Monday, 30 January 2012

Televised AFL where is it headed?

Skycam was first used for AFL telecasts by Channel 9.
There is no doubt TV coverage of AFL football has improved over the past fifteen years, but the last five?

I seem to recall when Channel 9 had the TV rights they took the game to a new level developing Friday Night Football into a marquee event expanding the broadcast horizon with a number of innovations including a host of different camera angles and cameras.

Since those days, in the hands of Channel 7, the telecast seems to have stagnated. The much maligned Mega Wall its greatest invention? That's probably a bit harsh. Bringing back some old guard tiring commentators hasn't helped either.

Ch 7's greatest sin though was to extend the delay to a full hour from Ch 9's half hour, the actual game was half over by the time the viewers tuned in. Friday Night Football lost its zip and action feel in my opinion. Many viewers have drifted with the delayed telecast and sought alternative ways of watching the game live. (hint hint)

In 2012 though every Friday Night game will be live, but only in high definition on Foxtel, Ch 7 yet to take the leap.

The advent and greater use of High Definition should allow both Channel 7 and Foxtel to take their coverage to a new level with innovative cameras and camera angles. The pace of technological development in this field is simply staggering. In the past, small cameras and standard definition meant grainy often unusable pictures.

Digital cameras, advanced robotics and high definition could take televised sport to another level. The AFL is the perfect vehicle to try out new camera technologies.

 AFL football is without doubt the most difficult football code to televise with it's vast playing field and high speed often unpredictable movement in the air. This means TV Directors are often forced to use the wide view rather than the zoom to capture the action.

What we the viewers end up with is zoomed action on congested packs not the spectacle of kicks to a leading player or a soaring mark.

TV cameras positioned around the ground at a distance to the play can only capture some of the action, what we need is innovation. The cynics will deride innovation as gimmickry but if a broadcaster can master the new technologies and get it right we are in for some spectacular results

The Oktokopter - a remote controlled camera that hovers above the field.
The Big Bash League (BBL) trialled a new innovation called the Oktokopter at a few SCG games this year. This remote controlled beast hovers above the players and captures the angle from above rather than the side. The is not dissimilar to the Skycam however without the wires it is free to roam the full breadth of the field.

Now I would be the first to query its use above the players from a safety perspective and even the possibility the Sherrin might take the OktoKopter out, especially with a well drilled torpedo. However, with the right protocols for its use and extensive testing (and backup motor) why couldn't the Oktokopter bring a dramatic new dimension to the televised game?

In athletics and the rectangle football codes they use camera dollys (cameras on wheels) which run parallel to the action moving with the flow of play. A high definition camera mounted on the second tier of the MCG or Etihad could offer a similar capture of ball and player movement. No doubt costs come into the equation, however I believe this would also bring a new dimension to televising AFL football.

The alternative is for the AFL itself to develop and trial these technologies, it is very much in their own interest to do so. This is perhaps a task for the new AFL Media division.

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