League Technology Summit: Tech Enhancements Help Directors Give Greater Access
With camera and graphics technology evolving at a breakneck pace, the role of the director is changing with it. Broadcasting the game and telling a story isn’t nearly enough in today’s environment. Now directors need to find new ways to push the envelope in granting their viewers greater access than ever.
“We are only as good as the technology that is out there, and that’s from the base technology on how good the cameras work and look,” said Artie Kempner, director of NFL and NASCAR, Fox Sports, at last week’s League Technology Summit. “The tools — or the toys, as they sometimes are — those are great, and the innovations that have been made over the past 20 years, since I’ve been sitting in this chair, have been phenomenal.”
One of those technological developments being used by Fox Sports is the Sony F65 CineAlta 4K camera, which gives Kempner and his crew super-high-resolution views on replays.
Said Kempner, “All of the tools and all of the artistry and everything that goes into it as directors, we want to show the viewer what they want to see: what the hell just happened on that play? I think the 4K camera is a big step in moving us forward.”
Nowadays, the television-production team is not solely responsible for entertaining and informing the home viewer. Technology has paved such a path that broadcast technology is impacting the officiating of games.
Slow-motion cameras are a centerpiece of YES Network’s coverage of New York Yankees baseball. YES Network director John Moore showed the LTS audience a clip captured by X-Mo and giving viewers at home a clear view of a call made during the controversial final out of a Yankees loss to the Baltimore Orioles in early September.
He acknowledged that finding ways to utilize high-speed cameras is a logistical challenge. “It becomes a challenge on how you use it and where you put it,” he said. “As the technology gets better, it’s a cumbersome device that is hard to use at times. If you put it at high-first, you’re not going to see a 5-4-3 double play around the horn. You’d never get around the horn. So the key is, how do you use it in a way that you can tell a story in-game.”
Deciding where to place camera positions is a battle constantly fought by the networks and leagues. Stadiums have to strike a balance between granting television access without jeopardizing sight lines or removing valuable seats entirely. Some of those decisions haven’t gone the directors’ way.
“I keep preaching over and over again, especially in baseball, that I can’t believe how much [the stadiums] are cutting into our territory with luxury suites or this or that seat,” said Mitch Riggin, director of Arizona Diamondbacks on Fox SportsNet and college football on FX. “It’s frustrating, especially as a visitor, when you get to a stadium and don’t have the access. You can sell that seat for $5,000, right? I don’t care how much you are selling it for, you’re cheapening the viewing experience. I want people to see how great your stadium is so they come out and see it. I am trying to enhance your part of it as well.”
Aside from camera technology, developments in graphics technology have reshaped the way on-air analysts break down the game. Tech developed by such companies as Chyron, Sportvision, Hego, and Red Bee Media have made the classic telestrator a relative thing of the past.
“Ultimately, it’s to make our analysts shine,” said Renardo Lowe, senior director, sports production, Turner Sports, who demonstrated the network’s use of PITCHf/x during MLB coverage. “That’s what the production team is there to give: the tools the analyst needs in order to explain what my team needs to do or why my team is winning or losing.”
Looking to the future, Kempner says that sports production is greatly benefiting from the developments in aerial camera technology. Whether its SpiderCam on Monday Night Football or FlyCam at the U.S. Open, aerial shots are becoming more commonplace at big time events.
“Those [aerial] cams give you an amazing ‘wow’ feeling when you’re there,” says Kempner. “The [Spider]Cam that they use at ESPN has amazing versatility now and CableCam and SkyCam will get there, because everybody competes. But the fact that you can be at the top of the building and within five seconds be down on the ground level, that makes the viewer take notice. We’re in the entertainment business and if we can make people take notice and get engaged in what we do, than we’ve done a really good job.”