A great show for IUPUI grads

I-Light teams with IU Radio and Television Services to live stream IUPUI 2021 commencement ceremonies

Continuing COVID-19 safety concerns prompted Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) to hold its 2021 commencement ceremonies outdoors at the Michael A. Carroll Track and Soccer Stadium—and without guests to cheer on the graduates.

But a collaboration between IU Radio & Television Services (RTVS) and I-Light, Indiana’s research and education fiber network, allowed an audience of more than 15,000 friends and family across the state and in 25 countries worldwide to watch via live stream on broadcast.iu.edu.

The effort involved IU-RTVS covering two live Commencement ceremonies in Indianapolis with eight, high-definition (HD) cameras — each requiring 1.8 Gbps on 10G circuits, two return video feeds — feeding five LED screens for viewing at the stadium, plus multiple audio and intercom channels — all routed to/from Bloomington based control room facilities for live real-time switching and web streaming. All engineering and production coordination, design, and implementation happened with just a few weeks of planning — with the programs yielding flawless delivery.

“I am exceedingly proud of our work on the broadcast and happy that we could help IU Radio & Television give a great show for the IUPUI grads,” said Tom Johnson, manager of operations for the I-Light network.

Advances and challenges

The IUPUI Commencement has in recent years been held at Lucas Oil Stadium with video coverage provided by the Lucas Oil in-house video production team. This year due to COVID, the event was moved outside to Carroll Stadium on IUPUI’s Indianapolis campus, and it was split into two ceremonies: a graduate and professional degrees ceremony at 10am and an undergraduate ceremony at 3pm, similar to how IU Bloomington holds commencement each year.

Helping to cover and live web stream IU graduation ceremonies is nothing new for IU Radio & Television Services, which provides annual support for the IU Bloomington commencement ceremonies and IU regional campuses. To execute the level of production needed on the IUPUI campus this year, however, IU RTVS was faced with having to bring in an outside production truck or find a way to utilize its existing production and control facilities located in Bloomington.

In 2018, construction was completed on two new production control rooms designed and built by IU Radio & TV Services in partnership with the IU Department of Athletics. The production control facilities are physically located in the Mark Cuban Center for Sports Media and Technology within Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on the Bloomington campus. The IU RTVS facilities were built using an entirely internet protocol (IP)-based backbone/infrastructure and a closed network for all of the audio, video, and intercom transport.

Because of the IP nature of these control rooms, they have been more easily integrated into multiple venues on the IU Bloomington campus to cover University and IU Athletics events, including video board show production for all home football and men’s and women’s basketball games. The control rooms are also used in partnership with IU Athletics and IU’s Media School to produce “Big Ten Network Student U” web streams of many other IU sports events, including soccer, wrestling, volleyball, baseball, softball, swimming, and diving.

IU Radio & TV also has connectivity to additional IUB buildings, including the IU Auditorium to cover ceremonies, events, and performances from that prominent IUB venue, including the annual IUB Honors Convocation and the African American Arts Institute’s Potpourri and Soul Revue concerts. However, because of the high bandwidth needs for audio and video and the ultra-low latency as well as reliability, HD Level broadcast signals cannot simply be extended over the public IU network or public internet. So that is why I-Light was enlisted to assist in the production solution around the IUPUI Commencement ceremonies this year.

Partnering on some excellent problems — and delivering more excellence

When Eric Garabrant, assistant director of education & production services for IU Radio & Television Services, learned more about the IUPUI 2021 Commencement ceremonies and what would be required, he decided it would make the most sense to extend the University’s existing production and control room capabilities beyond the Bloomington campus all the way to the IUPUI campus.

“I started by reaching out to my contacts at UITS here in Bloomington who I work with to get connectivity locally. Because of the distance we needed to travel, we simply didn’t have the ability to extend this network ourselves all the way up to the IUPUI campus,” he said. “They quickly connected me with Tom and the team at I-Light, who have been absolutely amazing at jumping onboard to help support this project both intellectually with their knowledge and skills and financially with the purchase of some additional infrastructure needed to make this happen.”

I-Light assisted in the preparation and deployment of the infrastructure plus circuit provision ahead of the 2021 ceremonies and network monitoring during them, remaining on the ready to help resolve any trouble — of which none arose, to the delight of both teams and, no doubt, to IUPUI’s graduates and their families.

According to Johnson, I-Light provided point-to-point circuits to IU Radio & TV for transmission of the cameras at IUPUI to the control room in Bloomington and a return video feed from Bloomington to the displays at IUPUI. 

“The benefit of this method was to — for the first time ever — utilize the IUB Radio & TV control rooms located on one campus to broadcast from another, without having to create an ad-hoc control room at IUPUI.”

Nam Nguyen, I-Light’s most senior network engineer, handled the expert patching and monitoring for the event. “Nam is I-Light’s go-to when these special projects come up,” said Johnson. “Nam has a great work ethic and commitment to getting the job done, regardless of what is asked of him. He’s an irreplaceable member of our team.”

Said Garabrant of Nguyen’s efforts, “Once we got on site and set up for the actual event, Nam was invaluable for his help monitoring the network and ensuring that we had solid, reliable, and error-free connections. All this prep made for two error-free shows. I really couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

“This whole project was a lot of fun for me personally,” added Garabrant. “I love pushing the boundaries of what we do at IU Radio and Television Services in service and support the the University and how we produce and deliver live shows. I think the success of this project opens up a lot of possibilities for how we approach other projects on the IUPUI campus. IU_RTVS would love to see this capability extended to even more of the regional campuses as well.”