Sports Programming Continues To Move Off the Field

The SVG Sports Entertainment Production Summit’s first panel session took a look at sports entertainment from both the producer and technical perspectives, and the consensus among all is that the role of pregame, halftime, and postgame content, as well as feature stories and reality programming, will only become more important in an age hungry for celebrity and sports.

“We are taking cultural events for guys and treating them like sports,” Jon Slusser, SVP of sports and multiplatform programming for Spike TV, said of a recent effort to treat CES coverage like it was a Super Bowl. “At the E3 [videogame conference], we did 20 hours of multiplatform programming  because live programming is critical to us and it is why we all still have TV.”

Spike TV is also taking on mixed martial arts with a new program called MMA Junkie Live, which will be shot at the studio at 1515 Broadway in Manhattan where MTV used to shoot TRL.

“It will be all-live and once a week, highlighting everything that is going on with the MMA,” he explained.

Mike Davies, VP of field operations, Fox Sports, discussed last year’s Super Bowl pregame coverage and the challenge of layering a massive studio show on the road on top of a technical and compound infrastructure that is also dealing with the big game.

“They work together, and some cameras are shared, and, certainly, we organize the schedules together,” he explained. “One of the reasons you have to be at an event like the Super Bowl so early is to accommodate the halftime shows. But we don’t have a lot of say in the actual production, as it is done by a separate company.”

Red-carpet shows are also becoming a bigger part of big-event programming. Fox Sports has done one for the last two Super Bowls it has broadcast and for its coverage of the UFC and has also watched from up close as MLB Network produced a red-carpet show the day of the MLB All-Star Game. Last February, the NBA and Turner Sports put together a magenta-carpet show (it was sponsored by T-Mobile) last year in Los Angeles.

“You get to showcase who is coming out for the game, and it can work as a bridge between programming across two networks,” said Chris Brown, director of technical operations, NBA Digital.

Vince Pace, co-chairman, CAMERON/PACE Group, has worked with the NBA during the past five All-Star games to produce 3D content, including musical performances. And this weekend, he is working on the ultimate event mixing sport and entertainment: ESPN’s Winter X Games.

“We will have 35 cameras, and it will be a full 5D production,” he explained, referring to a production technique where both the 2D and the 3D broadcast are derived from the same cameras. “NEP’s SS31 production unit will have its normal 3D package, and then we will also have a Shadow system [where the 3D and 2D cameras are mounted together] operate out of NEP SS31.”

3D productions of musical acts at the NBA All-Star game offer a much improved experience over traditional 2D coverage, with visuals that can finally match the quality of a surround-sound audio experience. The challenge now becomes the business model of 3D. Helping solve that issue will be the deployment of 3D TV sets that can deliver an experience in the home to match that in the production truck.

“CES this year was a refreshing trip,” said Pace. “Sony showed some glasses-free 3D that was an incredible indicator that they are on the right path. And LG Electronics had passive displays that had comfortable glasses.”

While Pace and the others focused on the technical aspects of the production, Felisa Israel, founder of 10 Fold Entertainment and a producer of celebrity basketball tournaments and in-arena NBA content, noted that the biggest issue for any entertainment event often revolves around ego.

“There are B- and C-list [celebrities] that think they are A-listers, and they need their posse, families, and relatives around, and that can affect the budget big time,” she said. “So you really need to set boundaries and let them know they can appear but they have to follow our restrictions. Otherwise, they can go somewhere else.”

Click here for SVG’s comprehensive coverage of the Sports Entertainment Production Summit!

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