TVG Networks, a subsidiary of Betfair Group plc, is among the most widely distributed horseracing networks in the world. It televises races from more than 150 tracks in the US and abroad to horseracing enthusiasts and e-gamers. TVG’s stable of onair experts provides viewers with news, commentary and free handicapping information.
When it comes to wire-to-wire coverage of the horseracing industry, TVG Networks is without peer. With feeds coming in from more than 150 racetracks around the world and on-air personalities delivering expert commentary to thousands of enthusiasts and gamers daily, the Southern California-based broadcaster is the undisputed leader in its field.
Still, the decade that had passed since the last major upgrade of the broadcast facilities had TVG executives feeling that their standarddefinition and analog based operations were growing a bit long in the tooth. Frank Geraty, vice president of broadcast operations and engineering at TVG, was brought aboard to put the company’s existing facility out to pasture.
“Having last renovated in 2003, we needed to do a forklift upgrade,” says Geraty. “Everything had to change.”
Horseracing is renowned for its stunning visuals and raw speed. TVG executives quickly recognized that a less-than-cutting-edge technology foundation was inhibiting the broadcaster from delivering the best possible experience to its viewers.
Millions of horseracing enthusiasts flock to tracks annually to soak in the atmosphere and to make up-close assessments of conditions, jockeys and, of course, the four-legged main attractions. For bettors who rely on this type of empirical evidence, standard-definition resolutions don’t deliver enough detail to encourage online wagering, which is how TVG generates most of its revenue. By upgrading to HD, TVG saw the opportunity to spur additional online betting – and increase revenue – by providing viewers with more of an “as if you were there” experience.
The time it took TVG producers to deliver feature segments to fill airtime between races or support on-air commentary with video footage was also a growing concern. With as many as 50 Sony tape decks chugging at a time, TVG had accumulated a tape library of thousands of races since 2003. But in a classic case of “water everywhere but none to drink,” the lack of rich metadata and the ability to retrieve information quickly made it almost impossible for producers to utilize TVG’s extensive archive to create timely features or support live commentary with visual imagery.
“Radio with pictures” is how Chris Lee, a TVG senior producer, describes the unscripted nature of the media company’s race coverage. Unlike most televised sports highlight shows, which are scripted in advance, a typical TVG broadcast often contains off-the-cuff banter and on-the-fly references to previous events.
TVG was prevented from adding significant value to their broadcasts, says Lee, due to the inability to pull up relevant clips from the tape archive before commentators had moved on to a new topic.
Overcoming these shortcomings to deliver live race action in high definition and better utilize the company’s massive video vault would require more than a quick fix.
“We needed to build the broadcast facility from scratch,” says Geraty. “We had to change the way we do business.”
The added agility that comes with moving to a modern file-based workflow has also created additional promotional opportunities. In the past, says Lee, creating a buzz in a social media outlet like YouTube was extremely difficult. Social media thrives on immediacy. If something interesting happened at the track, TVG producers, hamstrung by antiquated workflow, were often unable to create a clip that could be posted immediately to drive viewers to the company’s web site or television broadcast.
Now, says Lee, a clip can be captured and posted to social channels in minutes. “If someone says something interesting on a show,” adds Lee, “we want to get that out on YouTube.”
Additional outcomes of the overhaul were dramatic improvements in reliability and ease of use related to the automation of production and asset management processes, says Geraty, adding that reliability and error-free operations will always be top priorities of a broadcast facility.
“Our people left a linear, tape-based work space and stepped into a completely modern nonlinear work space, “says Geraty. “They haven’t made one on-air error as a result of the conversion.”
Lee sums up the outcome of TVG’s collaboration with Imagine Communications by borrowing from the lexicon that’s native to his industry. “Imagine has been helpful, supportive and thorough every step of the way,” says Lee. “It’s been a great process — from start to finish.”
TVG executives feel they hit the trifecta through the station’s engagement with Imagine Communications. In addition to modernizing and optimizing its entire operations, the facilities overhaul created the opportunity for the broadcast specialist to enhance existing monetization models, as well as introduce new ones.
“You will always see an improvement in viewership if you focus on the quality of video and audio,” says Geraty, adding that he attributes an uptick in TVG’s performance to the recent SD-to-HD upgrade. “We had a great year.”