Comcast SportsNet Bay Area Delivers Impact of Sharks Games to Couch Potatoes
San Jose Sharks fans don’t even need to leave the comfort of their own couch to feel the bone-crushing impact of NHL hockey. At least that’s what Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and tech startup Guitammer are promising with a new broadcast technology that is certainly thinking outside the box for live sports production.
It’s called “4D Sports” and uses sensors placed on the boards at SAP Center in San Jose to capture and distribute the impact of NHL hits during Sharks home games to the home, turning the home couch into a new sensory experience. The technology debuted during the Florida Panthers-Sharks game last Thursday night.
“We thought, ‘Hey, this could be an interesting and unique experience for fans,’” says David Koppett, senior executive producer, live events, Comcast SportsNet California. “This is something they couldn’t get anywhere else. We’re in Silicon Valley, home of innovative tech, and Sharks fans are especially interested in things like this and are very tech-savvy.”
To experience 4D Sports, fans must purchase a wireless ButtKicker Kit — available at www.shakemycouch.com — and place the device, which acts like a silent subwoofer, underneath a leg of their couch. That device picks up a signal transmitted through the broadcast via CSN California’s signal. To put it in perspective for gamers, it basically turns your couch into a giant PlayStation controller that vibrates with impacts on screen.
The technology currently fits into the production workflow as an audio element. Seventy-six sensors are attached to panels around the SAP Center rink to capture the impact as players crash into the boards. The information is converted into a new patented stream added to CSN Bay Area’s broadcast. This stream is converted to a signal received by the device under the furniture.
Guitammer has a tactile-submixer technician on-site who mixes the signals brought in by the sensors, serving essentially as a manual tally light. According to Koppett, the mixed signal currently works its way through the board of A1 Derek Hirsch, who monitors the levels and ensures that they are in check with the overall mix of the show.
Guitammer President/CEO Mark Luden acknowledges that the current workflow is nitty-gritty, describing it as version “1.” But he is excited about prospects for the technology. The company is currently working with SMPTE to standardize the technology and digitize it, which would take the workflow out of the A1’s hands and make it much less of a presence in the production truck.
“We’re hoping to be keeping that data digital,” says Luden. “We’re managing each sensor individually. CSN Bay Area is an early adopter, and it’s so valuable for us to work with them. From a production standpoint, we are pleased because someone at Dave’s level sees this as another tool for fan engagement. Seems like we’re at the right time and the right place.
“When we can run digital all the way to the set-top box,” he continues, “it will make the workflow easier and open up the opportunity for the network to monetize that separately if they decide they want to.”
Luden and Koppett agree that there could be an intriguing future for this technology. Luden sees it specifically as an over-the-top element and a valuable second-screen feature. He even proposed the idea of watching the game as your favorite player and feeling just the hits that he takes.
“I think it’s exciting and there’s a lot of potentialities here,” says Koppett. “The possibility of having an encoded signal through the set-top box to react to the action on-screen is intriguing. That could make it a lot more active. Every league is getting involved with player and puck tracking now, so imagine how those things could work together. We’re just at the start of the potential could be.”