Mountain West Network Has Grown Into Award-Winning Enterprise
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – The Emmy still sits in a box on Jesse Kurtz’s desk, a symbol that the journey in this case has overshadowed the destination.
And what a journey it has been for the longtime local TV sportscaster, who joined the Mountain West Network before it existed and has helped grow it into an enterprise honored this past week with that Emmy for technical achievement.
Kurtz had no way of knowing this position would grow into what it has when he left KKTV – the local CBS affiliate – after 10 years.
“I bailed on everything that I ever wanted to reach,” said Kurtz, a five-time Best Sportscaster winner from the Colorado Broadcasters Association. “I had a goal of being a main sports anchor in Colorado Springs. Then I left. It’s a strange feeling to be like, ‘I love my job, I love everyone I work with – I’m out of here.'”
It was hardly a blind leap. Kurtz understood viewing habits were drifting away from appointment viewing and more toward the convenience of on-demand. He also knew that, if nothing else, an 8-to-5 schedule would allow him more time with his family (he and his wife have two boys, 9 and 6) than his previous evening position.
Still, the network he entered in October 2012 looked nothing like the one he helps command today. He stepped in as a lone reporter, camera in hand, tasked with filling the void by the demise of The Mtn. – the network that covered the Mountain West until the plug was pulled in June 2012 – by telling and promoting the good stories the conference had to offer.
A year ago, everything changed. The conference, in an effort to gain visibility and keep pace with its larger contemporaries, decided to create a full online-only network by arming each of its institutions with four high-definition cameras, tripods, laptops loaded with user-friendly editing/production software and all the portable supporting materials to make it possible to set up a full broadcast from anywhere with an Internet connection.
“We were taken aback by the amount they wanted to do and what they wanted to put out there for people to watch,” said Air Force’s FalconVision director Brian Jerman, one of many from around the conference tasked with finding the staff to produce broadcasts. “They went for it, they got it done.”
The MW moved into an office near Interquest and Voyager, giving Kurtz a state-of-the-art studio.
Countless partnerships were formed with companies like Volar Video, whose software allows anyone to learn multicamera switching and graphic overlay after a minutes-long orientation – essentially putting a production truck into one computer and cutting in half the staff necessary to produce a broadcast. Campus Insiders and other entities helped with distribution and advertising, creating geo- and time-specific ads that are tailored to each viewer. An ad in Colorado Springs may be different than one in San Diego, and an ad seen today for a 2014 car or truck might be automatically replaced by one for a 2019 model if the same video were seen five years from now.
The ads were crucial to monetize an operation that decided to maintain free access, while other conferences opted to keep their online videos behind a pay wall. And the easy-to-use editing software allowed multiple cameras to give a professional-looking broadcast.
“We want exposure with this, we don’t want to be exposed,” Kurtz explained.
In its first year, the network produced more than 1,500 broadcasts of live events and more than 1,100 on-demand videos, including press conferences and Kurtz-hosted studio productions.
The MW used its network to promote Fresno State’s case for a BCS bowl, the Heisman candidacy of Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr and to memorialize San Diego State baseball coach Tony Gwynn after his death in June.
“We use the analogy all the time that we’re building a plane while we’re flying it,” said Kurtz, who works closely with Brian Tripp, who joined the network in August 2013 and, like Kurtz, brings two decades of broadcast experience to his role.
The network generated 15.1 million unique viewers from 135 countries in its first year. On Saturday, it received an Emmy Award through the Heartland chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for its technical achievement. The Heartland chapter covers Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wyoming.
The award recognized the overall achievement of utilizing Volar’s software, mobilizing efforts on 11 campuses and in-studio and building an on-demand warehouse of MW athletic videos.
What does the award mean? For Kurtz, he hopes it helps the network build on its forward momentum. Perhaps with added credibility, a sports information director might think to shoot him a story idea first. Maybe a department head will be more likely to integrate a production position into the curriculum, allowing a student to work for the school’s broadcast crew for class credit. Maybe it just means that someone who was already assisting in this collaborative effort will now do so more enthusiastically.
The resources are nowhere near those of the SEC, which has built studios on each campus and connected each by fiber wire to the Charlotte, North Carolina, headquarters – a multimillion dollar operation.
But it’s a start.
“Let’s keep feeding the beast,” Kurtz said. “I think we’re onto something, we’ve got something – now let’s use it. Let’s do a four-camera school for everything. Let’s hire high-end broadcasters for everything. Let’s get the best of the best camera people on campus to shoot everything. Then it keeps feeding itself.”
In short, the journey continues.
- By BRENT BRIGGEMAN, The Gazette
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