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Maggie Shiels

Revolutionising sport on the telly

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 13 Mar 09, 09:02 GMT

The company behind all the weird and wonderful TV tricks on CNN on the night of the American election wants to transform the way we watch sport on TV.

The highlight was the ability to "beam" a reporter who was actually on location into the studio in front of anchor Wolf Blitzer. Everyone was talking about the hologram effect for days on end here but it was just a bank of cameras, computers, sensors and some smart software that performed the magic.

The company behind that technology is called SportVu from Israel. It has since been bought over by Stats.com which is the big beast in providing statistics that "track every pitch, snap and goal in detail."

Stats.com, which is owned by NewsCorp and the Associated Press, covers every major sport the world over - boxing, cycling, racing, netball, basketball, horse racing, the Olympics, football, soccer, American football, baseball, poker, rugby, skiing swimming and tennis. You get the idea.

Hells bells they even do camogie, a Celtic game played with a stick and a ball not unlike hurling

For years there has been plenty of talk about being able to watch say a football match, or soccer game, from any point of view. The delivery has never really lived up to the promise.

At the TV of Tomorrow Conference in San Francisco, Stats.com's executive vice president Steve Byrd told me that will change.

"With the SportVu technology we are able to track all the players, the referee, the ball on the pitch and all in real time.

"The algorithms allow us to measure speed, distance, location on the field, the number of times a player has the ball, how long the passing takes, how accurate the pass is.

"From that you can create really interesting graphics for the broadcast and also run the data stream, if you will, of the players through a graphics rendering engine and from that you can look at the match from any perspective."

Mr Byrd said from a hardware point of view, nothing would change. It's all about the software.

"We are tracking the players in real time, in three dimensions if you will with object tracking technology.

"The sensors are standard, so are the cameras and the computers that process the information. It's all down to the software algorithm that takes what the cameras and sensors see on the pitch and translate it into useful data.

"The trick is going to be for stats to partner with the graphics rendering companies so that we can merge our data stream into good enough looking animation that the public will want to watch. We are there and it's just a matter of getting into the venues."

To that end Mr Byrd said the company is in talks with the English Premier League, the Football Association and the International Cricket Council.

From next week however the technology will be used during Major League Soccer matches in the States.

"I would be very surprised if in two or three years at the most you don't see something in the broadcast that gives you the ability to watch a game from any point of view, or to do it online," said Mr Byrd.

He admitted that while there is a lot of interest in the technology, at the end of the day it will really be about dollars and cents and who gets what slice of the pie.

"It always comes down to the money," he said.

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