League Technology Summit: telling the story

The SVG’s League Technology Summit kicked off by concentrating on the story and looking, from both a director’s and a producer’s perspective, at the pressures and demands of producing sport in a multi-platform environment undergoing constant technological innovation.

First off, in his opening remarks, Steve Hellmuth, SVG Chairman, said that the industry is currently in what he says is The Age of Clarity. HD looks spectacular, the sets are through the home, but that has also lead to issues. “It’s also added up to problems with sports leagues and umpires and referees that have gotten worse as the video has gotten better,” he said. Indeed, the NBA is using video to help train referees and umpires better, but, as he said, replay is an important part of the process of getting it right. FIFA take note…

Elsewhere he highlighted new developments in second screen, the promise of 4k (and, for the moment anyway, it looks like enthusiasm for this in the US is definitely outstripping Europe) and also the importance of broadcast execs walking down the corridor and speaking to (“Hug…” was his exact word) the IT guy.

“As they say in England, the kit works nowadays,” he said. “It’s really about the workflow.”

That said, much of the initial two sessions focussed on the art of storytelling: how to tell the story of the game without letting some of the elements of a production – from sales to the technology itself, to the growing trend of @home (ie semi-remote) productions – ruin the narrative. Or even a combination of the factors, with sales an important on-screen component sometimes of introducing new technology for many US broadcasters, especially the stuff that blows the budget.

“We all have to look at how we’re going to fund the latest whizz-bang and how we’re going to come out and pay for it, which means that we turn to sales,” said Speed’s Bruce Shapiro. “And the sales people work really well at helping get the new SkyCam, the new ballcam etc on screen, but who’s going to pay for the new router?”

After the producers had their time on the platform, the directors took over and started by talking about the problems of time management, especially the diminishing number of one on one camera meetings that they get to have with crews on set days. That said, they still come up with the goods. “Our technical guys on sports I’d put them up against the news and entertainment guys every time, though that’s not to take away from them,” said Suzanne Smith, CBS Sports, Director. “Talk to a sports guy that you want a shot of a certain person in the crowd, and they’ll get it every time. Entertainment want to know what seat number, what row…”

“Camera people know when the storyline is changing, they don’t need to work to a script,” added John Moore from the YES Network.

Some snapshots and random quotes:

Biggest mistake in production: anything that misses the game action. “People are crowd shot crazy now and someone needs to reel that in.”

The second screen: “I don’t think that we as a society can evolve to do 40 things at a time. I haven’t seen an application that I believe enhances the experience without distracting from what we want the viewer to watch.”

Replays: “You have to feel the moment, you have to have a sense of what’s going on.”

Graphics: “We can clog the screen up with so many things that are not important and then leave off the essential things.”

Audio: “Sitting in the truck I nowadays have no faith in that what I’m hearing next to me is what people will be hearing at home.”

Training: “I’ve noticed that the crews are getting older and there’re no youngsters backfilling them.”

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