Guest Commentary: Get more game with interactivity

Apr 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

One complaint of sports enthusiasts globally about watching a sporting event at home instead of being at the arena or stadium is the lack of live interaction.
At home you can’t look up at the scoreboard and see your favorite player’s statistics. You can’t buy a hot dog and a beer from a vendor or smell the parking lot tailgate barbecues. And no matter how much you yell at your television after a bungled play, the coach is not going to hear you. But that is all about to change.
Many innovations concerning interactive sports broadcasting are on the horizon. Soon we will see technology combined with rich content to bring the fan at home closer to the game. Fans will have the ability to enhance the experience of live sporting events with the click of a button as well as receive information about the game they are watching in real time.
Providing a taste of the enhanced experience is the fledgling XFL, which in its first season has provided sports fans with innovative broadcasting techniques via the league’s combination of live broadcasts featuring additional camera angles and on-field microphones with interactive online capabilities. It is possible to truly feel more like we’re at an actual sporting event while sitting in our own homes.
And although it remains to be seen if the XFL will be the future of football, the league has provided many of us with our first glimpse of the future of sports broadcasting.
Network executives also agree that sports broadcasting innovations-such as locker-room microphones and helmet-cams-could have a huge effect on television sports coverage.
David Hill, chairman and CEO of Fox Sports Group, recently said that being able to hear what players are saying will be a plus for viewers who want to know about everything that is happening in a game. Just imagine having a microphone on Australian hero Ian “The Thorpedo” Thorpe when he won a gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle race at the recent Sydney Olympic Games. Or there being one in the Boston Red Sox’s dugout after Bill Buckner, their first baseman, let a routine groundball go through his legs during Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, costing Boston its best chance at a title in what is now 78 years and counting.
But microphones and cameras providing us with every angle of the game and every mutter of a player and the sound of every swoosh, slide and tackle are only the tip of the iceberg. Interactive television will bring with it a whole new style of sports broadcasting that will allow viewers to participate more fully in their favorite sporting event.
The key to interactive success is the participation of the fans. In Europe, where 42 percent of SkyTV subscribers use interactive, the future is already here. But in other countries, including the United States, sports fans feel these advancements+the ability to call up player’s statistics, profiles, schedules and even order food from their television+can only be used on George Jetson’s futuristic television. Think again!
Guy Blair, an engineer at Intel Architecture Labs in Oregon, discussed (at last year’s Sportel Monaco Conference) the possible enhancements that digital technology coupled with the Internet could offer television programmers. In fact, the company Mr. Blair works for was created by the Intel Corp. for the sole purpose of discovering new uses for microchips in the television industry.
For one of its test cases, Intel came up with the concept of putting digital cameras in a stadium for an interactive soccer game that would allow viewers to select camera angles and use computer-enhanced 3-D images to generate “What if” scenarios. Fans at home could also participate in interactive voting for all-star teams or cast deciding votes on questionable calls that require instant replay.
Industry skeptics of interactive television have been as critical as the U.K. press following a Manchester United loss. One foreseeable problem is that viewing enhancements and interactivity may prove hard to monetize. There are also questions about how secure content copyrights will remain in an interactive or enhanced programming environment.
But the biggest hurdle of interactive television may very well turn out to be the consumer’s willingness to interact. Will sports buffs want to play along with their heroes on television while learning more about the game and its participants, or would they rather leave the sweat and blood to the players on the field?
It is my belief that interactive sports television will be a major success when it receives tremendous support from an informed sporting community, including players, coaches and, of course, fans. Corporations, with stakes in the future of digital interactive television, are doing all they can to make sure when they are ready to roll out this platform they have informed viewers who truly understand what interactivity means.
Now it just becomes a matter of implementing the right technology and making it entertaining and affordable to the end user, which is an all-new game in itself.
David Tomatis is executive vice president of Sportel Organisation.