigger than just University of Florida one day soon,” FitzRandolph said. “Its facility looks like a TV station and smells like a TV station. And if the SEC Network is successful [the new network is trying to find distribution deals], I think you’ll see more networks popping for other conferences, especially now that streaming is available.”

For Noblitt, it’s really a very simple game.

“Our audio is the same, our video is the same. We’re teaching our students every aspect of the industry,” he said. “We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. We saw what we had and made it work for two different clients. And this was our window to do it.”

Mark R. Smith

Mark R. Smith has covered the media industry for a variety of industry publications, with his articles for TV Technology often focusing on sports. He’s written numerous stories about all of the major U.S. sports leagues.  

Based in the Baltimore-Washington area, the byline of Smith, who has also served as the long-time editor-in-chief for The Business Monthly, Columbia, Md., initially appeared in TV Technology and in another Futurenet publication, Mix, in the late ’90s. His work has also appeared in numerous other publications.