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Volume 22 No. 19
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Leagues, networks warm up to wearable cameras

Sports TV networks are going to look more and more like video games over the next few years thanks to advanced production technology combined with desires to attract younger viewers.

The 50-yard-line camera is not going away as the main camera shot for TV’s football productions, at least not any time soon. But over the next few years, network and league executives predict that more players and referees will be wearing cameras that can broadcast their point of view during a live telecast.

“We are seeing an increased interest in doing these things,” said Michael Davies, senior vice president of technical and field operations for Fox Sports. “There’s an increased willingness from leagues to give this a try. … The technology is in a place where the networks can present this to the leagues.”

During this year’s preseason, the NFL and Fox experimented with a camera on the cap of referees that offered a unique perspective on the action.
Photo: ActionStreamer

POVs and worn cameras are not a new concept. Davies, in fact, referenced the “catcher cam” Fox used during baseball games 15 years ago as an early version.

Several companies are developing microscopic cameras that can fit on a football helmet — or even a boxing referee’s bow tie — without being obstructive. ActionStreamer, Vicareo Systems and Telstra are three companies competing in this area. The NFL, NBA and MLB have been testing the tech more frequently.

The key is not just getting the cameras small enough that players and referees don’t balk at wearing them. It’s also about being able to stream the video live out of congested environments such as stadiums and arenas.

“The challenge that a lot of folks have had trying to do this over the years is getting robust streaming happening when there’s 60,000 in a stadium or an arena,” said Chris McLennan, ActionStreamer CTO. “We really approached this, not as an action camera company or as a wearable company, but really as a data transmission technology.”

Founded by McLennan, CEO Max Eisenberg and former NFL player Dhani Jones, the Cincinnati-based ActionStreamer had a test run with MLB during spring training. The NHL tested it on officials and in skills competitions, the NFL conducted its own tests and ESPN looked into it for the X Games.

ActionStreamer has bought into the idea that the technology will draw in younger viewers, since it mirrors how video games are produced. The company also believes it will be a good second-screen complement to television and already is positioning live video from a helmet cam as a second-screen application.

“Interest in sports isn’t dwindling as sometimes articles make it seem with the numbers from television viewership,” Eisenberg said. “It’s a changing landscape in terms of where fans are getting their fix.”

He said POV video has existed in broadcast to some degree, but in a limited fashion, such as two or three look-ins during a broadcast. “We saw the opportunity as fleshing that out into something that can be a bona fide, fan engagement driver for leagues and networks.”

Monumental was the first company to cut a deal last summer and used the cameras on players and referees during AFL games.

“We started off doing ref cams,” said Greg Roberts, ActionStreamer’s head of strategic partnerships and development. “This year was the first deployment of our football helmet cameras.”