FutureSPORT: Sports-Graphics Professionals Strike Balance Between Supporting, Overwhelming the Story

With more in-game statistics and sports-graphics tools at their disposal than ever before, producers are faced with tough decisions on how much screen to devote to data and how many personnel to dedicate to graphics presentation.

At SVG’s FutureSPORT Summit on Wednesday, sports-graphics professionals discussed some of the latest developments in graphics systems, changes in the way graphics are created and shared, and the evolution of graphics workflows from the truck to the screen.

“We continue to focus on telling the story through the data, collecting and sharing the story without its being a math lesson on the screen,” said Christine Anderson, creative director, Sportvision. “We create drama and create rivalries through the data.”

From the earliest days of the scorebug to today’s visual onslaught of Twitter feeds, virtual strike zones, heat maps, and more, sports graphics tell the story and provide the fodder for social interaction.

“We always talk about throwing the Twitter up on the screen,” says Anderson. “I think it’s about what the TV can give back to the social experience.”

However, with the myriad tools at the producer’s fingertips comes the decision on how much of the screen to devote to graphics. Touching on a theme that resonated throughout the day, the four panelists suggested that graphics currently on the first screen could find a home on the second screen.

“The notion of having that informed discovery [through the second screen] of what you’re watching [on the first screen] is very important,” said Bill Hendler, CTO, Chyron. “For the narrow case of graphics, [to] be able to be present [graphics] as metadata and send out through various kinds of second-screen platforms is important.”

The second screen could prove especially beneficial because of the immense amount of data produced per sporting event. Often, this data is discarded, leaving sports-graphics professionals and producers with no way to capitalize on this information from game to game.

“There’s a tremendous amount of data in the trucks that’s getting thrown away,” Hendler pointed out. “I think it’s very important to monetize that data and not have to try to re-create it. This stuff [needs to] become part of the routine day-to-day workflow for production and [not] exist as a separate entity. If we’re all going to really make money on more than just marquee productions, you have to be able to present the tools for this to be part of a routine production.”

Orad VP of Sales and Marketing Shaun Dail advocated tying that data to video, so that, when video is recalled, the supporting data is there and thus lives on in the second-screen space.

“One of the things that we’re doing is associating this data with video in a storage and archival capacity and making that available for very fast recall that can go out to the second-screen environment or be reused by the broadcaster at a later time,” says Dail. “When someone wants to see a controversial play, [to] have that available in a second-screen environment with supporting data is very valuable.”

In order to optimize the second screen for graphics presentation, the tools for delivery must be simplified and integrated into the typical production workflow.

“Especially in the trucks, you want things simpler,” said David Jorba, SVP, graphics operations, Vizrt. “[You want] systems that can handle more and are easier for the operator. The thing is to find the right balance. All that data is really becoming a high-end mini production [in itself, but] you have to find ways for operators to simplify the operation.”

Dail supports this push towards an enhanced sports-graphics presentation through a simplified workflow, while reminding the audience that graphics are there to tell the story. As such, they should be simplified so that producers and talent alike have tools at their disposal to best convey the action on the screen.

“People want more-complex delivery. They want to be able to tell the story more in depth, [but] they want it to be easier, and I think that’s exactly right,” says Dail. “The direction we’re focusing on is giving talent the ability to do things basically by touch. We feel like touch with talent gives them tools they’re already familiar with — iPads, tablets, etc. — because, in essence, the analyst and the talent are the ones that are delivering on telling the story, and putting those tools directly in their hands is of great value.”