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Automated Sports Production: the next big thing in sports broadcasting?

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Automated Sports Production

corner new-100or How to do 100s of live broadcasts and never miss dinner!!

Hopefully the title got your attention and now you are trying to figure out if what I am saying to true, real, or even possible. What if I told you there is a way to do a “multi cam” liveASP01 broadcast with real graphics and you don’t have to worry about the “always reliable” students or well anyone for that matter to make it happen. From the Pixelot to SportzCast Control Room to the IQ Sports Producer, the products are starting to hit the market and are more affordable than you may realize.

In a recent conversation with my athletic director, he asked how I planned to not get burned out when I told him my goals for the school year. I told him that I had a plan. Automated Sports Production (ASP). It is real and around the corner for high school sports. Here’s my idea: Mount an ASP system in the gym and cover most of the gym sports with the set up. This won’t replace my manual set up for the bigger events but will certainly allow me to cover games that I would not typically cover. Imagine how excited parents will be to see their freshman play basketball while they are still stuck in a cubicle at work (Freshman games typically start before the end of
the work day for most parents).

ASP02a 350Automated sports productions rely on a couple of pieces of equipment to get started. The capture device can be a variety of things but the two most popular at this time are the Automatic PTZ and Panoramic with Latency. The PTZ camera is just what you expect, a camera that automatically pans, tilts, and zooms based on the position of the ball and/or players. The panoramic camera is more of an array of cameras in one device that track the ball but with a built in latency so they cameras can more accurately track the action. Earlier models of the ASP systems did not have a plan for when the action changes quickly and there were times that the action was missed because the camera and computer lost track of the action. (The unfortunate part of that was that when action changes like that, it is usually an exciting or pivotal moment in the game). The cameras can be either indoor or outdoor cameras so you can cover gym or field sports.

Another piece of hardware that ASP systems use is quite obvious… a computer of some sort. This can be a desktop device or something rack mounted like the IQ Sports Producer from CP Communications. The computer is the heart of the system - housing the algorithm that follows the action on the court, field, or mat. The algorithm can work to focus on just the ball or the ball and players. Both have drawbacks but as the technology and specificity of the algorithm gets tweaked they will become more accurate. When I tell you that the algorithm is specific, the “game state” has been taken into account for the sports. For example, the computer knows that a corner kick in soccer is most likely going to go to the box/goal area so it will position the camera in that area prior to the kick in order to show the developing play.

Finally, a scoreboard connection is required. This comes in a variety of forms including the scorebot by Sportzcast. Most connect to the scoreboard or the scoreboard controller via the external connections and relay information over IP to the computer and pair the scoreboard information with built in graphics.

ASP03

There are a couple of things to understand about ASP:
1) It will not replace manual broadcasts in terms of multiple camera angles, etc. The best productions will still require the human touch. From compelling camera angles to instant replay that matters, the human touch and discerning production eye are required. While the conversation with your students could/should be had that this is taking potential jobs away, it should also be had with the understanding that these setups are not going to produce professional linear broadcast style productions.

2) It takes faith in your internet infrastructure (don’t tune out yet if you think your school’s is terrible) You have to have faith that your internet will work when you need it to. The biggest thing I took into consideration as I prepared this article was that most internet activity happens during school (which is when the internet usually doesn’t perform as well as we would wish sometimes), but sporting events happen outside of that time. I am in a system now that has 1:1 but we all know it’s more like 3:1 or 4:1 by the time you add their personal devices. As you prepare, make sure to test your internet signal during the time you would do the broadcasts.

3) It will allow you cover games you would probably have never covered. I plan to stream as many basketball games as I can this year. In the past, when someone asked why I don’t do JV or freshman level games, I would just explain that I don’t have time for that. There are times when all 6 of our basketball teams would play in one day… averaging 90 minutes a game that 9 hours of live broadcasting…usually on a saturday. ASP will allow you to set it and forget it for the first 4 games of the day.

4) It can help your coaching staff more than they know (Use this to leverage the cost and access). While the plan should be to broadcast these productions to the world via live streaming, there is nothing that says, practices, scrimmages, etc could not be covered as well… and you would not have to be there. With some of the panoramic style setups, you can use and app and view any part of the court at any time so if you need to see something that happened behind the action, you can view it.

5) It’s still relatively new so there are some kinks to be worked out. At this point, ASP is new technology but it’s coming down the road fast. The recent partnership between the NFHS Network and Pixellot means that more schools will have access to this type of set up soon and will be able to take care of a lot of live streams that simply were not possible before. There is a pretty steep learning curve and a sharp edge for the leap of faith but I believe that ASP is the future of high school sports productions simple due to the ease of use.

Automated Sports Productions are not going away and to be honest, we are going to see a lot more of them sooner than we realize. There are several schools in the Atlanta area that have 2 or 3 set ups so they can cover as many sports as possible.


TomWhiteHeadshot 175Tom White is a video production teacher at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers. GA. Tom is also the director of the Sports Broadcast Institute, which is One of Five Georgia Governor’s Innovation in Education award winning programs and the NFHS Network Best Overall Program. The Sports Broadcast Institute works to  produce live broadcasts, newscasts, sports documentaries and more for the Three schools, Rockdale Co, Salem, and Heritage High schools, that the career academy serves. Prior to teaching, Tom was a marketing, promotions, and online content director for a major radio corporation in Atlanta. Tom studied exercise science at High Point University prior to his radio career. Despite his winding career path, his mother still thinks he is special.