RAI director Nazareno Balani reflects on sports broadcasting highlights and evolution

Nazareno Balani is one of the most renowned of all Italian sports broadcast directors. After 15 years at RAI TG1 news, directing among other projects coverage of three football World Cups, six Olympic Games and 17 Giro d’Italia tournaments – he now works in the Special Projects Dept team for RAI, organising coverage of incredible sports events like the World Swimming Championships.

SVG Europe met him to discuss changing shooting techniques in sports, the process of directing, and the changing ‘language’ of sports production.

“[At one time in the past] RAI live broadcasts of Serie A match were shot with three cameras and minor matches with two. Athletics was shot with the use of only one control room and not with separate control rooms as happens today.

“We could assume it was a very personalised direction since there were no guidelines as there are today, and each country could handle it in their own way.

“The main change today involves the use of several contemporary points of view with an increasing number of TV cameras on-field. This has changed the way to conceive the direction in sports, which earlier on was filmed in a rather neutral way.

“Nevertheless if we analyse the images shot by the 14 cameras, we realise that 85% of cuts are down to 6 cameras while the others are redundant. And [often directors end up with] clichés as in soccer, shot almost completely beyond half-field, or other sports where some shots were [overused], as in the case of SpiderCam images.

“In the past many thought high resolution could diminish the number of cameras involved for its inner ability to shoot a great deal of detail; but as it turned out, exactly the opposite happened.”

Changing techniques

“In the typical layout of a Serie A match, of the 18 cameras requested, camera 1 and camera 2 – covering respectively close and large shots – plus a central camera within the benches cover around 60% of the total capture. The rest are secondary cuts and spare images for recording.

“The audience is used to these multiplied points of view, even if one of the few occasions in which this is not happening will be the Brazil Olympics, where the overall number of cameras is decreasing instead of increasing.

“Today the use of fibre optics makes it possible to transport TV signals to everywhere in the world, so there is no longer a need to have a complete control room on the spot.

“Sometimes we have counted the replays in a single match – up to 85 ­– so multiplying by three each foul, and considering [there might be] up to 30/35 fouls per game, you get an incredibile number of replays, spoiling the live broadcast.

“Another recent major change involves graphics which are receiving more and more attention with 3D titles and animation. Today it is very important to master each technique for each sport – something which in the past was less important [than the] way the ‘story’ was told.

“Another recent change of attitude involves the fact that several countries have developed very good operative capabilities, which in the past were confined to many fewer countries.

“The growing number of technological options available on the market, of greater and greater quality, does not cancel out the creativity of the director who can express himself far beyond the compulsory tech layout.

“Sports broadcast remains the leading area in which new devices and techniques – for example, RF cameras, dollies, drones and alike – are tested before being introduced to other genres.”

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