London Gets Into Sporting Mood With Sports Broadcast Europe Conference

By Kevin Hilton

Each sporting year gives an indication how events will be covered in the future, but 2008 has given more technological clues about directions than others. That was a major conclusion of the Sports Broadcast Europe conference, held in London this week, Dec. 9.

The Beijing Olympics and the European Football Championships in Austria and Switzerland built on the work done in high-definition and 5.1 surround sound, but, in a keynote address exploring future developments in sports-broadcast technology, Peter Angell, director of production and programming for Host Broadcast Services (HBS), noted the relative lack of progress in general terms. “We’re seeing a commitment to HD from consumer-electronics and professional manufacturers, but the bit missing is broadcast,” he said. “Why haven’t broadcasters taken the opportunity offered by HD more than they have?”

Angell views 3D as a viable broadcast tool, but, right now, he says, it is an “out-of-home” experience, with people going to a theatre or cinema to watch an event. “3D Blu-ray will give display manufacturers a reason to make suitable products, which will bring it into the home,” he observed. “But we need the right model to monetize the technology. And no one has written the manual on 3D yet anyway.”

Two people who could contribute to such a document are Duncan Humphreys, director of Can Communicate, and Andy Millns, director of Inition, who worked on the BBC’s 3D rugby test transmission. Humphreys commented that all major broadcasters were trying 3D and that the display side was getting there, with Samsung selling a screen for under £1000. He added that 3D needs a “grunt camera rig” if it is to become mainstream.

Shipping conventional equipment is enough of a logistical challenge, as illustrated by Kevin Moorhouse, group technical director of Gearhouse Broadcast. He said other key considerations are accreditation and the ever-shortening time in which broadcasters expect to agree contracts. Moorhouse also posed the question of where the next generation of good, young engineers is coming from in time for the 2010 World Cup and 2012 London Games.

Web streaming and mobile coverage played their parts this year. Ben Gallop, head of BBC Sport Interactive, said linear TV was still leading the way but the increase in Web streams from Athens in 2004 to this year’s Olympics was considerable and that new platforms would be even more important for 2010 and 2012: “There is more appetite for Web browsing, driven by devices like the iPhone.”

Web coverage is increasingly important for rightsholders and non-rightsholders alike, and Oran MacLaverty, legal and business advisor to the EBU, said the drafting of rights will follow technology, not the other way round. He added that the EBU streaming Website and the International Olympic Committee’s allowing footage on YouTube were key pointers to the future for sports broadcasting.