May 19, 2009

Chicago Media Initiatives Group captures campus life for Web and T.V. viewers

While most students may not have heard of the Chicago Media Initiatives Group (CMIG), they may have seen its work: a variety of video content for various campus organizations, including the broadcast of a Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

“We do everything from videotaping events on campus, non-academic lectures, to podcasts, to marketing videos, promotional videos, to custom DVD menus,” said senior producer Josh Bartos.

Over 46,000 people have seen CMIG’s videos on YouTube, CMIG director Renee Basick said. Mind Online, a University Web site for which CMIG produces video, has 70,314 unique visitors for the year so far.

Part of the University’s Communications Department, CMIG has been producing video since 2001, replacing a relationship between the University and a program called Fathom. Fathom promoted distance learning by collecting content from a number of academic institutions, including the U of C, Columbia University and the British Museum, but folded in 2002.

The University started a one-person office to produce videos of campus events. As demand grew, so did the office.

While most of CMIG’s videos are hosted on University Web sites, the content for the U of C’s family-oriented policy research group, Chapin Hall, goes to Research TV, a channel that broadcasts internationally which can reach millions of cable and satellite viewers.

Their most popular video, a 2008 election montage, received nearly 900 unique views during October and November, Basick said. While these numbers may not rival the popularity of viral videos, they can extend the reach of lectures beyond campus.

“It’s an outreach effort and promotes the academic rigor of the university. And departments are starting to budget for it,” Basick said.

While some departments with larger budgets often hire external ad agencies, CMIG now competes with outside companies. According to Bartos, the group responds to around 700 jobs annually, a number that has been climbing each year.

Most jobs, such as filming a lecture, involve only a single camera, microphone, lighting set-up, and one crew member. “Students do lighting, sound, [videography], editing. They do everything but produce,” Bartos said.

Typically, the group will complete a simple job in two weeks, but Basick said CMIG could turn out video for the News Office in a day.

More complex jobs require a larger crew. Using multiple cameras, higher production value projects can require 10 different shoots for a five minute video and may take up to three months to finish.

By far the most complicated production was taping a Nobel Prize ceremony held on campus for physicist Noichiro Nambu in the fall. It required the entire office, as well as additional freelancers to manage satellite links, translation of footage, and camera and sound equipment.