SVG Europe previews 2014 (part one)

With a Winter Olympics and a World Cup on the cards, as well as the usual full domestic slates, 2014 is undoubtedly going to be a busy year for the sport production community. There is, too, a whole host of technological innovation waiting in the wings. In the first of a two-part feature, Andy Stout looks back over the recent high-level conference sessions held by SVG Europe and SVG Americas to see what the great and the good reckon will be on the agenda as the year unfolds.

Remote Production

This is a technology fast in danger of becoming a victim of being always the bridesmaid, never the bride, as it has appeared among the game-changing predictions of many for the past handful of years now. However, it is finally starting to make inroads into realworld production models, especially in countries where milage between venues is significant.

In the US, the Big Ten Network, for example, cut the amount of productions it needs to do from a truck from 450 to 200 over the course of 2013.

“Until everyone is ready to not be at the venue that model will only apply to small events,” cautioned Phil Garvin, Mobile TV Group, president and general manager during a debate on the subject at the SVG Summit in New York in December. “But you could have [production] centres around the country with fiber coming in to them that [are used to produce those events] and take away the bottom portion of our business.”

The general consensus is that there are some economic benefits to such a nodal model. Travel, accommodation and other operational expenses could be lowered greatly, and it will be interesting to see how differently the industry as a whole thinks about remote production after spending July schlepping around Brazil producing unilaterals. But the feeling is that any cost savings come at a price, especially in terms of storytelling.

“In my former life in the NFL a key part of how the story was told was the producer and director sitting with the QB and coach or offensive linemen,” said Pat Sullivan, Game Creek Video, President. “How can the production people tell the story if they are in Los Angeles and the game is in Foxborough?”

Map that comment onto European sport and European venues, and it’s still a very valid question.

“Is this going to replace traditional OBs and production?” asked Malcolm Robinson, Broadcast Networks, director media & broadcast solutions in London. “Is remote production good for this type of environment?”

In Switzerland, for example, Robinson pointed to the fact that SRG placed fibre up and down a mountain so that production staff did not have to have trucks moved to the top of the mountain to cover an Alpine event, but it was felt that the quality of the product suffered.

“It cannot solve all of the problems,” he added. “You can cover a big football match remotely but then you don’t feel the buildup and atmosphere.”

But the technological barriers for remote production that are out of this particular industry’s hands seem to be  falling as well. Andy Rayner, Nevion, VP of wngineering, says his company is seeing an uptick in remote production as the key enabler, bandwidth with the kind of latency needed to support live production, clicks into place.

“Five years ago many in our industry would buy an SDM1 connection at 155 Mbps and now they are paying less for a 10 Gbps circuit,” he pointed out.

Second Screen & Big Data

Big Data has been something of a buzzword at broadcast industry conferences in 2013, and that looks set to continue in 2014 as broadcasters the world over suddenly start mining the huge volume of information that they can garner via the return path. As is often said, however, data without insight is worthless, and that is especially true when it comes to applying it to onscreen graphics and second screen platform apps to enhance sports coverage.

There will be a lot of this taking place in 2014. HBS is producing a dedicated plain vanilla second screen app for the FIFA World Cup that many broadcasters will be jumping on, and with the likes of the BBC promising that all major events, sporting and otherwise, will have significant companion screen content, the challenge therefore is to make it engaging, informative and relevant.

“When we’re looking at data, you’ve got two questions that you ask,” says Brian Perkins, director, IT production systems, MLB Network. “One is, is it important? Does it tell you about what just happened, what is happening, or what’s about to happen? And then for a broadcaster, you add in, does it make good TV?”

Rights, of course, remain an issue, though increasingly there are ways to circumvent them. Petro Mnych, production manager for Arsenal Broadband, remarked at an SVG Europe event that the one thing his team couldn’t do is “show the live game because we don’t have the rights to do that, so the second screen environment – although it has not evolved into anything fixed – is where we will live for now. We are concentrated on looking at other content, finding platforms that support what the broadcasters are doing.”

By way of example, Mnych can point to Arsenal World, which is available on iTunes, and features a range of in-depth player interviews and other content.

For 2014 the consenses says to look for more sports to develop second screen content – especially as broadcasters a) have started down the path of releasing channel-wide apps that service their entire content portfolio, sport or otherwise, and b) have become used to commissioning for the transmedia environment. Just don’t necessarily expect broadcasters – and rights holders – to have it all their own way. There are a lot of third party players starting to muscle into the territory via various grey areas in the rights landscape, and development, therefore, could well be rapid and perhaps even surprising.

At Futuresport held at The Kia Oval in London at the start of December, Andy Quested, EBU, programme manager, pointed to a general expectation of more second screen content, and even couched it in context with that other technological behemoth, 4K. “It could be that second screen is more important than resolution per se,” he said.

For the second part of our 2014 preview, focusing on 4K and stereoscopic 3D, check tomorrow.

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