SoonerVision prepared for OU network

NORMAN, Okla. -- When Brandon Meier took over the University of Oklahoma's SoonerVision department in 2007, he found hundreds of old film reels stashed in pizza boxes.

Soon, those old reels -- along with a pair of multi-million dollar high-definition control rooms tucked in on the west side of Memorial Stadium and a fiber optic cable network connecting OU's athletic facilities to the control rooms -- will be the foundation of the soon-to-be-launched OU network.

"We're developing our archives, working on our history," Meier said. "But we're producing new content, too."

The ability to generate both has made SoonerVision -- the athletic department's in-house production studio -- an attractive partner to television distributors, whom Oklahoma has been courting for months. Earlier this month, Sports Business Journal reported that OU was negotiating a deal with Fox, which would distribute OU programming across Fox Sports Oklahoma and Fox Sports Southwest.

Tuesday, the OU board of regents is expected to authorize school president David Boren to negotiate with "current and potential licensees in order to increase distribution of the University's media content," according to the board's agenda.

Chances are, the OU model will be very different from the Longhorn Network, which is run in partnership with ESPN and the University of Texas. While the LHN is an individual, 24-hour channel, OU's programming could be broadcast across multiple Fox Sports channels at different times in the day.

"We are certainly monitoring what's going on with them." Meier said of the Longhorn Network. "Don't think for a second (athletic director Joe Castiglione) hasn't been keeping track of it and learning from it."

What distinguishes OU from Texas, however, is that the Sooners will have had their broadcasting infrastructure in place before signing a deal with a carrier. An infrastructure, which has been built in less than five years, that began with the $3 million Daktronics HD-capable video replay board.

"What spurred the investment in SoonerVision was the big screen," said Meier, who pointed out that when he was hired to oversee production on the HD board, he found OU didn't actually have any HD equipment. "Pushing analog to that board wasn't going to look good. It was like buying the greatest big screen, and then not even having an HDMI cable box. Once we got the big screen going, it gave us a shot in the arm."

The Sooners have come quite a ways in five years. They've added a second control room so they can broadcast one game on TV, while simultaneously broadcasting another on the Internet. This academic year alone, SoonerVision will do roughly 80 TV broadcasts and several more on SoonerSports.com. Whatever carrier decides to air OU's content won't have to supply much in equipment, personnel or studio space. Most of that already is in place.

"It's not far off to say we have the most aggressive production unit in college athletics," Meier said. "Maybe even pro sports."

Thanks to a partnership with the journalism school, SoonerVision also employs close to 100 people, including 60 students, who work anywhere from seven to 30 hours a week.

"We look at that as the biggest win-win in all of this," Meier said. "They get great experience. We get to help train them, help develop them into broadcast professionals."

Now, Meier and his staff are combing through the school's vast archives, which include hundreds of reels of games, coaches shows and other content from the Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer eras and even before. That task hasn't been easy.

"In some cases, the film was warped, stuck together, even toxic," Meier said. "But we're not setting up field production and hitting record on our cameras. We're really doing it the right way digitizing our archives."

But the OU network won't be just a re-run of classic football games. The archived content will be supplemented with pregame shows, postgame shows, live broadcasts, interviews and even documentaries.

"The challenge for us will be, how much content can we produce, how much unique content?" Meier said. "We want to strike that delicate balance and decide what model is best for us."

Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation. He can be reached at trotterjake@gmail.com. and look for answers every Friday.

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