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Case Study: University of Tennessee Delivers Live Instant Replay

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Instant replay is an integral part of the modern sports broadcasting experience. Partly because of today’s (relatively) low-cost home theater systems, many sports fans find that at-home viewing beats out the experience of being at the stadium—and a significant part of the at-home viewing experience is instant replay. However, if you were watching sports on television before the 1960s, you would have a better appreciation for how much instant replay really makes the game experience for the home viewer.

Credit for the first true instant replay goes to Tony Verna, who was a director for CBS. In 1963, he successfully ran an instant replay of a 1-yard scoring run by Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh during the broadcast of the annual Army-Navy game. In the days before the Super Bowl, the Army-Navy game was considered the most important and most widely viewed game of the year. Just a few years later, Ampex developed a dedicated high-band, color-disc video system for instant replay. The modern instant replay system was born and has continued to evolve over the past 50 years.

Although today’s instant replay solutions serve a similar purpose, they are vastly different from their forebears. The hardware has gone from what has been described as the size of “two Frigidaires” to just a small desktop hardware interface. In this article, we’re going to look at the DreamCatcher system from Canadian manufacturer Evertz. The DreamCatcher replay system has replaced many older alternatives in high-end sports broadcast production. I spent an evening with the University of Tennessee athletics broadcast team to see how they use their 400-series DreamCatchers in conjunction with their SEC Network broadcast of a soccer match between the Vols and Ole Miss.

UT’s DreamCatcher Setup and Workflow

UT’s DreamCatcher is set up as two operator positions that are linked together so each operator can see what the other is monitoring. The system can display five inputs and records on a continuous loop for up to 24 hours. The broadcast department records a wide range of sports, including volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball, and tennis. With six or more cameras in use during any given event, being able to monitor multiple angles for replay shots is critical to getting the best view of a big play.

The thumbnail views of the various available camera angles are displayed across the top of the interface. UT’s setup designates which angle each system is viewing with a red or yellow stroke around each angle. This minimizes the possibility of both operators getting the same angle and missing a better shot from a different camera. These color designations are also used as names for each system when they’re being cued up to switch to during a broadcast.

SEC/ESPN network director Tom Githens explains the two-operator setup. “In our workflow and normal broadcast workflow, there are lead replay and R/O (replay only) replay operators,” Githens says. “Your lead operators build packages and ‘rollouts’ for in-game storytelling and bumps going to and from breaks; R/O operators focus on dialing back looks and rolling replays, which isn’t to say your lead operators cannot accomplish this, but typically, they are used in a pinch.”

Running the DreamCatcher System

When I arrived in the studio at 6 p.m., one hour before game time, the room was already buzzing with activity. The mobile camera operators were busy both inside and outside the soccer stadium, gathering b-roll of fans arriving, and the director was coaching the operators on getting the necessary shots. I spent the game sitting beside Ross Goodman, a UT student who’d been operating the Evertz system for about a year, after previously serving as a camera operator for some of these same games.

At my arrival, Goodman was capturing, clipping, and cataloging everything for easy retrieval. While soccer isn’t as fast-paced as some other sports, there are still critical moments that can’t be missed due to inattention or distraction. Anyone who’s spent time in a broadcast studio knows that distractions have no place when the red light is on. There’s no instant replay on your broadcast when it’s live and you miss a shot or cue.

After footage is clipped down for length, files are named and tagged for later retrieval. After Goodman got a few fan shots together, he dragged them from one column of the interface onto the far right column to build a named playlist. When the broadcast began at 7 p.m., the playlist simply had to be started from the DreamCatcher and switched on for the program feed.

Music, live commentary, graphics, and fonts (for titles) were mixed and layered in as needed at the director’s discretion. In addition to the dedicated DC-RCP10 hardware control surface, the operator can use a full standard keyboard for text entry and some navigation. Plus the 7-inch screen on the control surface is touch-enabled.

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