SportTech UK: From technical toys to ‘preditors’
The economic and technical state of the UK sport production industry and the OB providers at the centre of many of the nation’s productions were examined in detail during SVG Europe’s SportTechUK Summit, held at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. The good news? The appetite for sport content is not waning.
“This is the busiest year we have ever had,” said Phil Aspden, SIS LIVE, commercial director. “There is a strong appetite for live sports coverage and our services will remain in demand.”
David Wood, executive chairman, Input Media, said that the UK market continues to be a challenging one because all UK sport broadcasters and production partners aspire to create productions that others around the world aspire to achieve.
“But there is nothing worse than a director playing with technical toys that get away from covering the sport,” said Wood. “That is what we get right in this country: high editorial values and good pictures that let the viewer know where they are. There aren’t things like a spinning camera shot from above the stadium.”
Figuring out the difference between a “technical toy” and a necessary enhancement to improve the quality of the production is a constant tug of war between content creator and technical services provider. Aspden said the quickening pace of technical change and the need to revamp OB units more frequently than in the past puts increased pressure on OB service providers. Prior to HD an OB provider could get up to 15 years out of a vehicle. But today the ROI often has to be achieved after only five years.
“Margins are tight and we’re replacing equipment far too quickly,” he added. “But we do what we can to support [clients] and keep the production values up.”
Barry Johnstone, managing director of CTV, said the problem is not the pressure to lower the price but to do more for the price.
“But those with major contracts work closely with us to find easier ways to do things without compromising quality,” he added.
Jeroen Oerlemans, ESPN EMEA, VP and channel manager, said that ESPN makes its OB deals directly with the facility provider, a step that he said helps ESPN maintain the quality of its productions at the right price.
“It’s not only about money, it’s about getting the top quality production,” he said.
Woods added that there is another factor that is impacting the market: networks and content creators are savvy about the procurement process than they were in the past.
“There are people whose job is to get the best deal and they will play companies off of one another,” he explained.
Negotiating more cost-effective contracts is not the only way networks can save money. Graham Fry, IMG Media, managing director, Sports Production Worldwide, added that one way content creators are helping do more with less is by hiring “preditors,” staffers who work as producer, editor, and even cameraperson on an event.
“The preditor is coming to the fore, but from an OB point of view if you push the boundaries [of pricing] too hard there will be issues,” he warned of the potential for an event production to suffer a major on-air failure.
Added Woods: “The competition is great but we don’t want to squeeze any further and sacrifice quality. It won’t be good for our business, the UK, or anyone. Let’s draw the line now and help suppliers make their businesses thrive.”