Upping the game: How sports technology makes a difference for broadcasters

By in M&E
On January 12, 2016

Fan engagement tech PR

In the third and final part of our ‘Upping your game’ blog series, lorry Tristan Earl looks at how sports technology is enhancing the experience of TV viewers at home.

Part three – Watching technology enhanced sports broadcasts

Sport needs broadcasting as much as broadcasting needs sport. Television money has transformed sports like football (soccer for our American readers), taking it from the back pages to headline news. The Premier League recently sold television rights to its games for a record £5.1 billion for example. In return for this investment, media empires have been built. Look at Sky’s growth in subscribers on the back of bankrolling the Premier League since its inception in 1992. So TV companies need sports to deliver on the pitch to entice viewers. But they also need to deliver a quality product themselves to keep people watching, and engaged.

A high profile game-winning play in a recent college football (American Football to our non-American readers) clash showed the difference between capturing live match action, and actually presenting it. Just having a camera in position is not enough; you need an entire outside broadcast infrastructure. Multiple camera angles, live slow-motion replays, insightful graphics and intelligent commentary are all required, alongside a skilled team to make split second calls to best tell the fast moving story on screen as it unfolds before our eyes.

In a recent article on Slate, it was argued that NBC’s Sunday Night Football can legitimately be included alongside The Sopranos and Breaking Bad in the debate about the best show on TV. The article, written by New York Times critic Jody Rosen, said of SNF: “It’s the most artful and exciting show, period – a feat of craftsmanship, imagination, and technical wizardry that makes nearly everything else on television look dim and flat-footed by comparison.”

So how are broadcasters delivering sports coverage to this level of critical acclaim and to a point where stadia are now having to play catch-up with their video offering to ensure fans continue to attend games? A trip to a trade show like IBC or NAB will highlight the vast array of creative and technical solutions now available to productions, all designed to enhance the viewer experience. It wasn’t that long ago that we heralded the introduction of HD; now it’s all about 4K and beyond.

Recent developments like the emergence of IP as an efficient and proven way of transporting media such as broadcast quality video means production teams can be more ambitious and creative in how they cover an event. Among IPs many benefits, it enables more feeds (including 4K ones) to be carried from a venue, giving the director more camera angles to choose from. It also means more types of cameras can be used to give entirely fresh perspectives.

At the recent SVG Europe FutureSport conference in London, those involved in the broadcasting of Rugby World Cup 2015 said that some of the most interesting footage they saw from games never actually made it to the screen – mainly from aerial and remote camera systems. The panel pondered whether there was an opportunity to monetise this unseen content by making it available to audiences (or perhaps even teams for coaching purposes) outside of the broadcast.  

IP also enables remote production, the next big frontier in sports outside broadcasting. Through this, productions can be controlled centrally from a home studio, meaning a much smaller crew and less equipment is required on site. The idea is that cameras can be quickly plugged into a network at the venue, and then the feed is carried via IP to the production hub which could even be on a different continent at an event like the Olympics. From there the regular crew can control almost everything, on familiar kit, rather than needing to be on location inside an OB truck, learning new systems on the fly.

Aside from the time and cost savings, remote production opens the door to smaller, minority sports, which tend to miss out on TV exposure because often there is no available budget to cover them. Today broadcasters want original content to fill airtime and keep audiences engaged. A live event can be one of the most economical ways of doing this. So if a smaller, more nimble OB infrastructure can be used, then financially covering these sports becomes a lot more attractive for them.

There’s a lot of money and investment at stake when it comes to sports broadcasting. But when it comes to competing for subscribers, there’s nothing quite like it to reel in viewers. In return for that monthly direct debit, viewers expect the very best presentation. They want access to more real-time data and want to see it displayed attractively, in a way that’s easy to interpret but won’t distract from what they’re watching. They want to see flashpoints replayed instantly from multiple angles, but they don’t want to miss a moment of the action. They want to get that stadium experience, but from the comfort of their own home.

New sports technologies are helping meet these challenges head on, and deliver a highly polished product for more sports than ever before. However, as with the raw footage from that college football game, there is a fine line to be trod. And this is where an experienced, and creative human touch is required to blend it all together.

In part two, Martin Izzard looks at how sports technology is letting fans engage with their favourite sports.

In part one, Tristan Earl looks at how sports technology is helping to transform athletic competition.

This article first appeared on Digital Sport.

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