The Big Ten Network has come a long way since its inception in 2007.
Dave Revsine, Rick Pizzo, Mike Hall, Howard Griffith, Gus Johnson, et al are some of the names you might recognize. But what about Peter Saul, Adam Brewster, David Nows and Brad Hewlett?
Saul, Brewster, Nows and Hewlett may not be big names now, but all are hoping to become recognizable in the future. Currently, they are U-M students that cover Michigan sports for the Big Ten Network, and they cover it well.
Many years ago, WOLV-TV, Michigan's student-run TV station, brought a few Michigan sporting events to a small crowd on Comcast Channel 22. Ice hockey and women's basketball were the two sports that benefited from this coverage.
Today, the same basic idea is taking hold with the Big Ten Network. Instead of a few people in Washtenaw County viewing just a few events, these students are now able to show what they can do on a national stage.
Alex Prasad, a Michigan student, has helped build the Michigan "student" brand on the BTN. Prasad has become the unofficial executive producer for all Big Ten Student U productions that are done in Ann Arbor, with his co-producers Evan Dougherty, Peter Saul and Matthew Dupree. During these two terms, at least 40 events will be broadcast on www.bigtennetwork.com, with many of these events advancing to the network brand on the BTN.
"When we started off one year ago, we were just worrying about surviving," said Prasad. "If we could get a picture and some audio we were happy.
"Now, we are much more strategic and hopefully building for the future."
The idea to engage students to develop digital content for the BTN web site was the main idea behind this student program. Once the programming started to improve and the technology available to the Big Ten schools was leveraged by the BTN, the next step was network TV.
"We came across this opportunity to work on what was the best way to create streaming for the Internet with a 'Flypack' concept," said Rex Arends, BTN's director of technical operations. "We built it (equipment) and with the HD cameras and the CIC Internet connection available in the Big Ten, the quality of the video looked better than what came over the satellite."
There is very little compression needed for the HD files, and when BTN executives looked at what was coming across the control room monitors, he said, "Let's try it during the overnight hours."
The students set up, produce, direct and announce these sporting events. They use up to three cameras, have a video/audio suite, headsets, graphics package, announce box and scoring strip all built by the BTN. The network does add a quality control person in its Chicago control room to monitor every event.
The programming impressed so many other execs at the BTN that now the Student U broadcasts air in all parts of the day and even some fringe prime time.
Michigan does have some unique challenges to keep that quality broadcasting. Some other conference schools have broadcasting courses to help bring students into the program; U-M has to find volunteers.
"It is a unique challenge since we have no broadcasting program here at Michigan, so we have to recruit," said Prasad. "The lack of a program does provide one advantage: the students we get are highly motivated and passionate because they want to do this."
Like football and basketball teams, the competition is also heating up for these broadcast teams across the conference, and the passion of the U-M students has made the Wolverine broadcasts some of the best on the BTN.
"We are growing but we need more students to replace those who will be leaving," said Prasad. "If we can recruit more students, I see no reason why we shouldn't be the best in the Big Ten."
Interested in becoming part of the Student U team? Michigan is currently seeking students who are interested in the broadcasting field. The application deadline is Jan. 28, 2011.