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The "Best of Big Red" -or- When Will I Be Able to Download Husker Football Games On the Internet?

Earlier this year Corn Nation became an affiliate of "Best of Big Red", an organization run by Mike Osborne that provides the broadest array of Husker products on the internet. They have everything from the latest line of Husker clothing to tailgating equipment, along with autographed paraphernalia - you name it. 

Of particular interest to me is the availability of past Husker games. Instead of spending the offseason wondering if ESPN Classic will ever show an old Nebraska game where the Huskers win, why not have a whole library available and pick the game I want to watch? I used to have a lot of them on VHS, but I'm not embellishing when I say my VHS of the '97 Nebraska - Missouri game is worn out from too many July viewings. 

I decided to start somewhere - so I purchased last season’s DVD set. It was an excellent resource for doing the unit and opponent previews for this year’s "Cornhusker Kickoff" yearbook. I’d recommend the DVDs to any Husker fan wanting to keep a collection of all the games. Each game has a short pre-game segment and includes the post-game press conferences, so they’re excellent for getting an offseason fix. 

There are a couple areas of product offerings I’d like to see improved, so I asked Mike Osborne about them. I'd like to see all of the old games offered on DVD, and I'm interested to know when Husker fans will be able to download and view Husker games, via iTunes or any other delivery method. Continue on for some answers from Mike about the process of putting the DVD’s together and what you can expect to see from future offerings. 

Oh, in the interest of full disclosure - if you click on a link for Best of Big Red, it has an affiliate code in it for Corn Nation, so we will get paid a percentage if you buy from them. If you feel the need to support us, that's great. I'd appreciate it. Thanks. 

How popular are the season DVDs, i.e., how many sets do you sell a year?

There are quite a few fans who are collectors of the season sets and some others that live in remote places where they have little access to televised Husker games. We sell to a fair number of fans overseas, including military folks. Last year we had about 300 full season subscribers. That is down significantly from the mid 1990's when we had as many as 650 full season subscribers for the VHS full seasons. Subscriber levels came down as the proliferation of sports cable channels offered more and more games and as the Huskers had some tough seasons (by Nebraska standards).

Besides season DVDs, what are the most popular?

Our most popular DVD's include the Game of The Century with Lyell Bremser's radio call for audio, the 1996 Fiesta Bowl (both TV broadcast and HuskerVision footage), the Greatest Plays of the 20th Century (over 1,000 of the Huskers biggest plays 1940-2000), The Husker Century DVDs (produced and aired by NETV, Part I, Part II and Part III), and the Husker Vision highlight DVD's of the 19941995 and 1997 seasons. We also have season box sets for the 19941995 and 1997 seasons that contain DVDs of every game in their entirety with the radio play-by-play for audio - they are very popular as well.

Who does the production for the season DVD's?

I personally do the editing of the raw footage and authoring to DVD right after the game. Our office staff then duplicate, package and send the DVD's on Mondays following a Saturday game. Husker Vision provides us with the footage. The footage for home games comes from their multi-camera in-stadium production, it is the same video that you see on the big screens. The footage for the away games comes from the heroic efforts of Husker Vision's Kirk Hartman, who keeps a very steady hand on a singular hi-resolution digital camera for the entire 4 hour pre-game to post game period. The radio broadcast is hard-wired into the video capture at both home and away games so it is in sync and crisp.

We plan to begin providing a downloadable option for purchasing the games either this season or the next. DVD's will still be available and will probably remain the preferred format for collectors who want something tangible and nicely package to place on a shelf. There are extra production steps involved in making the video ready for download, so it is doubtful the games would be offered to download until Tuesday following a Saturday game.

Can you explain some of the legal rights surrounding how the Husker games are produced, i.e. why are the Nebraska announcers used as opposed to national personalities that accompany the broadcasts?

The footage is all from Husker Vision and owned by the University. The contract the University has with the Husker radio network operator has a clause that states the University is allowed to provide the radio feed to one outside source for the purposes of video production and sales. We consider ourselves privileged to be that "outside source" and we considerate it a serious responsibility to create the best possible archive of Husker games, not only for current fans, but for future fans and Husker history buffs.

Best of Big Red's involvement with offering Husker games on video originated from a personal desire to see more Husker games when I lived out of state. I was living in Atlanta, Georgia while attending graduate school in the late 1980s and could only see maybe 2 or 3 Husker games on television. Atlanta was fed a steady diet of SEC football games by the networks.

Dave Finn was the video coordinator for the Football staff at that time (he shot and edited the coaches films of the games on Super VHS). He was good enough to send me VHS copies of the coaches films so I could see every game - it helped that I was Tom's son. I moved back to Lincoln in 1991 with my wife and started a business by creating a guide to all of Nebraska's golf courses.

In the summer of 1991 my dad handed me a brochure where a company from Dallas had made a proposal to the Athletic Dept. to create a weekly highlight of the games that could be offered as a subscription service to interested fans. The Football Dept. already had a sophisticated (for that era) production facility so the thought was that I could work with Dave Finn to produce and market the coaches films as a subscription service.  

Dave Finn and I worked together to get the service started and advertise it to ticket holders, boosters, and alumni - and it took off  nicely. Many fans were in the same situation I had been in while in Atlanta, and they wanted to see more of the Huskers! Once it was established that there was a demand, I had to go through a bidding process to secure that rights to provide the service and had to do so again about 5 years ago. Since 1992 Best of Big Red has sold over 250,000 copies of games and highlights and has given UNL $1,800,000 in revenue and license fees.

A couple of years ago, I speculated that schools like Nebraska would be putting their old seasons on iTunes just like publishers are releasing old TV shows (Monty Python's ‘74 season is $11.94 on iTunes). This has yet to happen. There is very little college football content on iTunes, something I still find surprising. It'd be nice to pull up a game from 1983 for $1.99 while you're waiting in an airport or... suffering through a long offseason. To the best of your knowledge, has the athletic department considered doing anything like this? Are there any obstacles to keep them from doing so?

The company that I am working with to create the best possible downloadable video of games, also formats video for iTunes and many other popular platforms. We will be pushing forward to make the games available on most platforms. The first step will be providing quality downloads for your PC or Mac and then we'll move on to the others. Hopefully you will be able to do just what you described within 18 months.

They (the athletic department) are awfully busy on many fronts. It is a service that needs to be provided and we are best suited to move forward and get it done. We intend to do so.  

Best of Big red has over 700 video and highlight titles dating back to the 1940 Rose Bowl - most of which are still on VHS. We are steadily working to digitize and convert the older titles so they can be made into DVD's and provided as downloads. As of today, we have all games and highlights from 1992 to today available on DVD. We have just a few games (such as the Game of the Century) older than that converted to digital format. Our goal is to have every game from 1962 (the beginning of the Devaney era) forward converted to digital format, and complete with some sort of quality audio tract (right now some of the older games have no audio) within 4 years.  

Taking a look at your web site, you have seasons available on DVD back to 1992. Are there any plans to convert older seasons that may have been available on video tape to DVD?

It is a bit of a slow process because we run a for-profit business and do not have unlimited funds to throw at the project. Many of the games are a labor of love to convert because they will sell so few copies. There are several bad losses that virtually no one will want - but they will take considerable time and money to convert and must be done in order to complete the archive. I believe it is very important to complete this process so we will keep pecking away. We have plans to make available another 3 or 4 seasons on DVD this year - we are working back from 1992.

Thanks for the time, Mike, and making the games available!