In 2004, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was listening to a presentation on smartphone technology when he started envisioning a video network for the university. He said was learning how video would be sent to the devices.
“It just started the thought process that we had to be in that space,” Castiglione said.
That idea eventually turned into Sooner Sports TV, which as it closes in on its one-year anniversary has produced more than 2,600 hours of programming on television and online.
“When you look back on what has been accomplished, it's remarkable,” Castiglione said. “We went from televising one hundred hours annually to over twenty-six hundred hours. This unique network approach gave us instant distribution to over 10 million in the one region.”
Lee Berke, a New York-based consultant hired by OU to assist in the network's development, said, “It's probably the most successful school network in the country in terms of the amount of programming and the distribution.”
Unlike the Longhorn Network, which as a 24/7 dedicated channel is still struggling for access on cable and satellite systems — despite having three football games on its schedule — distribution has never been a problem for the OU venture.
“It's always been fully distributed,” Berke said. “It's never an issue of where we're going to get on. It's a question of how good can we make this content, how much can we put on, how much we can market it.”
The programming has shown up on Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports Southwest or OU's website, SoonerSports.com, and nationally on other Fox regional channels or Fox College Sports.
Jon Heidtke, general manager of Fox Sports Southwest and Fox Sports Oklahoma, said the venture has almost doubled the projected programming for the first year.
“With the amount of programming the group produced, the cooperation we had with the university in terms of moving start times and maximizing clearance for all the different events, to their production strength, it couldn't have gone better,” Heidtke said.
The national coverage has been a plus, both for fans in distant locations and in providing the university with additional exposure.
“We've had letters from people watching Oklahoma wrestling in New York or Sooner softball in California,” Castiglione said. “They just haven't been able to see that before.”
Not all the content is free. The Internet video content on SoonerSports.TV carries a subscription of $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year.
The network's second year will bring expanded digital coverage, including “second-screen” opportunities for OU football fans to get additional content on their personal computers and smartphones.
“I think we are the first school in the country to put some guys in the studio and between commercial breaks kind of give somebody a chance to air analysis and statistics and watch highlights from another game,” said Brandon Meier, assistant athletic director for broadcast operations. “They can be sitting with their tablet or phone in the lap and watch our second- screen broadcast and get a little bit more analysis than they are used to.”
Six years ago, OU hired Meier, who had been managing video for the Houston Rockets, to produce the video for the new videoboards at the football and basketball facilities. Cost of the $10 million investment for the video screens was partially subsidized by sponsors, Castiglione said.
Meier has overseen the expansion in SoonerVision production, including the state-of-the-art facility inside the stadium. Fox Sports was so impressed with the production quality that it hired SoonerVision to produce almost all the programming for Sooner Sports TV, in addition to providing rights fee for it.
To handle the network load, Meier said his staff has grown to 18 full-timers, 25 part-timers and 80 to 100 students, who are able to get valuable on-the-job training while studying journalism and broadcasting at OU.
With 16 cameras, Meier's staff can handle production of two events at once. Instead of using a production truck, SoonerSportsTV uses fiber optic cable to link OU's various athletic venues to the stadium production facility.
Other schools have started copying OU's model. Meier said he has visited with seven schools this summer about production, and Castiglione noted several Big 12 schools, including TCU, Texas Tech, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, have similar concepts. Unlike OU, some programming from some of the other schools is entirely online.