What's Wrong With This (Racing) Picture?

The way live races are presented on screen was topic of discussion Oct. 8.

Horse racing's decades-old video production of live racing through the pan shot was panned–and otherwise described as unimaginative and inadequate when compared with other sporting events–during the International Simulcast Conference in Lexington Oct. 8.

Patrick Cummings, director of racing information for Trakus who regularly follows Thoroughbred racing overseas, used a series of slides to show how little has changed in North America in terms of the actual broadcasting of races. He asked attendees to envision a simulcast signal minus graphics and other amenities that have been added over the years.

"They're all the same–every single one of them," Cummings said. "This is not the way we consume other things in our lives. Is the pan shot the best way to look at horse racing? We should recognize how it is we consume our product.

"Are we capturing the race in the best possible light? Is the industry doing the best it can to captivate the audience?"

And the sameness goes beyond everyday horse racing. Cummings used examples of the NBC Sports broadcast of the 2012 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) won by eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan. He said 45% of the race was shown via an overhead camera shot; viewers couldn't make out the horses.

In another example, Cummings showed a pan shot of the far turn during the NBC Sports broadcast of the 2013 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

"That's a lot of green," he said in reference to the infield. "You can actually pick out people in the infield with greater clarity than the horses' saddle pads."

Cummings noted how different camera angles are used during the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) program and other major foreign racing events, and how other sports such as the NFL continually update their video presentation.

"It has to be a totally sensory experience," Cummings said. "Racing hasn't changed at all; it's still allied with a pan shot. Give people what they want: an exciting and enjoyable experience."

G. D. Hieronymus, director of broadcast services for Keeneland, which again won this year's simulcast award sponsored by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, said the racetrack continually looks for new ways to present racing. Hieronymus said racetracks need to invest in infrastructure, but acknowledged even updating to high-definition is a stretch for many tracks.

"We've got to catch up," he said. "HD is not new technology."

Hieronymus said Keeneland has looked at things such as mobile cameras, but they come with "astronomical costs." He said Keeneland hopes to strike a balance between what existing customers may want and what new fans expect when they watch racing or other sporting events.

Said Cummings: "There are going to be objections (to change), but it doesn't need to be that dramatic."