Connected Sports Conference: Sharing Resources in the Compound Is Key to Multiscreen Success

Whether a mobile device is used to watch US Open tennis or follow Showtime’s Twitter feed during a boxing match, the term second screen implies presence of a “first-screen” production. Even if users do not participate in the two simultaneously, the two productions must live harmoniously in the broadcast compound.

At last week’s Connected Sports Conference in New York City, a group of panelists involved in second-screen production described the second-screen experience as complementing the first screen and discussed how the second-screen production can take advantage of first-screen resources, personnel, and infrastructure.

Don Colantonio, ESPN

Don Colantonio, ESPN

The first step is determining how expansive the second-screen production should be. Don Colantonio, senior director of production enhancements and interactive TV, ESPN, was on the ground in Flushing, NY, for the US Open tennis tournament, helming DIRECTV’s US Open Experience, a six-screen mosaic providing live network coverage plus five outer-court matches simultaneously.

“Obviously, different shows have different budgets,” said Colantonio. “You have to find resourceful ways of networking your equipment, tapping into the network’s preexisting resources, [and] getting cooperation from your network partner or your host broadcaster to mine content and provide content that actually enhances the experience.”

Second-screen activity at tennis’s grand slam tournaments has exploded in recent years, yet Colantonio’s team can manage the production from a central location. ESPN worked out of NCPVIII at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, for example, and produced its Australian Open experience out of NFL Network’s Red Zone studios in Culver City, CA. Golf tournaments, however, are another story: networks deploy multiple production units and teams to cover individual holes. Regardless of footprint, the second-screen output has become an integral part of the on-site production.

“Talent get it, producers get it. And I think, in our case, it’s just a sense of pride, too, that we’re doing all these things for other platforms and helping each other out,” said Colantonio. “Everybody sees where it’s going. Everybody that’s seen video on a phone gets it, so we’re getting great cooperation.”

At Showtime, the second screen exists to enhance the first-screen experience by involving viewers in the boxing matches. Fans can interact with the broadcast through social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and interactive polling.

“Five years ago, we didn’t have any interaction with social media, and, right now, I think that we have a very interactive show that is engaged with our audience and put a lot of value into what we do,” said Gordon Hall, VP, production, Showtime. “A lot of what were trying to do is just engage our audience in social media [using] the infrastructure that we have because it’s an inexpensive way to get the word out.”

Showtime’s Gordon Hall (left) and Ben Dignan

Showtime’s Gordon Hall (left) and Ben Dignan

Because Showtime is a premium channel, the focus of the production staff is creating value for existing viewers while attracting new ones. By taking advantage of the mobile devices, the network can foster interaction between fans and talent.

“The one thing we’ve seen in the last five years is the transition [from] text-message [polling]. [Short message service] was hot in 2007-08, and we saw a pretty low response rate in terms of people engaging with the telecast via SMS,” explained Ben Dignan, digital media manager, Showtime. “As we’ve transitioned from 2007 to now, we’re starting to see the evolving of live polling. People like to see their responses on-air.”

A crucial factor in Showtime’s mobile-device-to-television-screen workflow is SMT. Around three years ago, Showtime tapped SMT for help with its on-screen statistical and clock interfaces. That role has expanded to include punch-zone displays — a dynamic 3D ring animation that demonstrates the relative strength of each boxer — and brand-inspired graphical displays.

“We’ve evolved over the years because we’ve got this fire hose of information now available, depending on the event,” said Gerard Hall, president/CEO, SMT, which combines automated data mining and graphics devices, searching for relevant statistics and pushing them to air.

Gerard Hall, SMT

Gerard Hall, SMT

He attributed the idea of a separate entity pushing statistical graphics to the debut of the scorebug in the ’90s. “You want something pushing the content to the air, and, once that was in the show, it allowed for the director’s [not] having to be involved in terms of framing for the content coming into the show and opens the door for automatic triggering of graphics.”

As statistics migrate from the first screen to the second, Hall believes that automated graphics will make second-screen productions more efficient.

Echoing the idea that shared resources between productions enhances efficiency in the compound, EVS VP of Sports Products James Stellpflug described how C-Cast enables the second-screen production to take advantage of video content collected from a live, multicamera production.

James Stellpflug, EVS

James Stellpflug, EVS

“It allows [users to] see that perpetual recording content that EVS is known for, including all the live cameras in a multicamera [production],” he said, “allowing someone to browse into it, search through that content, find that unseen content that is relevant to the type of production they’re creating, extract it out of that live venue, and deliver it to wherever they’re doing their live production for second screen, multiscreen, editing, whatever that outlet may be.”

As second-screen productions evolve, whether intended to deliver live video or enhanced statistics and analysis, all must find ways to work together more effectively with the primary broadcast. Whether second-screen productions continue to work alongside first-screen productions in the compound or move back to the broadcast center, sharing resources will continue to be key.

“Everyone’s expecting you to do more with less,” added Stellpflug. “There’s more screens, more places where you’re expected to deliver content. To quadruple the physical equipment and people on site is impractical.”

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