League Technology Summit: In High-Tech World, Producers Need Balance Between Tech Toys, Storytelling
The average American sports telecast has never featured more cameras or more sophisticated production elements than it does today — making it a very good time to be sitting at the front bench of a production truck. However, while producers may have a larger arsenal of tools and toys at their fingertips than ever before, these elements also create new challenges that force producers to rethink how they tell the story to viewers.
“We are still in a business about content,” said Craig Silver, coordinating producer for college football, CBS Sports, during a session at SVG’s recent League Technology Summit. “The content has to be enhanced by the technology, not the other way around. We can’t just do this stuff because we can. Any good production is ruled by making those decisions: when is the right place and right time to use these tools. You always need to be looking to push the story forward.
As was the case during several panels at the League Technology Summit, each speaker highlighted a short clip showcasing the greatest example of production excellence in action during a telecast.
Picking Your Director’s Spots
Each panelist preached the value of these new technologies, while also emphasizing the need for patience by both producers and directors. Fox SportsNet SVP/Executive Producer Mike Connelly cited the addition of aerial camera systems to RSN telecasts, saying many directors were tempted to take the shot every few seconds, rather than saving it for key moments.
“I always tell our producers and directors that, when they get a new toy, they have to be like a little kid and keep it close to you,” he said, referring to the introduction of Skycam to regional sports telecasts. “You don’t want to take it out too often because some bigger kid is going to come take it away from you.
“You need to just show it once in a while, rather than overusing it,” he continued. “Just because you have these toys doesn’t mean you have to exploit them and overuse them. It should be treated as something special and only used for a special play, shot, or highlight. We want them to use it as tool to enhance the game.”
LiberoVision Spreads to the RSN Masses
Connelly addressed the growing role of the LiberoVision analysis system, which allows clips to be controlled, manipulated, and played out directly from a network’s Vizrt graphics platform. This allows plays to be dissected from different angles and perspectives.
Fox SportsNet made LiberoVision available to several of its RSNs this year, including FSN PrimeTicket for its Los Angeles Clippers coverage, Fox Sports for its college-football coverage, and eventually several RSNs for NHL coverage once the league’s labor dispute comes to an end. Connelly also cited LiberoVision as a key reason for analyst Marcus Allen’s success on-air this year during Fox Sports’ first full season of college-football coverage.
“Everyone has LiberoVision now, but the one thing I’ve noticed in working with it personally is what it does for our analysts,” said Connelly. “It’s elevated our analysts to another level this year.”
Replay Is About More Than the Telecast
The evolution of super-slow-motion replay has accelerated rapidly across the board in recent years, with leagues becoming more reliant on broadcasters’ camera angles in reviewing questionable calls on the field. CSN Philadelphia Producer Jeff Halikman, for example, highlighted a home run that was reversed on further review by the umpires.
In that clip, CSN Philadelphia replayed a super-slo-mo shot: the ball nearly went over the right-field wall but, instead, hit the safety bar at the top of the wall and ricocheted back into the field of play. As the shot was replayed over and over, the announcers pointed out that the bar at the top of the wall actually shakes when the ball hits it, illustrating that it was not, in fact, a home run.
“It’s amazing how much of an influence our broadcasts are having on the game,” said SNY Coordinating Producer Gregg Picker. “If the camera guy was shooting something else besides the home run, the umpires may not have reversed the call. Going forward, it’s going to come back on us more and more to get those replays.”
He also spoke about the importance of super- and ultra-slo-mo in today’s RSN telecasts. However, conjuring up the cash to pay for these often expensive elements is no easy task, forcing Picker and other coordinating producers to make a tough call on the cost-to-benefit ratio.
“We get pitched on so many technology items and advancements,” he said, “so, when you’re deciding whether or not to use something, it is important to remember that it needs to actually enhance the viewer’s experience.”
Referring to an ultra-slo-mo shot showing that a sliding runner was out at first base by less than an inch, Picker said, “That particular shot was something that translated directly to viewers watching at home. The super-mo and a good cameraman were able to capture a shot that allowed the viewer at home to discern that the runner was out. To me, that makes it worth it no matter if you use it once or five times during [a telecast]. As opposed to an item that may look nice but doesn’t actually enhance the viewer’s experience.”