TEXAS, USA – In 1911, more than 1,000 people gathered in Lawrence, Kansas to watch a football game while it was being played nearly 360 miles away in Missouri. A Western Union telegraph wire had been run directly from Columbia, Missouri giving operators instant access to what was happening. People would announce the results of the previous play using a large model of a field to show the results. Those in attendance cheered as though they were watching the Kansas vs. Missouri game live and the world was forever changed.
Live sports quickly became a natural subject for television as it worked to find content to fill the hours in the broadcast day. In May 1939 a college baseball game between the Columbia Lions and Princeton Tigers, was broadcast by NBC from Columbia’s Baker Field. The world’s first live televised sporting event had been the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, but this baseball game began America’s love affair with sports television.
Today sports broadcast rights are fought over like a modern gold rush. Coverage of properties such as the MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS are highly effective ways for corporations such as AT&T, Fox, and NBC Universal to showcase their offerings to viewers, but more importantly attract affiliates and the revenue generated by affiliate sales; which in-turn becomes a major source of revenue for teams and leagues.
The internet-connected world has even generated an off-shoot called eSports which has quickly started taking hold of both traditional and non-traditional broadcast outlets. In 2013, it was estimated that approximately 71.5 million people worldwide watched eSports, with companies like Turner putting it into their Friday night programming slots.
The technology of televising live sports has also continued to evolve, the introduction of UHD gives the viewer four times as many pixels as regular HDTVs. Followed by HDR, which boosts a TV’s brightness, contrast, and colour, making the pictures on the screen look more like real life. At the venues the introduction of fibre based backhauls allowed the broadcasters to ditch the uplink trucks and has allowed for camera feeds from venue to travel to the studio across the country or down the street, giving regional sports programmes access to 16-30 cameras just like a big national show.
The juggling act
A crucial element in sports broadcasting is the ability to brand each event in a specific way during pre-game, game, post-game, and if required halftime activities. With the goal of providing viewers experienced on-air talent and guests with re-caps and insight into the action at hand.
The demands of sports focused production teams are very different from those that are found in a news centric environment. Starting with a transient work force. At any given time, you might have 100 people working on an event, but only 10-15 of those people are staff. Meaning systems need to be simple to use and require little training. Plus, sports information is frequently released at the last second by the teams to prevent the opponent from gaining a completive advantage from information such as injuries or roster changes. Sports production often needs to ingest and slip incoming content directly to air for things like player interviews and coaches press conferences. The sports centric newsroom also needs to be able to handle a mixture of Apple and Windows computers owned and operated by staffers and freelance crew alike. Making it critical that anyone can install or update the newsroom computer system client. Finally, discussion between guests in a sport-related programme is usually unscripted with the presenter just be working from talking points and timing cues.
The Octopus approach
The Octopus newsroom computer system is designed in such way that sports broadcasters can collaborate
at every stage of the newscast production process. Octopus 8.1 even goes beyond by providing the tools to publish content to the web and social media channels from a single platform. Installations are scalable from a single channel with just a few bulletins per day to full-scale 24/7 networks. Octopus 8.1 is software-based, runs natively on Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X. Mobile apps are available for Google Android and Apple iOS tablets as well as smartphones.
Examples of sports centric broadcasters who have elected to use Octopus range from regional television stations to major sports and eSports networks worldwide:
- AT&T SportsNet, a group of regional sports networks operated by AT&T Sports Networks, in the Northwest, Pittsburgh, Rocky Mountain and Southwest regions. The four networks combined reach just over 13 million households across 22 states and own exclusive rights to produce and distribute live events from more than 25 professional teams and conferences.
- Altitude Sports the television and radio homes of the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Mammoth and Colorado Rapids
- It is also heavily used by sports channels in Europe and Asia, such as Canal+ in Poland, Match TV in Russia and Star Sports in India.
Live sport reporting
Reporting from live sport events used to be one of the toughest assignments in the entire venue because you tend to be serving masters both in the production truck and the studio. Sports production demands efficient handling oftopics, video clips, live graphic manipulation and some degree of scripting – notably of questions, presenter-spoken introductions and wraps. Flexibility is essential as part of the excitement of sports television is that almost anything can happen to disrupt the flow of a game. Octopus has also developed the Octopus Journalist App which allows reporters and editors to obtain instant access to all wires, rundowns and assignments via a normal mobile phone service or Wi-Fi link. They can go anywhere without needing to have tons of gear and they can edit stories within a rundown, preview prompter text and create wires and reports in the field. Dedicated hardware with the flexibility of this software would have cost a fortune before smart phones and tablets running Apple iOS or Google Android.
eSports is one of the most exciting developments in the entire field of competitive games and has almost unlimited potential for broadcasters. In a television presentation context, it can be handled in a similar way to a real-world event with experienced players coordinated as guests by a studio host and a similar mix of live-sourced content and archived clips. The unlimited potential for original graphics is a big advantage. Another is that players are much less at risk of injury than in a real-world game.
A vital consideration for any newsroom system, and certainly for sports coverage, is the ability to integrate with third-party equipment such as graphics, automation, storage servers and teleprompters. Our approach includes compatibility with the MOS communications protocol which allows facility managers to retain a high level of freedom in deciding when and where they purchase production, post-production and data storage equipment. Careful design and co-ordination allow all essential newsroom tasks to be handled from a single workstation rather than having to clutter desks with multiple monitors and keyboards. MOS-standardised metadata exchange between these devices also allows fast content searching and seamless control across an entire production network. In 2017 this technology won an Emmy for the Media Object Server Group of which we are an active member.