Working more remotely in sports production

By Rob Drewett, CEO/Co-Founder, Motion Impossible

Industry trends can be notoriously difficult to pin down at the best of times, and given the disruption caused by Covid-19 throughout the past year, matters are perhaps more fluid than ever. However, in the way that the industry has responded to producing sports content in the teeth of a pandemic, we can tease out a few trends. After all, it’s only a year ago that sports and sports broadcasting effectively stopped around the world. The fact that it’s been able to restart and continue, even as subsequent waves of the pandemic have crashed around it, is testament to some fast and creative thinking on behalf of sports broadcasters, leagues, and production companies around the world.

In some ways we have been fortunate. The drive towards remote production was already firmly underway, driven by the twin imperatives of economics and environmental considerations. Covid-secure production protocols have been able to build on these efforts, accelerating development and making the production workflow of remote camera teams connecting into central production hubs standard a year or so before it would have happened naturally.

The way we have seen our AGITO remote-controlled modular dolly system used within sports production reflects that in microcosm, allowing camera operators to remain in one place while the camera roams around the playing area and beyond. Featuring four-wheel drive and steering in its Sports configuration (track-based drive ends are also available) as well as a Tower unit that allows for smooth camera movements up to two metres in height, it’s becoming common to see an AGITO be driven into the middle of a sports field and be used to interview players without breaking bio-secure bubbles.

The AGITO is also fitting into a newly prioritised need from sports for multi-functional equipment. With people doubling up roles to keep the numbers of personal deployed at stadia within Covid-secure limits, having a camera that can be deployed in many different roles is a positive benefit. We know of one client that uses it in at least three ways when covering speed-skating, for instance: for post-race interviews, for wide-beauty shots, and for tracking the athletes during action shots as you would use a railcam, driving it swiftly round the rink between engagements.

Current and developing trends in sports production are also seeing us add new features to the AGITO to reflect the way that the industry is developing.

The first is AR. AR and the seamless overlay of multiple graphics elements on top of a sports broadcast is going to be a huge part of the next generation of sports broadcasting, with viewer-definable overlays enabling people to understand the on-field action better than ever before. We can already do wireless 4K from AGITO mounted cameras; what we’re working on next is making sure that we can also wirelessly provide the data path from the camera, lenses, and heads that are needed to make AR work with whatever footage we capture.

Safety is always a concern, which is why the AGITO has proved so popular pitch-side as it can track athletes and players without the potentially dangerous infrastructure required by rail systems. Driven by Covid precautions, we see safety only becoming more important in the sports market and have managed to couple that with that growing demand for automation and need for smaller crews via the development of a forthcoming waypoint system. This is going to let users describe point to point and then arced routes for the AGITO and ensure it automatically follows them at the press of a button. We’re capable of hitting 30mph with the AGITO but, in practice, operators rarely push it above half of that. By being able to lean into a bulletproof waypoint system, they will be able to drive the system harder and capture ever more spectacular footage as a result.

Innovation hasn’t stopped because of Covid, but Covid has shaped the directions it travels in. At some point, the restrictions will ease and we’ll start having to make choices regarding whether we carry on with what has become the new normal, or if we go back to the old ways of doing things. As many businesses are finding, there are definite benefits to things like remote working and flexible staff hours, and we expect our city centres may be quite different post-Covid and a result. Sports production is the same, and with the need for smaller crews generating smaller carbon footprints, we can see remotely controlled, multi-function tools such as the AGITO becoming cemented into the spec sheets for an increasing number of events.

Learn more about Motion Impossible.

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