Saturday, December 12, 2015

Per Frost: "We made my idea of the IOF Studio becoming reality"

Ongoing process that has seen great improvement in recent years, the television broadcasting of Orienteering events knew another important chapter at Ylläs, Finland, in the Ski Orienteering World Cup 2015/2016's opening round. Today, on Portuguese Orienteering Blog's tribune, Per Frost, one of the masterminds of the initiative, presents the SkiO Studio, lists the challenges and points out goals for the future.

Could you present the IOF Studio, at Ylläs? What resources – human and material - did you have and what about the working conditions?

Per Frost (P. F.) - The IOF Studio was an idea I had been thinking of over a long time, especially since I was responsible for creating the daily highlight editions from WOC in Scotland. What was done there was that the live-broadcast is edited down to around 10 minutes with the most interesting of the race. Some TV-networks prefer to broadcast that version instead of the whole race since it is easier to schedule. My idea for this live broadcasts was to take the most exciting out of the live production and make it more easy-accessible to the viewers who did not have the time to watch it live. By creating this concept with the studio, we had a good establishment of the venue and also a natural way to introduce the commentators (in this case me, as the “host” and Hans-Jörgen Kvåle, as the “expert”.

Since it is not live, we do also have much better possibilities to bring into more cameras as they can be a normal camcorder and does not have to rely on live technique. The big difference if you compare Ski-O World Cup with WOC, for example, is that we could then use the action cameras in the live production. Every camera that has to have live wireless transmission is quite expensive, so that is why we wanted to use them “off-line”. There is however quite many work-hours that needs to be put in, in order to prepare the highlights. The race footage from the live production is mixed with improved GPS-analysis that Hans-Jörgen had chosen and extra video material from the forest, for example from the start and from the skiing camera-operators. The studio show itself was actually broadcasted live every day with the same live equipment as on the races, so we commented on the video in the same time as it was playing for the viewers. John, our technical manager, took the role as director on switching cameras, playing out highlights and overlook streaming.

Tell me about the homework, the days before. How did you prepare the work and share responsibilities?

P. F. - We where two people from Sweden, me and John Kumlin, who served as the technical manager. We are both orienteers so the sport knowledge was already there. He did the same task on last year´s ESOC and was the project manager for live productions at O-ringen this summer, so we divided the productions based on the tasks that needs more technical knowledge and the ones that needs content experience. I was responsible for the content part. What was most important on beforehand was to prepare what could be prepared in terms of the intro animation and such content and also getting information and sending instructions to the students we were cooperating with. There was a team consisting of eight students and two teachers from a tv-education in Tornio, one of the closest cities which helped us with lending out a lot of equipment and the students got to do some “sharp” practice in the live productions. Luckily, the organizers had done a great job in planning the arena as well as getting us good internet connections, something that is crucial for this kind of streaming.

Your task was to follow the event, having in mind to broadcast it in the best way (in this case by internet). What were the biggest challenges? Did you have to improve a lot?

P. F. - The main challenge is, of course, that it is more difficult the less budget you have. It is certainly easier to create a good production if you have a big team of experts around you, but until then my ideology is to focus on a few certain tasks and make them as good as possible. That is something I have learned after being into this business of both TV and orienteering for the last years. For example, if we do not have the resources for having live cameras out in the forest, then it might be a better idea to put camcorders there and make it look good in the post production rather than doing something in between with poor quality.

Me and John are normally working with TV, so the biggest challenge for us was to manage the students and tell them what to do. The Ski-O Marketing manager Hans-Jörgen Kvåle, was also in our team and got responsibility for knowing what was interesting in the race at the moment, who to follow and what to show on GPS-tracking.

We could see your cameraman following downhill some athletes, and it was scary (!). Tell me about the technical (and physical) challenges you have to face in order to offer a transmission as best as possible?

P. F. - Yes! It was in fact two very ski-orienteering talented persons from the local organization that helped us with the filming and they did a great job! They waited at one control for a good athlete to come and then followed as long as they could manage. I think we captured some really decisive moments there. For example, when you can see how fast Tove Alexandersson, Tatiana Oborina and Mariya Kechkina are skiing on the tiny tracks whilst still reading their maps and also when we got a crash between two athletes in the sprint relay on tape, something that was decisive for the outcome of the race. In this production, we chose to not use that camera on live transmission, but only for recording for post-production such as the live studio. The reason for that is simply economical. In Scotland WOC, we used one action camera live, but that requires a lot more of expensive equipment and can only be used in a limited area. A similar setup has been used on 10mila.

