Kentucky Derby: Waiting for the Hi-Def Audience

Kentucky Derby: Waiting for the Hi-Def Audience

Thoroughbred racing's top event will be in high-definition again this year, but don't expect production techniques to change too much until more people watch the race in HD.

Until broadcasters make it through the dual-production transition to the world of dedicated HD, there's not a big push to change the way horse racing and other sports are shot, said David Michaels, producing the show for NBC May 3 from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

"When that day comes, I think we'll start seeing some real interesting things," Michaels said in a conference call with reporters. "At this point hi-def for everybody [all the networks] is almost an appendage. We're experimenting with it, but until people start buying the sets, it's one of those what-comes-first kind of things."

For now, the race itself--a quick two minutes or so--will be shot with about seven HD cameras for both the HD and regular feeds. The rest of the 90-minute production will be broadcast in standard-definition only.

Michaels said one of the main goals of the production, upon review of previous races, was to preserve and show the live scene and not get caught up in tape pieces and other distractions.

"It's live, live, live," he said. "We don't have any backup, there's no 'roll some tape,' ... and that's the fun part of it."

Nor will he have any horse-cams or similar trickery.

"Until somebody comes up with a way to put a camera in the race, I'm not sure that we're going to have any new production things that are going to be of any use for us until the technology advances, makes a quantum leap," he said.

A wire-cam at the Breeder's Cup a few years ago was pretty successful, he said, but not up to what he would like to see on the Derby. Thoroughbred racing is a tough environment for innovation, he noted; the horses "think that camera cables are snakes," he said. "So it's a very hard sport to get inside in the way we've been able to improve coverage in a lot o other sports.

"I think in some ways one of the great leaps forward for racing will be when everybody has a hi-def TV," he said.