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GSU multimedia is ESPN3 ready
Center employs students in real-world video work
GSU-ESPN3 Lead Web
James Braswell, left, Georgia Southern University student, does color commentary for an ESPN3 live broadcast of a Georgia southern women's volleyball game with ESPN anchor Drew Fellios. - photo by Photo courtesy Georgia Southern University MDC

Georgia Southern University students employed by the Multimedia Development Center, such as James Braswell, have some rare opportunities, and not just because they help ESPN professionals produce sports coverage available to more than 90 million households.

Braswell, 23, a senior from Guyton, has appeared on camera with three different ESPN3 anchors. He did color commentary for men’s soccer, women’s soccer and one volleyball match. But as one of the Multimedia Development Center’s 15 student employees – there are also 10 student volunteers – his experiences aren’t limited to those in front of the camera.

In 2014, he also edited the short “Wounded Eagle Fund” video that won the latest of two Student Emmy awards collected in the past four years by students working through the Multimedia Development Center.

“It’s not only sports, it’s the academic productions as well,” Braswell said. “This was something that was sent out by marketing that we were able to help them out with, and we’ve also been able to film other commercials for the College of Business and a lot of other academic departments within the university.”

A joint project with the university’s Marketing and Communications office, the video, promoting contributions to a fund for wounded veterans who enroll at Georgia Southern, was filmed by Allen Lincoln, also a student and MDC employee. In its four years, the MDC’s employees have received 12 Student Emmy nominations. Meanwhile, the center won one professional Emmy Award, in 2013 for Best Live Audio, with a GSU Symphony performance.

Unlike Communication Arts, the Multimedia Development Center isn’t an academic department. Instead, the MDC is a unit of the Information Technology Services Division. However, Development Center Director Art Berger emphasizes that the center is helping educate its student employees and prepare them for careers.

In working with ESPN, Braswell made an impression on ESPN3 anchor Drew Fellios. Braswell provided color commentary while Fellios did the play-by-play for the Georgia Southern-Georgia State women’s volleyball game in October.

“The thing that impressed me most was he was prepared,” Fellios said. “We showed up at the game and he had notes and he had stuff that he was ready to say. It’s good that he understands that, that they understand that. To be good at broadcasting, it’s all about preparation, and he showed up that day prepared.”

This reflects Fellios’ overall impression of Georgia Southern’s university-produced coverage, including student involvement that he says adds another dimension.

“Whenever GSU first called me, I wasn’t expecting much as like a TV crew, and for what they showed me and the level that they’ve performed, it’s awesome,” Fellios said. “Like, I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

Model for the Sun Belt

To be clear, the Multimedia Development Center does not produce the Eagles football coverage for ESPN3. Instead, the MDC crew runs the stadium videoboard during football games. But the center works with ESPN3 to produce weekly broadcasts of sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer and volleyball. An online streaming service, ESPN3 is available through ESPN.go.com and a mobile app to people whose TV packages include ESPN’s main channels.

Since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2014, Georgia Southern has become a model for how other schools in the conference produce content for ESPN3, Berger said. Travis Llewellyn, the conference’s associate commissioner for electronic media, confirmed it.

“As a conference, everyone is always looking at what everyone else is doing, and Georgia Southern was producing content for ESPN-3 last year, and that’s when we were kind of in our planning phases of seeing where else we were going to expand,” Llewellyn said.

Appalachian State has now invested in ESPN3 production, and this fall hosted the men’s soccer championship. But Georgia Southern’s hosting of the Sun Belt volleyball championship, last weekend, was the first times that the Sun Belt, as a league, has been able to use school productions for an entire championship, Llewellyn said.

“When we started looking at it for other institutions, we were able to use Georgia Southern as a model and show how they’ve been successful in producing content,” he said.

Georgia State has just started producing basketball coverage, and Arkansas State will be starting in January, Llewellyn said. Coastal Carolina University, which will join the Sun Belt as its 12th full-time member July 1, recently called on the Georgia Southern MDC for pointers, Berger said.

