SMT Back Behind the Curtain for NBC’s Derby Ticker, Leaderboard, and Graphics

SMT's (from left) Matt Little, Kevin Wang, and Charles Philips setting up the camera configuration for virtual distance-to-finsh lines.

SMT’s (from left) Matt Little, Kevin Wang, and Charles Philips set up the camera configuration for virtual distance-to-finsh lines.

Three years ago, when NBC Sports Group reacquired the rights to the Belmont Stakes and united horseracing’s Triple Crown on a single network for the first time since 2005, the Peacock network made it a priority to expand the use of in-depth graphics and real-time statistics/odds in its telecasts. Since then, NBC has continued to work with data/graphics/video-enhancement–solutions provider SMT to further these efforts, which will once again be on display Saturday at the crown jewel of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby.

“The majority of our graphics and solutions are designed to allow the hardcore horseracing fan what they need, while also allowing the casual viewer to digest that information,” says Robbie Louthan, director of client services and systems, SMT. “This year, we have added a lot of under-the-hood enhancements to speed up the turnaround time for our graphics, as well as adding more social-media presence for NBC.”

SMT's Matt Little on hand at the Derby compound

SMT’s Dustin Vinton on hand at the Derby compound

For its fourth consecutive Kentucky Derby outing with NBC, SMT has once again rolled out its full suite of real-time statistical and visual products, including Live Leaderboard System, ISO Track System, Autograph Ticker, SMART System (distance-to-the-finish graphics), Track Map System, and the backbone for all of SMT’s data-driven applications at the Derby, the Data Matrix (DMX) Switchboard.

In addition, a crew of five engineers from SMT will be on-site at Churchill Downs to oversee operations during the Kentucky Derby and set up the system three days in advance of the race.

“When we get ready for this event,” says Louthan, “we sit down with those five engineers and prepare for it as much [as] or more than any event we have all year. We will sit down and review every Derby we have ever been a part of, as well as those prior to our involvement. We rehearse and have capture data and video as a simulation. So we will have done the Derby hundreds of times over before it actually occurs this weekend.

The Data Cog: DMX
At the heart of SMT’s efforts at Churchill Downs this weekend will once again be the Data Matrix (DMX) Switchboard, which provides a customized solution for each Triple Crown race that absorbs, collates, and synchronizes live data feeds into SMT’s proprietary Live Horse Racing database. The DMX Switchboard provides up to 16 separate channels for integrating live data and timecode-synchronized data into a mix of on-air and off-air graphics displays in both real-time and replay modes, enhancing NBC’s live race presentation and pre- and post-race analysis.

A social-media DMX module integrates live Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds into the overall DMX workflow and interfaces directly with NBC’s Chyron character generator to create on-air graphics, including tracking a predefined list of hashtags to show trending topics during the event.

Leaderboard and Ticker: Keeping the Viewer Informed
Chief among SMT’s many applications for NBC is the Live Leaderboard System, which highlights the running order of the top six horses, using positional data updated 30 times per second per horse.

The Autograph Ticker drives NBC’s primary odds and information on-air ticker throughout the telecast, providing real-time odds and bet payouts using live data from Churchill Downs’ Tote provider (in-house wagering system). The ticker also curates and displays social-media feeds from viewers, broadcast-team members, jockeys, and more.

“Per [producer] Rob Hyland’s request, we have added a few enhancements this year, including a ‘Coming Up’ run-down feature that allows NBC to give the viewer a glimpse into what segment is coming up [in the telecast],” says Louthan. “We have a lot more dynamic social-media capabilities this year in the ticker. NBC is on-air for more than 15 hours over the next few days, so we have given them the tools to present more social-media content during those long hours.”

Getting Graphic: ISO Track, SMART System, Track Map
The ISO Track System helps the NBC Sports production team identify, point to, and visually track two horses. The system displays real-time data when a particular horse is displayed in the ISO Track System.

“It allows the production team to highlight and visually identify any horse in the video with a pointer arrow,” says Louthan. “It is available in live [scenarios], but NBC chooses to use it in replay only. In a replay, they can, for example, identify the favorite coming out of the gate, identify the eventual winner, and compare them for the viewer using those pointer arrows.”

In addition, the Track Map System gives viewers a sense of the lead horse’s real-time position and its split times via an on-screen graphic.

“It’s sometimes difficult for the viewer watching to see if they are in turn 2 or turn 3 or the backstretch,” says Louthan. “That provides a visual representation to provide more context for the viewer.”

The SMART System visually inserts distance-to-the-finish indicators along the track surface. The SMART System will alert viewers when horses are at the 300-yard, 200-yard, and 100-yard points and the finish line.

What’s Beyond This Year’s Finish Line?
SMT data-driven applications and graphics have become a staple of NBC’s Triple Crown coverage now for four Derby shows. Louthan expects their relationship to continue to flourish.

“We have routine dialogues with the NBC production staff,” he says. “I think horseracing is such a tradition-rich broadcast that they are a little resistant to go too far outside the box, but they have certainly embraced these kinds of features in the past few years. I think, over the next few years, you will continue to see additional enhancements, and NBC will be interested in expanding these technologies in their shows.”

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