Sandeep Singh, Sr VP-AIDEM Ventures. Views expressed here are personal and not of the organization.
Apart from license fee, technology is one of the huge costs for any broadcaster. Development in technology is happening at a fast pace and the broadcaster has to be very careful in deciding which technology to back, make investments in.
There are technologies and there are appropriate technologies. Broadcasting industry needs to differentiate between the two at the earliest. Some broadcast technology might add value to broadcasting but it would not make it an appropriate technology. Appropriate technology is the one which not only helps enhance viewing experience, save cost, time and energy, but also helps in adding advertising or subscription revenue. If the technology does not contribute to increase in audience and revenue, then it is not appropriate and hence is not worth backing.
Let us look at the examples of two technologies, spidercam and umpire decision review system (abbreviated as UDRS or DRS), from the world of cricket broadcasting.
Spidercam is an aerial device that is suspended with the help of cables tied to the floodlight pillars, which enables television cameras to move both vertically and horizontally over the playing field of a sporting event such as cricket, football, etc.
Spidercam is meant to enhance the television viewing experience by covering all angles and capturing every vital moment in the game, thereby making the live telecast of a match much more interesting.
But reality is very different. Spidercam technology has not worked for the players on the ground. Many players are of the view that the spidercam comes too close to the field and thereby distracts them. Kieron Pollard has admitted during IPL, "Yes, it is a bit of a distraction."
Espncricinfo.com reported, "The first ball Virat Kohli faced in a tight and ultimately successful chase at SCG should have gone for four runs. Instead, the ball was called dead because it hit the spidercam on its way to the boundary. In the last Test that India had played at the SCG, Steven Smith dropped a sitter from KL Rahul because he was distracted by the spidercam. The ball might have even flicked the cable. India eventually won the fifth ODI, but who knows if Australia would have been held to a draw had Rahul not gone on to score a century in the Test last year?"
It is fairly established that players are not happy with the spidercam.
There are also no reports suggesting that spidercam has added value to the experience of viewer, who is watching broadcast which has used the same. As a viewer, I can vouch that spidercam has not enhanced my viewing experience – rather it has obstructed the natural flow of the game. No sports fan will like a technology which creates hurdles in the game (spidercam may be useful in a few other sports).
Now let us look at another technology, which does not help in broadcasting but makes the broadcast more exciting. Yes, I am talking about UDRS
or DRS, which is used in cricket, for the sole purpose of reviewing decisions made by the on-field umpires as to whether or not a batsman had been dismissed.
UDRS is a mix of many technologies, and they are:
- Hawk-eye, Eagle-eye, or Virtual-eye: Ball-tracking technology that plots the trajectory of a bowling delivery that has been interrupted by the batsman, often by the pad, and can determine whether it would have hit the stumps.
- Ultra-Edge: When the ball has hit the batsman's pads, ultra-edge creates four frames and automatically uses all the frames to give the precise result.
- Hot Spot: Infra-red imaging system that shows whether the ball had been in contact with bat or pad. Improved cameras were introduced for the 2012 season.
- Real-time Snickometer: Uses directional microphones to detect small sounds made as the ball hits the bat or pad.
There are four different processes/technologies used to create the UDRS. The system has added value to the game. Both the players as well as the viewers are happy with the UDRS. The moment UDRS is opted for, there is moment of excitement all around.
Let us once again look at one of the excerpts from espncricinfo.com's commentary during India vs. Pakistan cricket match: "Saeed Ajmal to Tendulkar, no run, lbw! Ian Gould raises the finger and Tendulkar wants a review. There's only one review left. That pitches in line, hits him in line but the replays shows that it is likely to miss leg stump. And listen to that roar in Mohali. That looked close. Tendulkar bats on"
Not only huge excitement, the UDRS also creates a huge opportunity for the broadcaster to earn revenue through advertisements. On the other hand, Spidercam technology does not create any opportunity of generating revenue through advertisement for the broadcaster.
The example given above is not in isolation. One can find many such examples. I will share another set of example from sports broadcasting only.
Once again quoting espncricinfo.com: Dhoni said, "I have always felt thatanything that disturbs the game of cricket I don't like it. It all started right from the T20 where people would be like, why don't you wear a mic?"
On the one hand players giving commentary while playing cricket have not got the attention of the audience, on the other hand commentary given by fellow viewers is being appreciated worldwide across sports.
Platforms like Facebook Live, YouTube Gaming, and Twitch are used to stream games, which can be viewed by spectators in real time. And if one has a flair for commentary, they become a shoutcaster who provides commentary while playing. Charging on a per-hour basis, shoutcasters are usually seasoned gamers with a flair for speaking. They make the matches interesting.
There is no guarantee that a great player will be a good commentator and this could be one of the reasons why the idea of a player wearing a mic has not kicked off. It is also possible that the player is focusing on the match and hence will not be keen on doing commentary.
At the same time, among lakhs of passionate cricket fans, few turning out to be a good commentator is highly probable and they are making a killing both in terms of fan following and earnings.
But what is more important is the fact that Facebook and Youtube might first pull the audience away from television and then the advertising revenue using shoutcasters.
This is where the broadcaster has to think about an appropriate technology. The technology directly linked to broadcasting (spidercam/mic on the player) may not be as useful in enhancing viewing experience or in revenue generation as compared to the development in technology, which brings clarity to the game (UDRS) or the technology which helps the audience become part of the broadcasting (shoutcast). The technology that enhances the viewing experience will enhance the advertising revenue, and will be called appropriate technology. And this can be completely outside the domain of traditional broadcasting, e.g., technology that has given birth to shoutcasters.
Broadcasters as well as technology developers should seriously think and decide if they want to invest in technology or appropriate technology. Identifying appropriate technology will definitely be not an easy task, but whoever makes the correct decision will be the winner.