SVG’s FutureSPORT Summit Offers Forecast for Sports Production

From HD to 3D, 4K, and beyond, the sports-production industry continues to drive innovation in the broadcast space. Remote-sports-production professionals are beginning to take full advantage of IT-based technologies, transport, and services, reshaping workflows and altering the very definition of remote sports production. With each innovation, end users and vendors alike must decide how to dedicate their budget, predict which technologies will provide the greatest return on investment, and determine how best to plan for five to 10 years down the line. In short, the sports industry is charged with forecasting the future of broadcasting.

To provide a better understanding of future trends in remote sports and entertainment production, the Sports Video Group held its inaugural FutureSPORT Summit on May 23. More than 200 industry leaders gathered at CBS Broadcast Studios in New York to share their opinions on the future of sports production, participate in in-depth product and technology overviews, and check out the latest developments in production tools.

At the heart of any discussion of the future of sports production is the consumer. DIRECTV EVP/CTO Romulo Pontual kicked off the Summit by chronicling the evolution of the consumer experience, particularly as it relates to live sports programming.

“We believe sports drives live viewing,” he said. “We believe DIRECTV is about sports, and, if there’s a message I want to leave today and that I’ll try to show examples of, it is that we can do more. We can increase engagement across sports, and we know how to do it; we just need to sort out both who does it and what the rights are.”

DIRECTV is the world’s largest and most popular video service, generating $27 billion in revenue with more than 31 million customers worldwide, including 19.9 million in the U.S. Driving the company’s subscriber growth is a focus on innovation, from integrated DVRs to “Anytime, Anywhere” video to dedicated 3D channels.

Just over a month removed from NAB Show 2012, FutureSPORT provided a setting for parsing many of the buzzwords heard on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center, including the push toward higher resolutions. Though providing no specifics on DIRECTV’s plans to pursue 4K, Pontual discussed ways to enhance the in-home experience.

“We have been looking at ways to increase engagement, and one of the ways is to give the consumer the experience [of being] in the stadium,” he said. “That is in the stage of tinkering with. We believe there’s a way to bring more of the virtual experience to the home.”

The second-screen experience continues to be top-of-mind in the sports-production industry, referenced in nearly every session of the day. Since announcing its commitment to Anytime, Anywhere access more than a year ago, DIRECTV has noted a shift in the way subscribers consume second-screen content, a shift that Pontual believes will prove beneficial to the industry.

“We have seen two different [phenomena] on second screen,” he said. “When we designed our phone and iPad apps, we were thinking about people that are outside the home [who need to] to remotely schedule something to record. [What we’ve found is,] most of our phone and iPad app [usage] is inside the home in primetime.”

Drawing from usage data, Pontual noted that subscribers are watching content live on the in-home first screen and using the second screen for social interaction, channel surfing, and more. He touched on the use of the second screen for in-game graphics, a topic explored further in the session dedicated to the future of sports graphics.

“It’s a combination of having the rights and being able to give the consumer what they want,” said Pontual. “We believe, as TVs get bigger, we can play with virtual placement and a different sort of production: … for example, [producing a] feed that’s optimized for the big screen and a second feed optimized for the second screen, then the producer could synchronize these two.”

Not to be forgotten, 3D production continues to hold a prominent place in discussions of the future. While the industry seems to be shifting to a focus on 4K — in fact, FutureSPORT attendees were treated to a showing of one of the first-ever 4K sports productions — Pontual suggested that a redirection of 3D efforts may be the key to its success.

“I just don’t think we have the right content for the current stage of 3D,” he said. Instead of a focus on producing sports like football and soccer in 3D, he urged a shift toward smaller-venue productions, where watching in 3D might feel more natural to the at-home viewer. Large-venue sports may benefit more from a higher resolution, like 4K, which can lend perspective without adding artificial depth.

“I don’t think we should give up on [3D],” Pontual concluded. “I think this is the future. [However], high resolution gives you perspective like 3D, which may happen first.”

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