“Getting the games on is terrific, but it’s really important to know that we’re helping develop the next generation of people that  want to be in communications, in television and video production,” Llewellyn said.

Braswell didn’t learn everything he knows at Georgia Southern. A National Guard sergeant, he also took a military broadcasting course at Fort Meade, Md., and started college at the University of North Georgia before coming to Georgia Southern to pursue a multimedia journalism degree.

Evan Lebish, 21, from Kennesaw, a senior majoring in multimedia communication, may be more typical. But he says he got lucky by finding a job with the Multimedia Development Center the second semester of his freshman year. He has since garnered some Emmy nominations and worked in a production that made the MDC a Society of Professional Journalists finalist for best TV newscast.

After seeing Lebish operate a camera during a game, one ESPN staffer asked Berger if he had contracted the work to a professional outfit. Lebish says his job prepared him for his communications arts classes, as much as the other way round.

“I got a jump start on the hands-on experience and the educational value of working with cameras and equipment and how the whole process comes together, the editing,” he said.

Besides sports coverage, the MDC works with the marketing office to create commercials for the university. One featured a student, who has since graduated and gone to work for Disney, who built and trained an animatronic dragon. For another, an MDC crew traveled to Indianapolis to see a College of Business Administration graduate who landed an influential job with Rolls Royce.

One of the center’s best-known projects was “Gus in Space,” the video-documented launch and parachute release of a GUS the Eagle figurine on a research balloon from 101,000 feet in 2013.  Students help document GSU research, such as the Biology Department’s oceanic work at Gray’s Reef and a current aquaculture project involving crayfish and plants.

“People see us a lot of times doing the  sports because they’re visible, but we do several hundred academic projects a year, supporting research, commercials, marketing, business,” Berger said. “Those projects typically are on a website.”

The commercials have reached more than 10 million viewers this year, he said.

New studio

This summer, the MDC, previously housed in the College of Education building, moved into newly renovated space downstairs at the Bishop Field House, at the west end of Paulson Stadium. There are producer’s offices, some centralized workstations for students and a new green-screen studio – with every wall green to disappear on cue in favor of simulated backgrounds.

At the other end of the stadium, the MDC also controls a switching studio with screens for various camera views and computer-supplied content, such as the ESPN3 logo.

A small non-student staff, including Berger, Live Events Producer and Chief Engineer Jeremiah Womble, Talent and Sports Producer Corey Speights and Post-Production Producer Rebecca Lynch, guides the work.

GSU Vice President for Information Technology Steve Burrell traces the MDC’s origins to discussions he had with former GSU President Brooks Keel in 2010. They saw that streaming video was going to become “the mainstream way of distributing content to people” and the technology was becoming more affordable, Burrell said.

GSU leaders saw the multimedia efforts of Clemson University and the University of Alabama as models, but had far less money, he said.

“We’re not so big and we don’t have the resources to mimic exactly what, say, Alabama has done or Clemson who are addressing athletics media independently, and that traditionally has not been the Georgia Southern model, either,” Burrell said. “We’re very conscious of the economies of scale. It’s a highly collaborative campus to begin with, and so we’ve sought opportunities to try and consolidate everybody’s interests.”

Since 2014, the capital investment in the MDC totals $501,000, Burrell said, but this also includes fiber connectivity that serves other aspects of the university. Most of what goes to the MDC is for cameras, switching, editing and other audiovisual equipment.

Its annual operating budget is $325,000.

“This budget has grown incrementally since 2014 as we grow to meet additional interests and demands for media services,” he said.

In May, when Statesboro hosted the final four of the U.S. Youth Soccer Georgia State Cup, the MDC handled the livestreaming, getting more than 15,000 hits, including some in Europe. This, Berger notes, was cited by Premier Development League officials in their decision to award Statesboro the new Tormenta FC team.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

 

 

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