SVG Europe Sit-Down: SmartCart’s Gil Cowie on how his product helps OTT applications and the importance of presenter training
SmartCart SVX is an innovative outdoor mobile interactive touch screen system designed for live production use by TV sports broadcasters worldwide. It uniquely overcomes a number of design hurdles and physical constraint to provide a highly reliable touch experience as well as system reliability that has been tried and tested on major events in the most extreme conditions. Its turnkey solution integrates with all major broadcast graphics platforms. Our Sit Down with SmartCart Technology’s Owner/Founder, Gil Cowie, began by looking at the company’s achievements.
The company has enjoyed considerable success since its launch. Are there any milestones that really stand out?
We are particularly proud to have served CBS Sports PGA Tour coverage for the third season, where their viewing figures are going from strength to strength and their use of the system with the necessary production resources and talent engagement is pushing high production values and fan engagement. It is providing a whole new dimension to their coverage and high value to their sponsor.
Winning the confidence of clients like CBS, ESPN, Wimbledon 2017 and Premier League Productions are also indicators of our growth.
You have said that you are particularly interested is helping those delivering or launching over the top (OTT) streaming or ‘at home’ remote production coverage. How can you assist those fitting into those categories?
The OTT category often wants to deliver a quality package quite different from those a broadcaster provides – especially in terms of cost per event – and yet they lack that on-site presence which is so compelling for the fans using the service.
SmartCart Technology Ltd offers a number of bespoke solutions to provide that ‘on site’ presence with live presentation analysis and interviews at the game at a considerably lower cost than full blown traditional broadcast coverage. It provides access to events that previously were not covered for budgetary reasons, but by the use of SmartCart Technology systems and delivery by the streaming service, the fans can enjoy a differentiated and professional presentation.
Would you like to tell us about the different options you provide, such as leasing or outright purchase?
We provide both. They can be per event or for a whole series. We provide a full turnkey service including training, technical integration, end-to-end transportation and guarantee operator for our Cart-based and larger systems. We also sell or lease the smaller systems with service agreement and training.
What kind of presenter training is available to users?
Just as we did for BSkyB – who continue to be class leaders in broadcast touch screen deployment across several sports – we not only provide presenter orientation for touch screen use, but we also work with production, graphics and directors to support the generation of informative and compelling content. This allows the presenter pundit to use that content as a framework for their presentations, analysis and interviews on site during the event.
It is very important that the client appreciates that, although they will be investing in our systems which consistently deliver the best on screen image quality and touch responsiveness in any given conditions, that without a solid commitment of production resource behind the pundit/presenter they will not get best on-air impact for the viewing fans. It adds a whole new dimension to live sports broadcasting for the fans and really pays dividends when driven by a small dedicated team.
You describe the SmartCart SVX as ‘all weather’. What happens when it rains?
It has been used during the Autumn Internationals for Sky where everyone was challenged with a torrential downpour and the operator wiped the screen at every opportunity. It wasn’t ideal, but we kept it on air.
Our systems have faced some of the most extreme weather over the years in several continents from desert-like heat and sun through to tropical storms. The result means they are field-proven, with the same units operating for more than three seasons with no intervention. They have been manufactured to near-military standards to ensure extreme reliability and longevity in harsh conditions, and have provided full service in any of the weather situations in which presenters choose to work. Of course, we have easyfit weather covers for overnight and tropical storms.
Are there any future plans you can share with us?
We are constantly evolving and developing in response to market and client demand.
Do you have a European sports related case study you can share?
This journey all started for me with the Ryder Cup Celtic Manor 2010, where we launched the first OB Golf Studio with 103” Touch Screen for Sky Sports and a 65” Touch screen for Sky Sports News, both on a 40 ft high scaffold-supported studio platform with a magnificent view of the 18th green and the clubhouse.
Touchscreens were in their infancy and notoriously fickle. It required in-depth knowledge and hard-won experience to create a combination that worked reliably in a lit studio environment, as well as ensuring we created compelling content which presenters could utilise in the event of a stoppage or rain-offs. In fact, there was a deluge that year and the live touchscreen feature spots saved the day with historical footage of earlier events highlights and player features.
What followed that success, which was featured in The Sunday Times and other publications, was the redesign of Sky’s flagship Monday Night Football studio to incorporate the touchscreen technology systems that are still in use today. The rest is history with rugby, cricket, F1 and football all using the newly-developed daylight touchscreens in various forms.
Another personal highlight was standing by the banks of the River Seine in Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background watching Roberto Martinez explaining Italy’s potential weaknesses.
The European Championships coverage was an example of the broadcaster having restricted space and where the SmartCart SVX provided the mobility and versatility required by the production team.
ESPN put full resource behind their Viz originated graphics and [fielded] some exceptional pundits like Roberto Martinez, who really drove the system and utilised all the features. Graphics and data were updated overnight from their Bristol USA HQ and remotely loaded into the local graphics engine. In addition, clips were added locally from EVS as required by production. It all worked really smoothly for the five-week deployment and provided a compelling live addition to their riverside studio panel discussions.
This was an example of semi-remote working or hybrid which could, of course, be extended to events where the SmartCart SVX or SmartPad Pro would be the live on-site element with the presenter pundit, while the rest of the production is being done and controlled from a geographically remote studio base for an ‘at home’ production.
I am looking forward to the World Cup in Russia and would like to take this opportunity for a quick ‘shout out’ to all football productions around Europe! SmartCart Technology can do so much to enhance your live broadcasts.