Sept. 16, 2013Vol. 44, Issue 1

Moving Cattle in Meriam

Academic Technologies staff monitors an online cattle auction from the basement in Meriam Library. Photo by Chris Ficken

Academic Technologies staff monitors an online cattle auction from the basement in Meriam Library. Photo by Chris Ficken

Online Auction a 15-Year Tradition in Academic Technologies

While students and faculty went about their everyday business Sept. 9 on the Chico State campus, the drone of an auctioneer filled a small room at the top of a steep, narrow flight of stairs in the basement of Meriam Library. “Sold!” a chorus of voices would ring out every few minutes, as people trickled in and out of the space.

Welcome to the Academic Technologies control room, where each month a team of Chico State staff and students produce a live cattle auction that is broadcast on TV and streamed online so that any qualified buyer can bid on cattle from across the Western United States.

This week, the auction was based in Ogallala, Nebraska, where a room of people were sitting, bidding live. At the same time, the producers at Chico State, including Academic Technologies staff and Communication Design and College of Agriculture faculty and students, had their eyes glued to the screens in front of them that displayed photos, video and technical information about the lots of cattle being sold, changing the displays as each lot was sold by the semi-truck-load one after another.

“It’s a pretty intense activity—the lots go one, after another, after another. You have to maintain good concentration to keep right on top of things because they’re calling in changes just like that,” said ATEC associate director Mike Magrey with a snap of his fingers. “It’s like, ‘No, they’re not 950 pounds, they’re 900 pounds,’ and you’re making those changes.”

Students in communications and agriculture get hands-on experience. Photo by Chris Ficken

Students in communications and agriculture get hands-on experience. Photo by Chris Ficken

Chico State began broadcasting the auctions about 15 years ago for the Cottonwood-based company Western Video Market, which, as its website explains, was formed in 1989 when two California livestock market men, Ellington Peek and John Rodgers, were looking for a way to help Western ranchers present their cattle to a national marketplace. Adam Morgan, a Communication Design faculty member, had connections with the company, and facilitated the contract that was set up between Western Video Market and The University Foundation. Chico State at the time was heavily involved in distance learning, which meant ATEC had the skillset and infrastructure to support such a service. Since then, the technology used has continued to evolve.

“Most recently, we worked on a solution that allows people with mobile devices to watch the auction,” Magrey said. “Because of the nature of the technology, they can’t actually bid using that because there’s too much of a delay on the mobile device. But that’s an example how we went from over a year having nothing available on a mobile device to a couple months ago, now you can watch it on your iPhone.”

Because of the “mind-boggling” amount of technology this service requires and the live nature of the event, challenges can arise mid-auction that need to be resolved as quickly as possible.

“With that much technology, at any point in time something can go awry,” Magrey said, “and then it’s a scramble to figure out how to circumvent that issue or come up with a workaround that can keep the auction going.”

The auctions can last anywhere from an hour to 10 hours, said ATEC staff member Marcie Tevis, and because of the amount of attention required, they swap out workers throughout the day. Participating in the auctions allows Chico State communication and agriculture students to get hands-on experience in broadcast and auction pricing.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the communications students who are working on it because they really have a hands-on experience of working with live broadcast TV and seeing how it’s done, and they get a chance to sit at all the different stations that we have,” Tevis said.

The agriculture students get hands-on experience with aspects of the auction that require a little more knowledge of the industry, such as pricing.

“We learned a long time ago that if you grow up hearing an auctioneer, because the cadence is so different, it was a whole lot easier for them to hear what they were saying and key in than people who have never experienced that,” she said.

The arrangement between Chico State and Western Video Market is a fairly unique one, as there are only two online live auctions that ATEC is aware of.

“It’s fun because it is so different,” Magrey said, “and yet if you think about the individual components, streaming on the Internet’s not a big deal anymore these days, certainly uplinking via satellite’s been going on a long time. So there’s nothing that we’re doing that’s not being done somewhere else, but I think just the idea of—it’s cows.”

—Kacey Gardner, editorial assistant, Public Affairs and Publications

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