We look at why the CrossFit Games Media Livesteam Team had us shouting at our monitors.
So for the last few days we've kept a keen eye on the Crossfit Games; one because of personal interest, but also because it's what we do a lot; we film CrossFit and we film CrossFit competitions. It's also where we started and we know where most people know us from. Effectively we watch to 'adapt and overcome' filming issues - how do the big boys do it? Don't reinvent the wheel. You get the idea.
Each year the CrossFit Game shown on TV and livestream improves; we've moved from no broadcasting all the way through to global with ESPN which started back in 2011. Even now it's an impressive feat. It's streamed globally and for those outside the US it's done without cost to the viewer, uninterrupted (if you ignore connection issues) and without ads. But despite the progress of both the sport and broadcasting in a short period of time, the criticisms continue to flow in.
This year we're chucking our thoughts on it all out there, but we're trying to do so in a constructive manner. So if you're name is Games Director Dave Castro, hello, and secondly we are trying to be constructive.
Firstly this article is not discussing any technical or social differences between Australia and the US. Yes; the internet connectivity is painful. We know that the person in charge of the internet livestream should be able to press a button at the right time instead of making it live half through a workout. And yes we know that the commentary and visuals tend to focus on the American athletes and that anyone outside of So/Nor-Cal has their name mispronounced.
Instead we wanted to concentrate on the media and branding side of things; where do we see issues and what could be done to resolve them.
So, let's kick this off in no particular order.
Any one for golf?
Nobody puts baby in a corner... but they do put Pat Sherwood in a polo top.
Why polo shirts? Never has a piece of clothing not been designed for CrossFitters more than a polo shirt. Sure, you need a consistent look for presenting a TV show, you also need to present formally and a suit/shirt/tie would be too much. But why a polo shirt? They are about as flattering as wearing a bed sheet and hoping that a couple of pegs will help you show some definition of your torso.
CrossFit is all about the t-shirts. Wear a t-shirt. Surely you can design something that speaks well of the brand and still is professional? The guys and girls presenting on the floor wear them, why can't those on the update show?
What a Nice Sponsor Board
Why bother letting your sponsors get a word in?
Someone in the marketing and branding department behind the scenes must have been jumping up and down about this one. CrossFit has obviously thought about and spent money on this clear piece of plastic. Hell, there's probably a poor volunteer whose job it is to clean it!
It allows for a good view of the stadium but also show branding and sponsorship. Paid sponsorship. But what's the point in paying if your brand isn't shown?
Look at the camera angle for the wide shot of Annie; branding and sponsorship ahoy, sure the main logo is blocked but it's pretty good. Now look what happens to Rich and Annie when we go in for the close up to get a response to the questions? Ignore Rich's concentration face and instead look at the logos. In some cases of interviews we've seen three quarters of the screen didn't have the clear screen in it at all.
If I paid for sponsorship, I'd be asking a question or two.
Apparently organisation is missing a bit here. So, get the interviewer to guide people to an X which is placed on the floor. And fire the camera guy who pointed his camera the wrong way this year. Personally, we'd also be thinking about black text with a dark background, in this case the crowd, it shows up like a polar bear in snow. It might work better with some slighted frosted detail to help separate the screen from the background.
Layout, Layout, Layout
Who's winning; who cares - The biggest sin of them all
Our biggest frustration continues to be the screen's layout. Specially the info graphics which sit at the top of the screen.
So let's quickly run through them. At the top there is a black bar that scrolls the workout. Once it's scrolled a couple of times it displays where the leader is at in the workout. Next up logo and time - pretty simple there. And then there is the smozzel that is the leaderboard. It lists the top 5 athletes from left to right, flipping between blue and red highlights to show how they're progressing through the workout as well as the number of reps completed. So what's wrong with this smorgasbord of info?
Well, in an average CrossFit heat at the Games this year we saw a range from 10 athletes in the tennis stadium, 15 on the football field and 42 on the beach. So at best you know exactly where 5 out 10 athletes are and at worst you know 5 out of 42 athletes. That's an unknowable factor of 88%. So whilst the media team diddle around with their cameras you have no clue whether Deadlift Jimmy or Suzie Snatch are placing bottom of the pack or not, because unless he or she is in the top 5, the leaderboard doesn't care.
And that's our biggest gripe. Let's face it the leaderboard in this format doesn't work. And until we get multiple camera feeds where the user picks what they watch, we're reliant upon it because when we include things like camera feeds pointed at nothing or wide shots showing ants moving around on a footy field (yes I'm looking at you blimp cam!) it doesn't count for squat (CrossFit pun).
So what can be done. This one is actually pretty simple; change the leaderboard. Move from something that is useful in a sport that doesn't change much and runs for long periods of time to something more suited to the sport.
Sorry America, it's time to dump NASCAR and (we hate to say it) move to F1; at least for the leaderboards. If the athletes were displayed down the side of the screen would allow you to see the full field of athletes' placings. You could even have a chart comparing where two or three athletes are sitting in some of the longer workouts. Suddenly Jimmy and Suzie can be followed even if they aren't on the screen, suddenly everyone from different regions and countries is happy and the commentators can continue mispronouncing people's names to their hearts content. Wouldn't it be great to see middle of the pack battles as people fight their way up?
Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner
Oh look here comes the yellow jersey
Only it's not.
Yes, this year stole/borrowed/plagiarised the yellow jersey from the Tour de France and introduced it to CrossFit. Only it was "chalk" coloured and they told everyone one day into the games (four days if you include the masters). And by "tell" we mean Reebok released it on their own YouTube page.
Step one, don't describe off-white as 'chalk' just to try and rev up the CrossFit community - nice branding try but...
White is a rubbish colour to watch on TV, it's actually a difficult colour to spot unless it's against a prominently colour on the other end of the spectrum; that's why it works for soccer but not clay pigeon shooting. It also doesn't work when you've painted your stadium floor in similar colours like grey. We know CrossFit has a military following and they like camouflage, but we didn't realise the games was turning into a game of where's wally/waldo!
Find a bright colour - anything from the fluro-brigade. If you're unsure of what these look like ask someone who attended a warehouse rave in the 90's or any dance festival goer. Personally we'd make it an arm band or a headband over a t-shirt; that would allow athletes to wear what they wanted, or more realistically with CrossFit, what they don't wear, but still be recognised/identifiable.
Oh, and if you're going to implement something - explain it, preferably before the competition starts and by the competition organisers not by the clothing sponsor who has approximately 452,000 (93%) less subscribers on YouTube. If this is a yellow jersey situation then it should be announced by the competition itself.
Angle of the Dangle
Bringing you all the action up close and personal, extra personal.
This year's footage made use of a motorised camera on the rig, great idea but does it work? Answer; sort of.
When used we noticed a couple of issues; first is stability. The Games works hard to provide stable rigs. It is a tricky job, but they still aren't really stable enough for cameras. Result shaky footage.
The next issue is the motorisation. Yes it solves the problem of the athlete being out of shot because you're able to move the camera, or does it? It takes time to move the camera into position and due to a lack of foresight, shots such as above were often shown - here comes the world's fittest foot everyone! And by the time the camera moves, then athlete has completed their movement and cue a scrabble to find the next camera to cut to.
And that leads up to our last point in this section... who thought that pointing the camera at that angle would be flattering? When we shoot, sure we try to get new angles, but we try to keep the athletes' dignity at the same time. I mean, we're here to watch snatches not snatch.
If you really want to mount it to the rig, then you're going to need stabilisation. If you think this isn't possible using gyroscopes then take a look at how far in-car motorsport cameras have come; they deal with a lot of vibration. The cameras they have on mounted on motorcycles go even further; they remain upright when the camera leans. Impressive. If you can't get it stabilised then mount the camera on something that hangs over the rig but isn't attached to it. Either way, eliminate the shake.
Then it's all about planning. The athlete finishes their movement and moves to the rig, position the camera before they get there, or just leave it set up from the last round.
Finally sack the pervert who decided this was a round of girls go wild. Sure, it's a live stream webcam on the internet, but it's not one of "those" live streaming webcams.
So What's Your Point Beard? What's Behind it All?
One word. America. Sorry, we said we would stay away from cultural differences, but, well, this answers some of what we've talked about.
For America smart-casual is a polo shirt with khaki pants. For America leaderboards are, well, they're NASCAR not F1.
And the answer is that they are appealing to a prominently American market, that's made pretty clear by the Regionals qualification process. CrossFit is something different, it's something new, it challenges the norms from sport perspective and yet it still has to appeal to the average American; especially whilst it grows and establishes itself as a new sport.
The new viewer, because that's the real growth for money in the sport, needs something reassuring, something they're familiar with; things like sports presenters in polo shirts and leaderboards that are similar to other sports that they know. This familiarity leads them to being able to watch something new.
That really answers two of the 5 things we've raised here, but for us, it tackles the main issue - that because of the speed of CrossFit; that the leaderboard changes all the time, and that we have limited cameras to watch up to 42 people compete we need an effective leaderboard graphic. This unfortunately means stepping out of the comfort zone for the average American.
The other points are really nothing to do with "America" specifically, it's therefore something that the CrossFit Media Team need to resolve, but perhaps looking for answers away from what they are familiar with would help.
Finally, we must recognise the positives. That this is a sport which 8 years ago was held on a farm. 7 years later, it's held in a 27,000 seater stadium and it's broadcasted all over the world, in many places for free (and yet ironically not for those of its "home country") and has thousands of viewers. It's ability to broadcast is somewhat astonishing. When you think about it each rep is counted by a judge for the athlete and then someone behind the scenes person logs that rep, the count from the 2nd counter is transmitted and logged so as to effect the electronic TV leaderboard all in a matter of moments. And that is done across 10 lanes each time, for every workout.
We're astonished by how far it's come and look forward to how far it could go. And let's not forget that the best media from the Games is yet to come; the edited clips are where the Team really shines.
[Can I take off this stupid polo shirt now?]
But that's us. What do you think? Have we nailed it on the head or missed something completely? Let us know in the comments.