Now I will reveal a secret: My team was actually first with using the live action camera for orienteering live streaming :) Already in Ski-O WOC in 2011, which was my first live production whatsoever, we got to borrow some equipment for live transmission, the one that was later developed for 10mila [HERE]. The challenge, however, is that the image quality of such live pictures is very uncertain compared to cable-connectors, so one does rather want to use cable connected cameras to be safe with those pictures.

Have you thought in a certain number of hits for each transmission? The overall result was as expected?

P. F. - We have had between 700 and 1300 viewers on the live events, which I would consider as OK for this event. Not very much advertisement was made on beforehand and we also wanted to first try out the studio concept before advertise it more. To compare, 10mila use to have some 3000-4000 online viewers, so I would say this was OK.

In your opinion, this kind of very particular projects are something that interest only experienced orienteers or it can be a good way to reach more people and attract more participants to our sport? How?

P. F. - Something that I always want to keep in mind in working with this projects is that the result will end up in more visibility for the sport. The productions are only a tool for making that happen. Therefore, we use the strategy of try to think how we can get most out of each race. There might be a few hundred or over one thousand orienteers watching the event, and we want of course to make them satisfied. However, when we have this production in place, we can use the same footage to send to various TV networks like the national broadcasters of the winning athletes for use in the evening news. Normally, we cut out the footage of that athlete racing and then we record an interview in their native language. This is something we have been doing for quite many years now, and I would say that it have resulted in a gain of public knowledge about our sport. If just some 30 seconds of orienteering is shown in the evening news, we can instantly reach out to millions of viewers in the national sport news. This concept has been proven over and over again in the nordic countries as well as countries like Russia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Romania and Switzerland. We can also send footage to Eurovision, which is the organization of almost all European national broadcasters.

I'm sure you're already thinking in a similar situation for next events, which will be in Germany and Austria. Is there anything that you're thinking to change or improve? Will you have Emily Benham still in the team (she is great, although she talks too fast, but this is surely my fault)?

P. F. - In Germany and Austria there will be different challenges compared to Finland, as usually most economical ones to get the resources on place to be able to transmit the atmosphere and excitement of ski orienteering to the audience, but I think we took a good step towards creating something new and interesting with the studio, so I hope that part will be more developed. Emily was great as a commentator, especially since she had not prepared for doing this here in Finland on beforehand Being a native English speaker with such extensive knowledge of the sport and how to explain it to others is really a great asset and important for creating a good show. I hope she will be involved also in the future (and in a few years also in commenting MTBO of course).

How important can be this kind of work towards the Olympic project?

P. F. - Absolutely crucial. What we do now is what Biathlon understood and did 20 years ago: “If the media doesn't come to us, maybe we will have to get to them and show our sport?”. I do also think that ski orienteering is a very good arena for testing ideas that later can be transferred into foot orienteering. For example, we were first with touch free punching as well as sprint and sprint relay.

And what about you, Per. How important was the experience for you? Will you be more confident the next time?

P. F. - I can say that Ski orienteering is basically half of my education in media work, which is nowadays also my profession. Back in 2009, my club was organising the Junior World Championships in Ski-O. There I got the chance to do something of this completely new thing “Youtube” and from that and on, I have done something in ski orienteering on IOF major level each year. However, I have also studied media production at university and my student mates have always got some strange explanation why I have missed some weeks each winter, like “Per is in Kazakhstan, or Per is in Siberia...”, so I will try to finalise my examina now before the next World Cup round. I would despite that say that it has been a school just as important as the official one to really have some on-hands work by promoting Ski orienteering and a great bonus to also see all this places and get to know amazing people.

What I will bring from now is for sure the knowledge of that we made my idea of the IOF Studio becoming reality and also the great feedback we have got from it! I think the future looks bright since the Finnish organizers, both in Lapland which held this round and the one for next season's ESOC have shown interest in really making their events more visible by this kind of actions. There might as well be some really good things coming out of the fact that ski-O will be included in the Universiade in Krasnoyarsk 2019, the second biggest winter sports event worldwide after the Olympic Games. Those preparations are already going and the way towards that will mean a lot for the development! I do also hope I will be able to find my place in this journey, since I really believe that our sport has some exciting years to come!

[Photo: Jyrki Kola /]

Joaquim Margarido

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