RSN Summit 2019: Production Leaders Share Insights on Evolving Workflows, Connectivity, and Sports Betting

Relationships are just as key as technology in telling the stories

Regional sports networks are constantly on the hunt for new ways to use technology to change the way the story of a game or even a pregame show is told, and, speaking at SVG’s RSN Summit in Denver this week, leaders in the industry offered their thoughts on everything from new remote-production workflows, improving access to players and coaches, sports betting, and the future of remote production in an era of robust connectivity between venues and broadcast studios and control rooms.

A power panel opened Day 2 of the RSN Summit, featuring (from left) Fox Sports Regional Networks’ Michael Connelly, AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh’s Doug Johnson, Pac-12 Networks’ Larry Meyers, Altitude Sports and Entertainment’s Ken Miller, and Spectrum Networks’ Jared Stacy.

Larry Meyers, EVP, content, Pac-12 Networks, explained how the Pac-12 Network is leveraging connectivity to campuses to move its studio show out of the network’s facility in San Francisco and on the road for college football.

“The best studio show on earth cannot capture the spirit and enthusiasm that people bring to an event, and that is even more so in college athletics,” he said. “The technology allows us to send just a few boxes of gear and set up a studio position every week on a campus without the need for a truck. We connect multiple encoders and have bidirectional connectivity from San Francisco, and the technology works brilliantly with three cameras, return feeds, IFB, and offline talkback.”

Michael Connelly, SVP/executive producer, Fox Sports Regional Networks

Michael Connelly, SVP/executive producer, Fox Sports Regional Networks, noted that connectivity is key when it comes to new ways to produce events remotely. The Fox Sports RSNs have 1-Gbps lines that can handle two-way traffic, offer file-based transfers, and deliver one feed to the Fox RSN playout facility in Woodlands, TX, as well as to the network’s studio so the team there can grab highlights and interview clips. Those IP lines are expanding to 5 Gbps, a move that will allow even more functionality, such as scorebugs or additional EVS servers, to be handled remotely.

“Economically, it’s the right thing to do, as connectivity gets better and allows us to do a lot more,” he said, adding that Mobile TV Group President Phil Garvin and his company offer “some virtual ideas that will provide us with a lot of options.”

Doug Johnson, VP/executive producer, AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, laid out how his network has embraced moving scorebug operations for Pittsburgh Pirate broadcasts off the road and into the broadcast plant. The project has evolved over three years and now comprises two operators at the RSN’s facility controlling a scorebug system that is physically at the venue. A TVU unit onsite sends an HD quad-split that has shots from Cameras 2 and 4 as well as from the scoreboard and the Pirates’ bullpen.

“[The scorebug operators] operate out of a cubicle in the office,” he explained. “The reason the scorebug system is onsite is that, in case anything happens with connectivity, the graphics coordinator there can slide over and take over. But we have never had problems with connectivity.”

Ken Miller, EVP/GM/executive producer, Altitude Sports and Entertainment, said the network’s primary transmission-services provider, The Switch, offers a pipe with enough bandwidth to create as much as possible at the home facility. For events like high school football, alternative services, such as LiveU’s bonded cellular over Ethernet, are doing the job as a primary transmission path and are also complementing the larger pipes. The production teams on the road can leverage the technology to get walk-and-talk interviews to the studio quickly.
“The technology is getting better and better during the game,” he pointed out. “It can also sit in the truck’s router feed and send multiple paths down the line during the pregame with things like super-mo looks from the home show that can be delivered before we get it on the dual-feed side. Pushing the technology is opening up a whole world where storytellers can transmit anytime from anywhere.”

Jared Stacy, VP, production and strategy, Spectrum Networks

Jared Stacy, VP, production and strategy, Spectrum Networks, discussed another form of pushing: working with teams to get more access to players and coaches. A clip of miked-up Los Angeles Dodgers third-base coach Dino Abel delivered a unique experience for viewers.

“Everyone internally pushed for the concept of access and not just doing the basic fourth-inning interview where you don’t get much or you get a coach clapping,” he explained. “For that to happen, the relationship with the team has to be strong, and you have to push them and be a thorn in their side.”

Connelly opined that the leagues are not the ones that will provide access and the key is to build relationships with the general managers and managers: “If they trust you, they will open up; if they don’t, you’re never going to get them to talk to you.”

He cited the Video Call Center (VCC) as an important technological partner, expanding the ability to connect talent with players and coaches. “In Texas,” he added, “we used it to interview football coaches on the bus coming home, and it looked great.”

Miller concurred that trust is important, noting the relationship that Altitude Sports producer Bob Nicolai has built with the Denver Nuggets as another example of how important it is to be on good terms.

“The team fully trusts him,” he said, “and the camera doesn’t bother them anymore. It helps sell the product, which sells tickets.”

Larry Meyers, EVP, content, Pac-12 Networks

Evolving remote-production workflows were also a subject of discussion. Meyers mentioned that the Pac-12 Network did more than 400 at-home–style productions in the past year and that the number will increase by three figures next year. Tools like Simply Live Vibox are part of an evolving control-room environment.

“The advantage of being in the home control room is beyond what it brings to the event, as the linear distribution is only one component,” said Meyers. “The digital team can walk into the room and have instant access to the production team, so it’s beyond efficiency. It leads us into a multiplatform world that continues to evolve.”

Johnson added that new remote-production workflows are often economically driven but can also improve the quality of the broadcast: a home crew often has a higher level of talent.

Said Stacy, “We’ve been doing it for years on our MLS product. The main reason to do it is, it makes your shows better and cheaper. It shouldn’t be done just because the technology allows us to do it.”

Place Your Bets
The execs also touched on sports betting and the role RSNs may play in what many see as an important part of the future of sports-revenue generation in the U.S. According to everyone on the panel, RSNs are keeping a close eye on developments concerning legalized gambling in states where they operate and also are considering what the opportunity could mean.

“With gambling, people will care more,” Stacy opined. “At the end of the day, that is what is good. It increases engagement, as fans will stay later to resolve their bets. And, while it is not legal in California, we are looking at what our strategy will be and asking questions now so we are prepared for when it becomes legal.”

Opportunities include creating a separate feed for gambling/gaming or turning arena and stadium bars into sportsbooks. The ability for fans in the stands to place bets could introduce some interesting energy as, potentially, home crowds could cheer for visiting teams to score points in hopes that both teams get the over.