Ryan Teeples: BYUtv uses sports, original programming to churn out highly-skilled TV grads

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7 2013 11:20 a.m. MST

Derek A. Marquis, BYU Television / BYU Radio / KBYU-TV / KBYU-FM Managing Director shows the control rooms for all the different broadcasts. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Derek A. Marquis, BYU Television / BYU Radio / KBYU-TV / KBYU-FM Managing Director shows the control rooms for all the different broadcasts. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part series surrounding BYUtv and its relationship with BYU athletics. Part one offers an inside look into BYUtv's facilities during a BYU football game. Teeples was an on-site observer of the gameday broadcast process in preparation for this series.

Discussion of Brigham Young University’s unique contract with ESPN usually focuses on ratings, exposure, recruiting and football-specific benefits.

But the Cougars’ deal with ESPN and its allowance for game rebroadcasts has also opened the door for BYUtv to flourish, not just as an outlet for fans to see games, but as an asset to the school’s students and the LDS Church, which owns it.

The mission of BYUtv is unique among television networks. Its tagline and mantra are “See the Good in the World,” and the network strives to bring values-based content to an audience seeking a safe haven for the family to watch without worry.

BYUtv's Jarom Jordan works inside the studio during production of a BYU football pre-game show in October.
 (Ryan Teeples) BYUtv's Jarom Jordan works inside the studio during production of a BYU football pre-game show in October. (Ryan Teeples)

So what does this have to do with athletics? And how does it benefit the university and its students?

Athletics’ role in the model

BYUtv wants the membership of the LDS Church and the world at large to come into its house and see what it has to offer, and athletics is the front door.

There are lots of promotions for the network’s original programming during games, pregame and postgame shows and rebroadcasts. Plus, fans who watch BYU sports video clips online can’t do so without exposure to BYUtv’s other offerings. That’s why BYU was so keen on finding a TV contract that would accommodate its network.

The network believes that while they may be drawn by athletics, once people see the non-sports content, they’ll stay for the clean, quality programming and associate those values with BYU and the church.

A unique opportunity for students

Kevin J. Worthen, vice president of advancement at BYU, who is responsible for both athletics and broadcasting at the school, explains how Cougar sports and academics benefit from each other in this unique arrangement.

"BYUtv contributes to the university in so many ways, not the least of which is its extensive national and international reach providing increased exposure and fan access to almost every BYU sport, greatly enhancing athletics' role as a representative of the university and its values. It is wonderful that BYU Broadcasting can do all of this while also providing hundreds of student employees a real-world professional experience in the broadcasting industry," Worthen said, calling students the “secret ingredient” to BYUtv’s success thus far.

During any given broadcast, whether athletics or other, as much as 70 percent of the production crew may be students. Whether it’s cameramen, lights and sound, graphics, editing, engineering or even assisting with directing and producing, BYUtv gives its broadcasting students a chance to learn by doing in a professional environment with top of the line equipment.

“When they see this, my friends from ESPN say, ‘Are you kidding me? I would have killed for this kind of opportunity as a student!’ ” Mikel Minor, senior coordinating producer for athletics at BYUtv, said. Minor manages 40-50 students each game day along with paid professionals to produce football broadcasts.

Minor points out that nowhere in the country is there an opportunity for hands-on, professional broadcasting experience for students like at BYU.

ESPN has noticed too.

“BYUtv’s facilities are as impressive as any you’ll ever see, on or off a college campus. First rate all around. Students who get the opportunity to work in this environment get a legitimate professional experience not often offered as part of a college curriculum to this extent,” Edward Placey, senior coordinating producer for ESPN/ABC College Football, said.

Matt Armstrong is a communications major from Evansville, Ind. He spends some Saturdays during football season in the TV booth at the top of LaVell Edwards Stadium running a camera that’s used by both ESPN and BYUtv. That makes for an impressive line on a resume for a third-year student. One recent grad of the program is already doing camera work for Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake broadcasts.

“Only a few of the cameramen are students, so it’s a big opportunity. One thing I love is that our supervisors are so focused on student development here, but have fun doing it. It makes working here so enjoyable,” Armstrong said.

Minor knows the opportunity is great for students, but so is the responsibility of the staff in the broadcast building to prepare graduates to make a difference in the field.

“We understand there’s a mentoring responsibility here. So we don’t get into heavy-handed methods. There are a lot of screamers and yellers in this business. We’re not that way,” Minor said, adding that they do make the students aware those kinds of environments exist though.

He goes on to say that a big part of the work is teaching students professional decorum, using the common faux pas of texting during work as an example. He points out, however, that this generation’s multitasking tendencies are great for TV production aptitude; you have to be fast and prepared for the unexpected.

“This generation is, in many ways, ready-made for broadcasting,” he said.

Whether they’re in the booth doing instant replay work for basketball or running a boom mic for Studio C, BYUtv isn’t just teaching students out of a textbook — they’re rewriting it.

It all means an unparalleled opportunity for BYU’s students and the university as a whole, and it’s working. Just recently, BYUtv was nominated for more than 20 Emmys.

Beyond just the experience for students, BYUtv works to send its graduates across various parts of the industry and the world. The quality of the graduates and the uniqueness of that mission is also what helps fund what is clearly an expensive endeavor.

The support model

Most television networks are supported by advertising revenues or cable TV subscription dollars. BYUtv, on the other hand, relies on its message and mission.

While the network does earn some money from sponsorships, the vast majority of operational dollars come from private donations.

"We have several donors who support BYUtv in large measure because of the students, and their support allows us to provide our students not with a "student experience" but with a truly professional experience,” Derek Marquis, managing director of BYU Broadcasting, said.

“Students might come to BYUB just looking for a job, but they quickly get hooked and then they're telling their friends that they should come and work here as well. As a result of the professional mentors they get to work with in a hands-on environment and in a state-of-the-art broadcast and digital media facility, they leave BYU with not only a great academic experience, but with a skill set that many working in the broadcast industry are still trying to acquire."

The network works with dedicated fundraisers who work with individual donors to share the vision for the program and the effect it has on students and the university.

Rex and Ruth Maughan are donors to BYUtv from Scottsdale, Ariz., who have embraced that vision.

“We are truly amazed every time we walk into the broadcast studios, particularly on game day, and see dozens and dozens of students who, in an instant, are transformed into broadcast professionals," they said. "We doubt you could find anything like this of this magnitude anywhere else in the world."

Ryan Teeples, twitter.com/SportsGuyUtah, is a marketing and technology expert, full-time sports fan, owner of Ryan Teeples Consulting Inc. (RyanTeeples.com) and regular contributor to LoyalCougars.com.

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