Will remote production change game for nets?
By: John Ourand
Univision Deportes President Juan Carlos Rodriguez was in a StubHub Center suite sitting next to MLS Commissioner Don Garber on March 6, but his focus was not on the field, where the LA Galaxy and Chicago Fire competed in the league’s opening match.
Rather, he was focused on his iPad, which was streaming Univision’s production of the game.
Rodriguez was nervous. It wasn’t so much that the game marked the start of Univision’s eight-year, $120 million deal. It was because this game marked the first time Univision produced a live sports telecast remotely.
The game was at the Galaxy’s home field in Carson, Calif., but the bulk of Univision’s production team was nearly 3,000 miles away in Miami. Even though he was sitting next to the league’s commissioner, Rodriguez said he was on the phone constantly, making sure that the production did not have any problems.
Over the past several years, TV networks have debated whether announcers need to be on site for select games. For some international events like the World Cup and the Olympics, ESPN and NBC have had announcers call some of the less popular games and events off of the TV feeds from their U.S. studios.
But a potentially bigger trend that’s stayed under the radar is whether producers, directors — or, even, entire production trucks — actually need to be on site. As stadiums get upgraded with broadband connectivity, it will become much easier for TV networks to produce games remotely, keeping a pared down production crew and on-air announcers on site.
The trend could mark the biggest change in how TV sports are produced since television cameras first captured a sporting event. And it’s causing consternation among TV sports producers and directors, many of whom want to be at the stadium and have resisted the change, according to several network sources. Those executives are used to calling the shots from the venue.
But judging from Rodriguez’s attitude after Univision’s first remotely produced event, the change is coming.
“This will be a very disruptive story for the future,” Rodriguez said. “This is a game-changer.”
Univision is committed to produce its Friday night MLS games this season from Miami while keeping its announce teams on site. ESPN also has experimented with the remote production technology this year, producing 45 college basketball games from Bristol, and plans to use the system for some MLS games and college sports this spring. Conference channels, like BTN and SEC Network, have produced some of their Olympic sports remotely.
This isn’t a system that will be used for big events or NFL games. Not yet, at least.
So far, Univision and ESPN executives couldn’t be more positive about early results from their remote productions, which they say provides substantial cost savings. Neither network would attach a figure to how much they save, but sources say the travel expenses and truck rentals could amount to between $30,000 and $50,000 a game.
For a network like ESPN, which produces thousands of games, that money adds up quickly.
“It’s gaining some traction here,” said Amy Rosenfeld, a senior coordinating producer at ESPN. “It’s a business model we are exploring that could free up money to do other things.”
In fact, Rodriguez balked at the term “cost savings,” saying that Univision plans to use much of the money to add on-site cameras. It used 12 cameras for the Galaxy-Fire game, instead of the seven it typically would use. Rodriguez also said that the savings will be used to create shoulder programming around the league.
“We’re not saving, we’re repurposing the money,” he said. “Between 40 to 50 percent will be repurposed back into the broadcast. This is not meant to save. This is meant to enhance the product with the same budget.”
Rodriguez said Univision produced the game without a hitch. Using a production facility across the country accounted for only a 0.03-second delay in the transmission, he said. During the game, camera operators would respond to the technical director’s questions by moving their camera.
“You couldn’t notice any delay,” he said.
For the Galaxy-Fire game, Univision had 12 to 14 production people at the stadium, a figure that will be reduced to “five or six” as the MLS season wears on, Rodriguez said. Univision felt it needed more production people at its first remotely produced event in case something went wrong. Univision hired local camera operators and kept the technical managers in Miami.
Rodriguez said announcers will remain at the stadium throughout the season.
“We did not have to fly people across the U.S., losing two days traveling in a three-day window,” Rodriguez said. “We’re very happy that this technological innovation will bring a better experience for the viewers.”
ESPN executives are similarly enthused. This season, Rosenfeld said she was not told which college basketball games were produced remotely. She watched the games and said she was unable to tell which ones they were.
“If any component of our production is compromised, it is a nonstarter,” said Rosenfeld. “We’re always looking at ways to run a better business.”
Rodriguez said he first looked into the plan last October, when he heard that the English Premier League occasionally produced some games remotely. Univision executives approached Garber and Gary Stevenson, president and managing director of MLS Business Ventures, and found that they were both enthusiastic about the idea.
Rodriguez said he felt validated when Garber sent a note thanking his Univision staff just before the game.
“‘Viernes de Futbol’ [Univision’s ‘Friday Night Soccer’] will play an important part in helping us tell the story of the league’s growth to our fans and the amount of promotional support you have provided thus far is very much appreciated,” Garber wrote.
John Ourand can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@Ourand_SBJ.
Volvo steps up
Fox Sports has sold presenting sponsorship to its coverage of the first round of the NHL playoffs to Volvo in a deal whose worth is believed to be in the low seven figures. The network is still in the market with its sponsorship of the first round of the NBA playoffs, which carries a higher price tag.
The sponsorship, which was sold by the Fox Sports-owned Home Team Sports, gives Volvo ad units on U.S.-based RSNs during the games, as well as in-arena signage. Volvo also attaches its brand to HTS Rewind highlights, a video syndication business that has 17 million unique viewers per month.
Last year, Intel bought a similar presenting sponsorship around the first round of the NHL playoffs, while Home Team Sports did not sell an NBA sponsorship package.
Expect Anthony to return doing NBA
I expect to see Greg Anthony back calling basketball action on TV at some point next season. Anthony, who got his start calling NBA games for ESPN, most likely will land with the NBA on TNT crew by the start of next season.
The basketball analyst was suspended by both CBS and Turner Sports after a January arrest on charges of soliciting a prostitute in Washington, D.C. A judge later ruled that the charge will be dropped if he performs 32 hours of community service.
Before his arrest, Anthony had been tabbed to be an analyst for the choicest role in college basketball: the Final Four and NCAA championship game. Hours after his arrest became public, CBS and Turner suspended him from calling college games and named Bill Raftery and Grant Hill as his replacements on the Final Four and championship game.
It looks doubtful that he will work college basketball games, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Turner give him another shot focused only on the NBA.
Source: Sports Buiness Daily