LTS 2010: Producing in the Age of Digital Remains All About the Game

In the digital age, producers have far more tools at their disposal – and requirements to fulfill –than ever before. In addition to putting a great show on air, producers are often tasked with putting a great show online, on mobile, and everywhere else fans demand content. At SVG’s League Technology Summit on December 14, five producers from across the network landscape discussed some of the challenges they face daily, on account of the opportunities technology provides.

“We’re all in a multiplatform business right now,” explained Curt Gowdy Jr., SVP Production and Executive Producer for SNY. “We’ve invested a heavy amount of content into our digital side. We stress being able to complement the storyline, so we use the Orad MVP system and the I-MOVIX super slow motion camera, working through Fletcher Camera Systems to Americanize it. In the end it’s all about storytelling and entertaining the viewers.”

This past summer, ESPN made the World Cup a priority throughout the company, from print and radio to digital and mobile. The requirement to produce for every platform gave a whole new job description to Jed Drake, SVP and executive producer at ESPN.

“One of the things that resonated well was that no matter where you were, you would be able to find the World Cup,” Drake said. “That is a strategy that is becoming more and more pervasive throughout the industry.”

The Right to Repurpose
However, as much as networks want to ensure that their fans can catch the game everywhere and anywhere, rights issues quickly rear their ugly heads whenever multiplatform delivery is an object of discussion.

From Left: Harold Bryant, Curt Godwy Jr., Jed Drake, Jon Slobotkin, Scooter Vertino, Andrea Berry

“You’re dealing with leagues that don’t necessarily want their footage out there right away, and that’s a big challenge,” explained Harold Bryant, VP production for CBS Sports.

Regional networks are often further restricted when it comes to digital content rights.

“We have to be creative at a higher level to be able to put up complementary material, without compromising the rights that we have,” explained Jon Slobotkin, VP and executive producer of live events for Comcast Sports Group. “On the regional level, we will never be able to wow you with our technology. Our advantage is we’re with the teams every day. We have to go several layers deep. We have complementary news departments and digital departments that work well together.”

Serving the Sales Staff
Another challenge producers constantly face is reconciling the will of the sales team with that of the viewer.

“My biggest fear is when you have a producer who becomes a clerk and he’s checking off promotional items while the game is going on in front of him,” Slobotkin said.

“By far our biggest challenge is all of the sales and promotional elements,” Bryant added.

SNY runs up to 45 enhancements and promotions each game, which is a lot, Gowdy said, but is doable if those elements fit smoothly into the rundown.

“We work closely with our sales force to get what we need,” he explained. “If we can get them sponsorship of a new technology, that’s a good thing.”

Scooter Vertino, VP content for NBA Digital, added that “two-fors,” sales elements that can be factored into story lines, are the ultimate goal.

“It’s frustrating for anyone in the truck to take away from the game on the floor to concentrate on something else,” Vertino said. “We have constant meetings to ensure that whatever we’re doing will not intrude on the actual game.”

Satisfying the Trained Fan
Today’s viewers have been trained by years of sophisticated broadcasts to expect a virtual first down line, a constant on-screen score, and HD coverage of every big event. Such sophisticated, demanding audiences are a credit to the broadcast industry that has spoiled them, but they can also wreak havoc on the producers who must now make every production better than its predecessor, without taking away from the game.

“The viewer already wants what he wants when he wants it,” Slobotkin said. “People can create their own content and stories, so for us to meet that challenge will be very difficult. Feedback will become much more prevalent. It’s almost like you must be partners with your viewers.”

Vertino told a story of a new ticker that was previewed for NBA TV. The ticker had been designed with all of the latest enhancements, and when it debuted, was so full of flash animations that it was distracting and hard to read.

“You want to have a certain production value and take advantage of technological advances, but you have to do so without taking away from the news,” Vertino said.

“Sometimes we try to be so different that we can go overboard, so the point where people can’t even read what’s on the screen,” added Andrea Berry, SVP broadcast operations for Fox Networks Engineering and Operations.

All About the Game
Directors constantly want more cameras and toys, Bryant explained, but it is essential to remind them that even with nine extra cameras, bells, and whistles, they have to be back in time for the snap.

“Technology works when it can enhance the telecast,” Drake added. “Every time someone comes out with something new, we’re looking over our shoulder and we take notice. There is an inherent tendency with technology where the technology itself can become the story. When we get to that level, we have indeed lost the plot.”

“Paramount to what we do is covering the game,” Gowdy concluded. “It’s all about the game.”

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