Wildcats' picture quality flummoxing viewers, station

While the outcome was painfully clear on Saturday — a 31-point rout of John Pelphrey's Arkansas team — the picture wasn't necessarily so.

Fans throughout the season have complained about the picture quality on University of Kentucky basketball games aired as part of the Southeastern Conference network run by ESPN Regional, which acquired the rights and is in its first season of syndicating SEC games.

The problems grew larger, though, on Saturday as the network feed cut out during the Auburn-Vanderbilt game preceding UK's face-off against Arkansas.

The blackout was linked to an issue in the fiber cable that's used to transmit the video from ESPN Regional's studios in Charlotte, where it is sent from the film crews at the game, to a facility in New York that then beams it via satellite to the stations that show the game.

"Somewhere on the path from Charlotte to New York, there was a disruption in the data stream that caused the data to be garbled," said Dan Shoemaker, vice president for collegiate development at ESPN.

The feed was down for close to 15 minutes, during which Lexington CBS affiliate WKYT (Channel 27) switched to a different game being broadcast by CBS nationally.

Shoemaker said ESPN Regional is building in a failsafe that will offer a backup to the facility in New York should there be another data problem.

"If we have a problem in one of the paths, they'll be able almost instantaneously to switch to a secondary path," he said.

With that problem taken care of, attention turns to the ongoing picture quality issue.

"We certainly recognize there have been some complaints, and we're looking into that," he said.

But he downplayed the problems, saying ESPN Regional has noticed only problems with one camera in an early Kentucky game and with a color tinting that made the action appear to be a bit more blue than normal.

But Mike Kanarek, vice president of operations at WKYT, said the problems are persistent and relate to picture quality on the high-definition feed.

"It's a problem with pixelization," he said. "If the camera is just sitting stationary on somebody or a graphic, you don't see it.

"But if the camera moves very fast, you almost get a grainy sort of look."

Kanarek said the station has been in contact with ESPN Regional for several weeks.

"The problem I get from ESPN is that they as of yet have not really acknowledged that there's a problem," he said.

Kanarek said he has spoken with stations in Knoxville and Huntington, W.Va., that also air the games and they've had the same problems.

The station recorded the feed that was sent Saturday to send it to ESPN Regional to further illustrate the issues.

Kanarek said he's also now begun reaching out to ESPN headquarters instead of awaiting further responses from subsidiary ESPN Regional.

"We're doing everything we can," he said. "It's just that our hands are kind of tied."