SportsTechLA Opens SVG’s West Coast Horizons

By Carolyn Braff

On Tuesday Jan. 20, SVG celebrated the historic Presidential inauguration by inaugurating an event of its own, the first Sports Video Group meeting ever held on the West Coast. Hosted by UCLA, SVG’s SportsTechLA seminar drew a capacity crowd of 130 sports-business professionals for a half-day seminar, focusing on the top sports-tech trends coming out of the Los Angeles hotbed.

The event was sponsored by SVG platinum sponsor Intelsat, premier sponsor Salzbrenner Stagetec, and corporate sponsor Sennheiser.

“Hosting SportsTechLA was my pleasure, and this show exceeded all my expectations,” says Ken Norris, director of video operations at UCLA. “All the presentations were well-presented and attended, and the 3ality demo was amazing.”

As the entertainment capitol of the world, it comes as no surprise that Los Angeles is home to the two top 3D-production companies for sports, although it was somewhat surprising that they shared a stage for the day’s first panel, 3D LA: We Love It! Alongside Fox Sports SVP of Production Jerry Steinberg and Cinedigm President Jonathan Dern, PACE founder/CEO Vince Pace and 3ality Digital Systems CEO Steve Schklair discussed the process of producing sports in 3D, how their experiments have gone so far, and what the future looks like for 3D sports as a business model.

Pace and Schklair’s most animated debate was on the issue of making 3D convergence a manual operation, as Pace’s company does, or automating it, as Schklair’s does.

“The computer simulations we’ve run of automation have been more accurate than the operators at keeping a consistent point of convergence where the main subject is always in that plane,” Schklair explained. “I’m on board with the idea that this is a function that we can automate and should automate. The goal is to present realism to images where everything is smooth and there’s no eye strain. A bad shot in 2D is just an ugly shot, but a bad shot in 3D hurts. Our goal is to keep this consistent enough so that it works.”

Said Pace, “Our vision is the same, but, where we are now, there aren’t 30 productions a weekend. I want to make sure that, when that ball is hit, it’s hit out of the park. We’re at one production every quarter, and we want to make sure that is polished like a diamond. Our engineers are all working on that solution, but I want control of that action; I want perfect 3D up on that screen.”

In addition to the heated discussion between the leaders in 3D sports production, attendees were treated to several 3D demos, including footage from an NFL game earlier this season.

SportsTechLA was held in the press room at the J.D. Morgan Center at UCLA, so, prior to the event, attendees had the opportunity to peruse the university’s impressive Sports Hall of Fame, which celebrates more championships than any other Division I school. With those credentials as a backdrop, the afternoon’s second panel took on extra importance, as efficient video exchange among coaches today is key to success on the field. The panel, Inside Look: Pac-10 Digital Game Exchange System, dove into the Pac-10 conference’s digital file-exchange system designed and operated by Norris.

“The true motive behind us exchanging all these files was us landing at an airport, walking up to a baggage counter, and them saying your baggage is lost,” Norris explained. “So I’d have to call coach, and the first question was, ‘are you sitting down?’ Coaches are a different breed. They’re not mean people; they just want what they want when they want to have it. It was difficult explaining to them why their video was not available. Since we implemented this system, we’ve had 100% success.”

UCLA Senior Network Engineer Chris Thomas, who works hand in hand with Norris, opened the panel with an explanation of how the system works, where the bottlenecks lie, and future improvements that could take the innovative system to a whole new level. Along with Blue Arc Senior Account Executive Glenn Grandis, Norris then fielded questions ranging from the equipment and workflow his team uses, to how non-conference opponents can access the system, to how the NFL can better utilize the resources of the colleges its draft prospects attend.

The final panel of the day was a look into the future, as three of the people most responsible for ESPN’s westward venture took the stage. Judi Cordray, general manager of the ESPN Los Angeles Production Center, took the stage alongside Jon Pannaman, senior director of technology for the center, and Gary Reynolds, senior director of production operations, to discuss the challenges of building out a 75,000-foot facility in the LA Live complex, 3,000 miles from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT.