The inaugural SVG Sports Graphics Forum in NYC was a great success, by all accounts. The show was very well attended and featured highly engaging panels and a good mixture of vendors and clients.
As always, there were a number of interesting themes and talking points that emerged:
The leap from HD to 4K is effectively already done. While 4K broadcast might be a number of years away, many broadcasters are already using 4K for a number of purposes – even if they are outputting HD – including, for example, content creation, video walls and production tools like pan and scan. And, most, if not all, graphics providers are already 4K enabled.
Graphics beyond the lower third
A fascinating change in the past few years is the proliferation in non-traditional graphics, including virtual sets/graphics, augmented reality graphics and touchscreens. The move beyond the traditional full frame and lower third has led to a renaissance in the graphics industry with the focus now being on innovation and engagement rather than just cost. The driver for this change is multi-fold:
• Stronger competition for rights fees is driving broadcasters to differentiate their coverage through innovation.
• Larger rights fees means more pressure to monetize programming. New graphics increase ad inventory and sponsorship opportunities.
• Desire to attract a younger audience, especially millennials, through engagement and ‘cool’ features.
• Higher availability of advanced data to help enhance the storytelling (see next paragraph).
• Significant technological advancement whereby virtual graphics don’t only look real, but are more affordable
The drive for innovation means that graphics is getting more complicated. Configuring, maintaining and operating the graphics systems is becoming more and more specialized, while the editorial demands are becoming greater and more demanding.
This means more and more broadcasters are looking externally for service provider to a) assist them in managing the technical complexity while focusing on the storytelling and b) ensuring that they are staying on top or ahead of the curve in a rapidly evolving environment.
Data & storytelling
With the NFL and MLB introducing player tracking this year, the majority of US sports leagues now produce tracking data. The wealth of data this makes available presents a number of challenges and opportunities for the graphics industry.
The first question is how to get the information on air to aid the storytelling and contextualize the data. This is easier said than done and a lot of work is going into this. With so much data available, it is very easy to overload the viewer with information without providing real relevance or context.
Therefore, a lot of work needs to be done to contextualize the data and make sure it enhances the storytelling rather than confuses it, while also doing it in a way that is simple and easily comprehensible.
The second question is how do you figure out what a viewer wants at any given time? One major problem with traditional broadcast is that it doesn’t allow for much personalization, whereas in the digital space, personalization or interactivity has been a key feature from the very beginning.
For example, deltatre’s Diva video player, which makes statistics, tracking data and other content available as time-synchronized graphical overlays, has proven that there is a big appetite for additional information and data.
A Diva user interacts on average once every two minutes with the video player. The problem is that television broadcasts are not interactive and need to predict when to present what information. This is, of course, very challenging, especially as viewers might have very different requirements and expectations at any given moment.
Therefore, until TV broadcast can be personalized (which is technically feasible once the delivery is IP-based), we are unlikely to see most of these advanced statistics on air, even though we are likely to see more than we have before.
As with so many other things, human operations and logistics is a major cost component of a graphics service. Naturally, automation and remote operation becomes attractive.
While it will be a long time before sports graphics are completely automated, if at all, there is definitely a desire among graphics product and services companies to simplify the workflow and reduce the reliance on human operations.
This is primarily achieved by intelligent graphics design whereby graphics are triggered based on data and events. As the data becomes more sophisticated, the more intelligent the graphics can become.
Another powerful way to simplify graphics workflows is by giving control of graphics generation to the production staff. Whether this is through intuitive web-based tools whereby producers can call up any graphic through a simple interface and play it out or generate a NLE clip or giving a director full control through a simple touchscreen that pre-populates graphics templates during an event and allows the director to animate graphics directly, simplification is a key driver.