Students ready for annual THON webcast

Nina Trach
February 17, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Just four days away from leading a 46-hour webcast for hundreds of thousands of viewers, Jenny Leader is calmer than you might expect.

Leader is one of three executive producers of 46 LIVE, the student-produced livestream of the Penn State Dance Marathon, which annually attracts viewers in more than 100 countries.

“We have big things left to do, but I am not worried about it,” said Leader, a senior who earned her advertising/public relations degree in December and will add a journalism degree in May. With some scheduling and package editing remaining, she and the 46 LIVE team are confident about their year-long preparations to cover THON 2020 in the Bryce Jordan Center Feb. 21- 23.

Online coverage of THON from 46 LIVE will begin at 5 p.m. Feb. 21, one hour before all 707 dancers stand for the weekend, and continue until after the annual dance marathon that raises money to battle pediatric cancer ends at 4 p.m. Feb. 23. The livestream will be available at THON’s website

Leader and her co-executive producers, Lee Mills and Krista Smith, both junior telecommunications majors, will lead a team of more than 65 student crew members and hosts in their coverage of the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

The broadcast serves an important role in bringing the THON experience to families at Penn State Children’s Hospital who are unable to attend, students around campus or studying abroad, alumni who remain invested in the cause and donors who tune in all around the world. In addition, 46 LIVE is also an incredible learning opportunity for students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

Leading up to the broadcast, more than 30 student crew members go through training to master the equipment necessary to bring the weekend to life online. They also work to find ways to produce well-rounded coverage of the event from both a storytelling and technology standpoint.

“The stream will give you that BJC energy and show you what’s happening on stage and you’ll get to see all those dancers and performers. But, there’s a lot more to it than just the stage.”

— Jenny Leader, senior in the Penn State Bellisario College of Communications

“The stream will give you that BJC energy and show you what’s happening on stage and you’ll get to see all those dancers and performers,” Leader said. “But, there’s a lot more to it than just the stage.”

46 LIVE will also give viewers access to pre-recorded segments from Penn State Children’s Hospital as an effort to shed light on the research and facilities that funds raised during the weekend support. Leader is excited to bring that inside look — along with recap videos from on-campus events like the THON 5K and “100 Days til THON,” events that typically only University Park students get to experience — to online viewers.

Dancer interviews are another exclusive component of the broadcast, although recording them has been a time crunch following the publication of the dancer roster the first week of February.

“It was stressful trying to coordinate everyone’s schedules to get that done, but I want to make sure that the dancers, if they want to, have the opportunity to say, ‘hey, this is why I’m dancing, this is who I’m dancing for,’ ” Leader said. “I think that’s really important.”

Bill Hallman, a lecturer in the Bellisario College and the faculty adviser for 46 LIVE, said students are also constantly incorporating new technology to push the broadcast forward. That is critical, especially because nearly 50% of viewers from THON 2019 tuned in using a mobile device.

This year, the webcast team plans to experiment with different web-coding software and wireless cameras, in hopes that it can utilize them more in years to come. That’s part of the learning process for students, although Hallman sees value beyond the technical side.

“I want them to enjoy themselves and remember 46 LIVE as an important part of their experience here at Penn State,” said Hallman, a Penn State alumnus who earned his bachelor’s degree in telecommunications in 2004.

For Leader it has been just that. Working her way from a crew member in her sophomore year to crew producer and eventually co-executive producer, she is grateful to have found a way to contribute to the fight against childhood cancer using the skills she has learned in her communications courses.

“If we didn’t have this stream, the kids wouldn’t be able to watch (THON) if they weren’t able to be there,” Leader said. “We provide such a great resource and I’m excited that I’ve had a hand in part of it."

  • Jenny Leader

    Jenny Leader is one of three co-executive producers for 46 LIVE.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated February 24, 2020