SVG’s RSN Summit Draws 200+ to Chicago, Delves into Key Issues Facing Changing Industry

SVG’s RSN Summit returned in person last week to reunite the regional sports industry for the first time since the summer of 2019. At the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel on June 29-30, the event brought together RSN leaders and content creators to network and exchange ideas about the pertinent issues facing the regional sports sector as the business undergoes seismic change on multiple fronts. These leaders addressed how RSNs are being challenged to produce more events and content at lower costs while also navigating new pandemic-era realities and building beyond the linear-distribution model.

The event kicked off on June 29 with an opening-night reception along with a dinner presented by ProCrewz and Program Productions, which also served as title sponsor for the event.

Day 2 opened with a panel on “New Production Models for a New Normal”, which addressed how the pandemic dramatically transformed regional sports networks’ live-production operations over the past two-plus years. To limit crew travel for safety and cost-saving reasons, RSNs have increasingly relied on enhanced world feeds and new REMI production workflows that leverage their broadcast facilities at home. As the RSN world returns to something resembling normalcy, Kendall Burgess, Bally Sports, VP of Technical Operations; Kenny Elcock, NESN, VP of Engineering; Jeff Filippi, MSG Networks, SVP of Programming & Production, Executive Producer; Devon Fox, NBC Sports Bay Area & California, Senior Director of Live Events & Special Projects; and Doug Johnson, AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, VP and Executive Producer discussed how they are mixing established pre-pandemic production models with the new at-home workflows like MTVG’s Cloud Control, Game Creek’s GCV Anywhere, and Remote Access Productions (RAPs).

Next up was the hottest topic of the moment for the industry: The state of labor and how RSNs are managing a shrinking freelance workforce. ProCrewz Chairman of the Board and CEO Bob Carzoli addressed the exodus of sports-production professionals during the pandemic when many industry veterans opted to retire or find new career paths. As a result, RSNs find themselves searching desperately for talented engineers and production crew to work the thousands of regional broadcasts they deliver each year. Carzoli presented an overview of the state of the current market, how it has evolved, and what to expect in the future.

Next up, Imagine Communications’ Bob Bolson talked with NESN VP of Engineering Kenny Elcock during a case study Q&A on planning and implementing the innovative technology behind the RSN’s successful broadcasts in native 4K/HDR. Later in the day, Sportradar’s Director of Broadcast Sales Patrick Murphy chatted with Marquee Sports Network graphics and EVS operator Nick Helling on enhanced storytelling through automated statistics. 

As RSNs look to capitalize on the expected revenue boost offered by legalized sports betting in their respective states, several have launched “BetCast” alternative presentations of games, wagering-focused studio shows and original programming, predictive-gaming contests for fans, and more. A panel at the event addressed how RSNs are incorporating wagering content into their broadcasts, how they’re using gamification to engage viewers, and what the future holds for sports betting at the RSN level. The discussion featured Danielle Cranin, NBC Sports, Director of Content Integration & Partnerships, Betting & Gaming; Talaya Gaines, MSG Networks, VP, Content Strategy and Original Programming; Mike McCarthy, Marquee Sports Network, General Manager; and Howard Zalkowitz, NESN, Executive Producer. 

The first session of the afternoon focused on DTC and Authenticated Streaming and featured Ahmed Darwish, NESN, Chief Marketing Officer; Amy DesLauriers, Midco Sports, Senior Associate Product Manager – Sports/Advertising; Michael Schneider, Bally Sports, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager; and Scott Young, Transmit, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer. As consumer viewing habits evolve and carriage disputes become more frequent, RSNs are looking for new ways to deliver live games and original content directly to consumers. Some – including Bally Sports and NESN – have launched their own DTC streaming platforms — or have announced plans to do so — in order to reach fans directly while others launched dedicated apps and streaming experiences for authenticated cable subscribers. RSN leaders discuss best practices in designing a live-streaming app, avoiding potential pitfalls, enhancing fan interactivity, differentiating the digital experience, and leveraging non-game content for streaming/OTT outlets.

The topic of REMI/remote production echoed throughout the entire days sessions and took center stage during a panel entitled “At-Home and in the Studio: From Announcers to Editors, How RSNs Are Embracing Remote Workflows”. In the midst of the pandemic, RSNs were forced to shift production almost entirely to remote operation — from announcers calling games off monitors to editors creating content from their homes. Although staffers have gradually returned to onsite broadcast, many RSNs have opted to keep some crew and on-air talent at home. Pac-12 Networks EVP of Content Larry Meyers moderated a session featuring Jared Boshnack, YES Network, VP, Production; Brett Opdyke, Bally Sports Florida & Bally Sports Sun, Executive Producer; AJ Ponsiglione, Spectrum SportsNet and SportsNet LA, Senior Coordinating Producer, Studio and Live Events; and Mike Santini, Marquee Sports Network, SVP, Programming and Production.

The day closed with an RSN production tech roundup from Mike Burk, LTN Global, General Manager, Event Production and Transmission Unit; Nick Garvin, Mobile TV Group, COO; James Piccirillo, Game Creek Video, Broadcast Network Systems Manager; and Josh Stoner, Canon, Senior Specialist, Product Management Team, Broadcast and Cinema Lenses.

SVG’s RSN Summit was made possible by ProCrewz/Program Productions, Haivision, Sportradar, Imagine Communications, Canon, Transmit.Live, LTN Global, G&D, LiveU, BirdDog, Cartoni, Caloric, Riedel, Evertz, Lawo, Astound, Signiant, and Cobalt.

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