SVGE’s Football Production Summit: Graphics makers respond to need for speed

Three experts in the graphics market took to the stage at the 2014 Football Production Summit to discuss the latest trends in a market segment that continues to evolve in order to best meet the needs of sports channels, football federations, and online and second-screen content delivery services. And, at least for now, it is also growing.

“The amount of graphics that are on screen today compared to five or seven years ago and the real estate they take up today has grown rapidly,” said Ofir Benovici, Orad Hi-Tec Systems, VP, Marketing. “And the paradox for us is that there are more graphics that need to be on the screen but there is also far less budget than there was seven years ago. So how do you bridge that gap?”

One way, added Benovici and the other panelists, Julia Vogel, Vizrt, VP Sports, EMEA, and Ian Wray, ChyronHego, Group Sales, is through streamlined graphics creation and delivery workflows so that statistical information can be visualised in an economical manner. That can mean everything from more templated graphics, to more reliance on data that can automatically be gathered from cameras, and to simpler tools that can more easily be used by pundits and non-technical personnel.

“In the newsroom you need to empower journalists so that they can create graphics as well as pundits and ex-footballers,” said Wray. “If you can make a technology easy enough for many people to use they can all enhance the storytelling.”

But increasingly, at the end of the day, there is one goal: figuring out how to manage a massive amount of data points, whether related to player location on the pitch, statistics on things like how far a player has run, and more.

“We have to fight information overload as with so many pundits on air there is all of this information about what is going on but it is hard to verbally convey all of it to viewers,” said Vogel. “Heat maps can help visualise how a player didn’t have space because they were pressed into the corner. So graphics become part of the solution instead of the problem.”

Vogel added that channels are also in the midst of a strong trend to use graphics to enhance the studio operations. “Especially small broadcasters or those who receive an international feed,” she explained. “They have much invested into virtual studios and augmented reality and many are asking about in virtual presenting.”

One of the biggest pressures on graphics manufacturers is to continue to improve the speed with which player-tracking data can be turned into a useful on-air element that can help analyse an on-field event. Virtual graphics in live applications, for example, can allow for players who going on or coming off the pitch to be highlighted or specific players in front of the goal on a corner kick to be highlighted.

“There is not a lot of stoppage time so to be able to do it near live adds a lot of value to the story-telling capabilities,” added Wray. “And we have been able to achieve live player tracking graphics with Sky and other partners and that has helped a lot.”

Vizrt, for its part, will introduce a new image-based telestration tool for the Vizrt Arena platform that will be released at NAB. Vizrt also has big plans for the World Cup.

“Four years ago at the World Cup there was talk about big data but this year it is about how to analyse, aggregate, and visualise big data,” said Vogel. At the World Cup this year Liberovision’s platform will be coupled with Deltatre to visualize data points within video highlight clips that are then made available to rights holders.

Another major consideration for both graphics equipment manufacturer and user is the continued growth in the need to stream sports content to mobile devices via broadband, Wifi, or cellular data. “The second screen is an experiment for everyone and you learn as you go what is working for the audience,” added Benovici. “And it was just four years ago at the World Cup that it was a turning point for second-screen [with clips to smartphones] so we are still in the early stages of understanding the business models and what is working. There is still a lot to be learned.”

Vogel said that one issue is that the there are still separate editorial teams for both the broadcast and second-screen productions and there is not much talking between the groups. “That is hindering the second-screen experience from catching on in as many countries,” she added.

One possible solution would be to rely more on the processing power of the devices themselves to handle proper rendering for the device’s screen size. But the sheer number of devices and operating systems in the market today makes that a large mountain to climb.

Vogel added that another trend Vizrt is seeing is that more and more European customers want graphic looks that are “more American.” That means, potentially, more graphic-intensive show opens, more use of sound effects tied to graphic wipes and moves, and more graphics-based analysis. Regardless of how far that influence may go there is one simple mantra for all.

“We want to bring fans closer to the game and our job is to do that in an efficiency and clean manner so that fans can understand what they are seeing,” added Benovici.

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