At NAB, SVG Helps Illuminate the Business of 3D Sports

The Business of 3D Sports seems more a question than a title, but that was the subject of an SVG-sponsored session at NAB on April 14. A packed room donned 3D glasses to watch some 3D sports footage and hear from the experts who discussed the dos and don’ts of producing sports in 3D.

Big-Name Games
Thus far, all of the sports events produced in 3D have been extremely high-profile, from the NBA All-Star Game to the NCAA Final Four, Masters golf tournament, and World Cup. While that high profile may make it easier to get funding for the 3D production, it also makes it essential that those events not fail.

“It’s the high-end events that we really need to jump into,” said Ken Aagaard, SVP of operations and production for CBS Sports. “It puts a lot more pressure on us, but it’s a way of getting it done.”

Peter Angell, director of production for Host Broadcast Services, the company delivering the World Cup in 3D, concurred: “None of us can afford to produce bad 3D or give the audience any reason to dismiss 3D as a bad idea or a flash in the pan. We have an absolute responsibility right now to make sure we’re doing a good job, and the challenge is getting the right staff, the right equipment, and the right people with the right experience.”

Location, Location, Location
Although the technicalities of producing in 3D may have been solved — transmission was proved to work with last week’s delivery of the Masters in 3D over cable systems — finding places to put the cameras and the right personnel to run them is certainly a challenge.

“The biggest thing is seat kills,” said Ted Kenney, producer for 3ality Digital. “You want to get lower. The high-angle cameras are going to look flat because there’s no depth. In America, that level happens to be the loge-level corporate boxes, so you’re not going to be able to kill those.”

For the World Cup, for which HBS already had 32 2D camera positions cleared long before 3D came into the picture, Angell was thankfully able to come up with three positions much lower than the regular camera positions, as well as four positions around the field on the sideline.

“That low-level, close action shot is where you get the best 3D,” he said. “We have a much lower angle of attack on the pitch so the depth of field is populated with far more objects and cues that can enhance the 3D feeling of the shot.”

Fox Sports will broadcast the 2010 MLB All-Star Game in 3D, and SVP of Field Operations Jerry Steinberg is looking for the right combination of cameras.

“Baseball is difficult in terms of camera positions,” he said. “We’re going to look at a lot of robotic cameras, because they offer a smaller profile and less seat kills. We’re looking at a low home, low first and low third dugouts and a high home.”

Multidimensional Cooperation
Being able to share facilities has enhanced several 3D productions and allowed camera positions that were otherwise unavailable. For CBS Sports’ Final Four coverage, the 3D team cut in feeds from the 2D ActionCam cable camera system occasionally, and the NBA was able to share a crane with TNT for its 3D All-Star coverage.

“There has to be camera sharing because we don’t want to block seats,” added Steve Helmuth, EVP of operations and technology for NBA Entertainment.

Last-Minute Plans
On the equipment side of the equation, 3D has been produced with a flypack (NBA events), a converted production truck (Final Four), and a dedicated 3D production truck (The Masters).

“The challenge of all this 3D is, we have no time at all,” said George Hoover, CTO of NEP. “Things come out of the woodwork two to three weeks in advance, and we’re scrambling to find facilities and get things together.”

Size Matters
The biggest challenge, he said, is laying out a control room to give the creative team an image size that closely replicates what’s being seen at home.

“I’ve always been disappointed that the director sees maybe a 24-in. screen, but everybody’s home seeing a 60-in. set,” Hoover said. “I think it’s very important for a producer and director to see what the audience sees, but trying to get that space in a control room is an interesting challenge.”

Kenney concurred: “We’re waiting for the manufacturers to catch up with us, especially with monitor size. Just to have preview and program monitors in the truck at 46 in., that takes up half the space.”

Another question to be answered is who in the truck needs to see 3D? The original thought was to keep the 3D to just the producer and director, but replay operators who are selling shots and building packages now need to be able to look at 3D as well.

“More cameras means more CCUs and more infrastructure,” Hoover pointed out. “The challenge is to try to fit everything into an economic space package.”

Time To Experiment
When ESPN rolls out its 3D games of the week this fall, however, a production team will begin to create 3D broadcasts on a weekly basis and will have the opportunity to try new things.

“I think it’s fabulous to have the opportunity to give a group of people 3D to do every week and to be able to evolve with it,” Hoover said. “There is a great camaraderie in the sports industry with everyone working together on this.”

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