SportsMEDIA, Versus Help Cycling Fans Pick Riders Out of the Pack

Even in high definition, finding a specific rider in the Tour de France peloton can be like searching for a needle in a moving haystack. However, thanks to SportsMEDIA Technology’s ISO Track software, Versus producers can find any needle at any time, and keep track of him for the American audience. Without having to equip bicycles, cars, or cyclists with tracking devices or sensors of any kind, ISO Track, SportsMEDIA’s proprietary image-recognition tracking software, helps cycling fans find important riders in the pack before they go on a breakaway or sprint to the finish.

“We have access to the aerial footage that the French broadcasters are providing,” explains Don Tupper, VP of business development for SportsMEDIA Technology Corp. “We can select any of those sources in our system, and then, based on the production direction, we have the ability to pick a rider out of the field, identify him, and track him based on image recognition.”

SportsMEDIA technicians are set up alongside Versus production personnel in the mobile unit in France. During the coverage, the Versus producer can ask to track certain cyclists, or the SportsMEDIA personnel can sell tracking to the production team. Versus’s interests are mostly in tracking the American riders, so the network is looking for the next Lance Armstrong, but the software can track any athlete at any time, as well as illuminate team racing strategies and formations.

“Before someone breaks for the lead or away from the pack, we want to be able to identify him so you can watch it unfold live,” Tupper says. “We have our own rendering system that is rendering the graphics, the pointer, and the Radio Shack sponsorship that’s tied to it.”

SportsMEDIA and Versus have collaborated to share this technology before, with IndyCar racing in April, but, since no two days of the Tour de France are the same, this race presents a host of unique challenges.

“It’s a new course every single day,” Tupper points out, “so you never get a comfort level on what the obstructions to the camera are going to be. Each day, it’s a different story, so the sport itself is a challenge. It’s something that we’re getting familiar with, but it’s different from anything that we cover in the States.”

The production itself is also quite different, with no fixed cameras covering the Tour de France. Every shot originates from cameras mounted on motorcycles traveling with the peloton or from helicopters providing aerial coverage. Even the production compound never parks in the same place twice.

“It’s a television compound the size of the Super Bowl, and, every night, it picks up and moves to a new location,” Tupper says. “From my perspective, it’s fascinating. They pick it up, drive it 2.5 hours, and it’s ready to go the next morning.”

The Tour de France continues on Versus through July 25.

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