Tech Briefing: TV sports presentation graphics past, present and future

Friday, August 01, 2014

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Stephan Würmlin Stadler, EVP Sports at Vizrt takes a look at TV sports presentation graphics past, present and future

This year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil is sure to break new ground in delivering better coverage and more interesting and engaging insights than before. The tournament has become a focal point for innovations in graphical analysis as broadcasters and content owners look for ways to outdo each other in enhancing the viewer experience. It’s inevitable that the sports entertainment experience will only get better in years to come. But how did the World Cup graphics presentation get to where it is now?

Looking back

The origins of broadcast graphics dates back decades, and from its unsophisticated beginnings, graphics have become an integral part of sports TV presentation today. Viewers now expect highlights packages, multiple camera angles and player statistics at the drop of a hat, all in picture-perfect quality and across multiple devices – from laptops and smartphones to UHD screens. Graphics have evolved from simple character generators showing the two teams’ names over 2D animations in the 1970s and 80s, to today’s full 3D and real-time graphics producing dynamic on-screen content.

In the early days of TV sports, it was a purely linear viewing experience, allowing fans to watch and listen to the game without physically being in the stadium. If you missed the action first time, that was it. No replays of fouls. No player data. No graphics. Few insights. Not to mention the lack of on-screen clock or score!

Picturing the here and now

TV graphics have changed the viewing experience forever. And not just for the essentials – the clock, the score, player line-ups and instant replays. Now broadcasters can instantly add graphics such as player heat maps, track the distance and direction of a kick, and prove that the ball didn’t go over the line. Studio graphics have also evolved enormously. The onset of touchscreens and immersive graphics – both physical and virtual – have helped presenters and talent explain the game play visually, and give the viewer extra graphical analysis while they’re watching.

The technology for enhancing TV sports presentation has never been better, but it has meant that broadcasters now have more challenging editorial decisions to make based on their understanding of their audience. Viewers don’t want ‘one size fits all’ coverage, so broadcasters need to think carefully about what story they want to tell each type of viewer. At major events such as the World Cup, 95 percent of the audience are casual viewers. They want simple graphics and analysis to break down the sport and the teams. But it’s those die-hard fans that clearly want far more in-depth player analysis, insights and stats. Quality data will become ever more important to help with audience segmentation.

Tomorrow’s outlook

There will definitely be more graphics in the future to support TV sports programming. Viewers expect it. Their behaviour has evolved, and they now crave a more visual and interactive relationship with the game they are watching.


But what does the future hold? We’ve already started to see some amazing developments in image processing technologies. These have enabled a much deeper insight into important tactical changes in sporting events, something those die-hard fans will love. New technology meaning physical cameras are not required at the stadium will provide broadcasters with the capability to analyse a game with unique perspectives and tools that add clarity to interesting or controversial plays – for example, seeing a contentious offside decision from the perspective of a linesman, or a free kick from the goalkeeper’s point of view.

We also expect to see more ‘personalised’ graphics. Viewers want to immerse themselves in the game and see information relevant to them. Consumers are already used to receiving individualised content across other media, so we could definitely see it appear on our screens in future World Cups – whatever size screen that may be. 

It starts to get even more interesting when you throw social media technologies into the mix. In the last few years, broadcasters have really started to adopt and integrate social media technology into their live on-screen sports programming, especially with the rise of tablets and smartphones for consuming sports content. Sports presenters will have far greater control over a programme’s content, and are already engaging audiences on platforms like Twitter and Facebook for pre-game statistics, in-game analysis and post-game discussions.

With the incredible advances in virtual studio technology, we’ll also soon see presenters getting in on the action themselves as they’ll be able to virtually ‘join’ players on the pitch – allowing for up-close and personal analysis of a player at a specific point in time. For the broadcaster, thinking ahead on how to produce and deliver next-generation content, such as 4K immersive graphics for added production values and branding, is still top of their list.

And for the viewer? Well, major sports events have never had better coverage and greater insights. The game may be coming to an end for the broadcaster as the 2014 World Cup approaches kick-off, but for the audience, it’s only just about to start.  

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