Peer Seitz, head of Infront Productions, discusses some of the operational challenges and opportunities broadcasters face with behind-closed-doors events.
While some fans might have found solace in sports archive footage over the last two months, the majority are keen to see a return to live sport under the right circumstances.
The focus for sport event organisers has been to find solutions to manage social distancing and guarantee the safety of their employees. With up to 300 people needed to deliver one of the recently returning Bundesliga matches the challenge was always going to be tremendous.
Broadcasters will have to adapt to comply with safety measures while upholding production standards to deliver quality for viewers.
We are likely to continue to see a drastic change in how production is managed on-site as other events start up. This includes adapting the setup of the OB van, to either reducing crews by grouping positions or increasing the available work space by adding cabins or a second truck to outsource from the main OB van.
Recent technical innovations have prepared the broadcast industry for some of the challenges ahead and will help mitigate the hurdles that this new situation might cause. In terms of live production, existing telecommunication infrastructures already in place in some stadiums makes remote production easier, allowing for members of the production crew to operate in a safe environment.
Likewise, the use of remote editing solutions could also be an option to facilitate social distancing and ensure broadcast operations abide by health and safety procedures.
If the current situation forces us to adapt the way we work, many of these post-Covid-19 production challenges can be turned into opportunities.
In some ways an empty arena offers a broader scope of options when it comes to camera angles. The NFL and NBA have experimented with moving cameras lower and, with no seats to kill, the belief is they can provide better-cut new angles. Budget allowing, more cameras could even be brought in to diversify replays options. These additions will contribute to make up for any missing emotion from the stands, by focusing the narrative thread on the players and coaches.
New camera angles can be supplemented by the integration of more graphics (based on performance driven-data and statistics), thus enriching the narrative, and, in some cases, heightening the drama. It could offer broadcast partners more material for commentary and be used to engage fans.
Audio will also play a key role to bring teams storytelling to the forefront. With no fans in the arena, we’ll be able to hear the pitch and benches interacting. Coach mics are common in many sports and enhance the production value; by generalising their use, fans will have another opportunity to enjoy their sport in a time when the viewing experience has, by default, already been revolutionised.
Another way of keeping fans engaged is the integration of social media. We’ve already seen in the past weeks the development of several apps such as “Hear Me Cheer”, allowing the audience to cheer, clap or chant. Integrating these audio rushes into the production plan could make for a more embedded, interactive experience.
And with the deployment of digital overlay solutions, social media integration can be taken one step further with empty stands not bound to be (virtually) empty anymore. Whether it be virtual advertising or fan-colour based, tribune areas can be branded and used in a similar fashion infotainment screens are in more regular sporting circumstances.
Of course, any temporary solutions rolled out at scale could create new expectations for fans and broadcasters. Sports properties need to be aware that any significant additions to the broadcast model will likely need to be addressed when the world does eventually return to normal. But in an industry that’s always pushing to innovate, and where agility and flexibility are key words I know we will be able to use some solutions to enrich our vision for the long-term.