Sports Graphics Forum: Virtual Graphics Call for Measured Approach

With seemingly endless data streams, player metrics, and virtual graphics available to broadcasters, panelists urge ‘less is more’ approach

Virtual graphics may be the next big thing in sports production, but, to deploy the new technology effectively, the key is context. Besides showing the distance of a home run was hit, a competitor’s heart rate, or the force of a boxer’s punch, the graphics must demonstrate why each metric is important, relevant, and essential to the story being told.

MLBAM VP of Multimedia Strategy Dirk Van Dall kicked off a panel discussion on virtual graphics at last week’s Sports Graphics Forum in New York City with a look at Statcast, explaining how the player-tracking and visualization platform has evolved since its introduction last year.

From left: SVG’s Jason Dachman leads a discussion on virtual graphics with deltatre’s Kruyff, MLBAM’s Van Dall, FMProduction’s Genauer, and Avid’s Umansky.

From left: SVG’s Jason Dachman leads a discussion on virtual graphics with deltatre’s Kruyff, MLBAM’s Van Dall, FMProduction’s Genauer, and Avid’s Umansky.

“We know now how to acquire the positions, segment [the data] into a play, and then be able to generate metrics from certain points in time and be able to display them,” he said. “This year, it’s not just the numbers of how fast was someone running or how far off first base were they leading, but instead, it is what’s the context they were doing that in. Were they being held on first base, or were they not being held?: So we want to try to slice into that.”

The need for context stems from the torrents of data being produced. With so much data available at any given moment, broadcasters must discern which pieces truly advance their story or risk drowning in endless statistics.

Jan Umansky, senior market specialist for graphics, Avid, recalled a time when the graphics infrastructure was configured to consistently ask for and pull in data.

“The industry itself got very comfortable in this long-pulling environment. Then the shift happened, and suddenly [it began to] rain data, and then, at that point, it was us kind of pushing away the data that we don’t need,” he said. “We realized that we can integrate data almost on any level, and then the logical step was just to create an additional layer on top of our system that was able to absorb this information and filter it out and then just distribute it to whatever system needed it.”

FMProduction Director Rami Genauer discussed how FightMetric, the mixed-martial-arts–statistics and –analysis provider — takes the onslaught of data produced by biometric and embeddable sensors to “quantify the visible”: in other words, provide context to what the viewer sees during a fight. He believes the next step is to show what viewers can’t see: heart rate, for example.

“When we talk about context, one of the nice things is that biometric information is something that is instantly graspable,” he explained. “Everybody understands the narratives — the fatigue and stress and exertion — so there’s not a lot of lead time [required] to explain things to an audience. If you can get the information instantaneously, then you can all of a sudden start telling these narratives that people are used to talking about, but you can quantify them so that people can understand them better.”

Biometrics, Genauer continued, helps to keep the focus of the broadcast on the individuals competing and remind viewers that they are watching actual people. External metrics — speed, distance, force — might not make this as apparent, but the panelists stressed that they also add interest to the story. Even new and never-before-seen metrics, if presented clearly and within the context of the overall story, can enrich the broadcast.

“For the Paralympic Games in 2012 in London,” said Jose Luis Kruyff, head of sales, deltatre, “we worked with Channel Four and Kingston University to create a new metric. We found out that one of the most interesting aspects of wheelchair rugby was the speed of impact of the wheelchairs, so we’re working on creating a way to develop that and make that information available to the public.”

When it comes to deploying virtual graphics — whether player tracking, 360-degree replay, or augmented reality — less is more. Just because the technology exists does not mean that it can, or should, be used whenever possible. Rather, the panelists urged broadcasters to limit their use (“Reduce, reduce, reduce is definitely the way to go,” said Van Dall) in order to maximize the impact.

“The data is not the story,” said Genauer. “The story is the story, and the data is supposed to illustrate it.”

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