SAN ANTONIO—Sports fans are among the most demanding audiences in the world—of their team and of their content. No matter if it’s a nationally televised game on a mainstream network or a live stream on a niche sports channel, they expect production at a level that rivals their passion.
Of course, not every organization has the financial resources or media relationships of major league sports. However, the argument can be made that it’s even more critical for these emerging sports to present professional-quality content, especially if they intend to grow. Opportunities for sponsorship activity, regional network partnerships, and content monetization in the form of subscription models will elude them if they are unable to engage audiences effectively.
That said, where traditional broadcast equipment and methods remain cost-prohibitive for many involved at this level, the video industry’s shift toward IP-based production holds promise for the entire world of sport.
FUELING FORMULA D
A prime example of IP allowing an underground sport to continue making inroads with audiences and advertisers is Formula DRIFT, or “Formula D.” A high-intensity driving competition series where drivers operate modified cars and utilize a technique called drifting to expertly maneuver through turn-filled courses, Formula D has a loyal and growing fan base that spans the globe. What the sport does not have is a multimillion-dollar TV contract and the reach that comes along with it. So, production and distribution costs must be low enough that budget-conscious sponsors can invest comfortably, while the quality must be high enough to draw viewership that instills them with the confidence that their investment is worthwhile.
A big part of making such productions affordable for sponsors and other clients is knocking down crew and equipment costs, according to Jeff Harper, co-founder of Adrenaline Garage, the Colorado-based video production company responsible for live streaming Formula D events. “[With] NewTek NDI, we can do a two-day broadcast for one-tenth the cost of renting even an older 53-foot HD truck,” he said. “IP video production is the future. Any technology that gives you more power, while costing you less money... there’s just no way to stop that.”
REDUCING COSTS AND COMPLEXITY
To Harper’s point, not only do premium IP video production systems cost less than conventional, high-end SDI broadcast video infrastructure, the savings are multiplied by reducing the shipping and labor expenses incurred in travel and on-location production. Weighing seven or eight pounds per hundred-foot length, checking 1,000 feet of traditional coaxial cable on a commercial flight can cost about $200. When you consider the connectivity required for a multicamera production with audio, transporting cabling alone can mean spending tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a season-long event schedule. With IP, though, a single fiber-optic strand can accommodate multiple channels of video, audio, data, and communications, while also being lighter, and thus, less expensive, to ship. Less labor is also involved, because setup and teardown crews are handling a fraction of the cable runs.
Of the most significant benefit to broadcasters of emerging sports, however, is the ability to transform their event location into a veritable sandbox with virtually unlimited creative possibilities for telling the story of their sport, the event at hand, and the participants involved.
Indeed, with IP-based workflows, they can leverage the existing Gigabit network infrastructure found in most modern venues to not only structure their coverage according to best practices, but also explore new ways to shape the viewer experience. Where equivalent freedom could potentially be attained with standard OB production vehicles, ENG cameras, and digital and analog cabling, it would come with significant planning, expense, and effort. Meanwhile, IP only requires that compatible systems, devices, and software be in proximity to the on-site network for inclusion into the production workflow. Adding a new camera angle for the field, court, track, or other competitive space, for example, can be done with ease of plugging into the closest network port or connecting to the local Wi-Fi.
RAISING THE BAR, LOWERING THE BARRIER
With emerging sports generally having more room to experiment and innovate when it comes to workflow design and content creation, IP-based production also makes the most sense. Enabling a multitude of compatible technologies from high-end to completely free to interconnect using the same language, IP allows broadcasters to present the unique action, visuals, and graphical elements that embody their sport using a product mix that works for their budget. Ultimately, what IP represents is more than a shift in tools and technologies for the industry, but the continued democratization of live video production for a new content economy. From niche sports, to college athletic programs, to startup professional organizations, new producers and new live sports offerings are becoming part of the creative collective every day. And with this next-generation production model that they can make their own, easily and affordably, we should expect to see that growth not only continue, but accelerate.