Advances In Broadcast Graphics Leads To Better Storytelling

The power of television graphics to support visual storytelling in news and sports has been evolving for decades - going from simple on-screen titles, to lower third tickertape messaging and on to today’s stunning use of 3D augmented reality (AR) for sponsors, and to relay unique information. Better storytelling keeps viewers across multiple media consumption platforms more engaged and continually coming back for more.

With real time processing of on-air AR elements - that offer viewers a 360-degree perspective and a deeper connection to the action - now a practical reality for most major sports and news programs, broadcast graphics have become more compelling, informative and entertaining than ever before. Many say there’s still lots of untapped potential for greater visual impact in broadcast graphics.

Creativity in how you use the screen has also evolved over time. Some media outlets use full screen graphics while others use half the screen. Full screen graphics that take up the entire TV screen display quotations text, document headlines or social media posts. Half screen take up half of the screen in order to simultaneously show the anchor or reporter.

Many graphic artist and art/creative directors say that the story and the focus of the writing dictates the type of graphic used and how it is displayed on screen.

Visualizing The Message

Indeed, it’s all about enhancing the storytelling process, whether that be for a news segment - whereby AR graphics rise up from the anchor desk, the floor or from a LED wall backdrop - or a live sports telecast where providing player stats and team standing has been brought to a new and highly compelling level. Indeed, for the viewer, television screens become immersive when there’s at least some sense of depth and dimension, and that’s a good thing for everyone involved.

During last season’s NFL Playoff coverage on Fox Sports, viewers saw fully rendered, 3D animated environments digitally inserted onto the field of play for a sponsor. It was basically a traditional TV commercial brought to life in three-dimensional AR. These sponsor elements were also pushed to the hundreds of different sized displays throughout the venue in 2D.

In addition to the traditional generation of offside lines, 1st and Ten lines, free-kick circles, current production systems are also able to display statistical data (e.g., for auto racing coverage) and, using the latest graphics rendering engines from companies like Unity and Unreal, in tandem with real-time tracking devices on select cameras in the studio or in the field, to build AR sequences for better fan engagement. In general, what we’re seeing in graphical sports coverage is a desire to emulate video games. 

AR graphics inserted onto the field of play is captivating viewers and keeping them watching. Here graphics are being used to promote upcoming games on the network.

AR graphics inserted onto the field of play is captivating viewers and keeping them watching. Here graphics are being used to promote upcoming games on the network.

In some auto racing telecasts, up to four miniature cameras are mounted in each car, the feeds from which are captured with the dozens of RF receivers mounted round the track. These video signals, as well as telemetry data from the car’s performance, are sent back to one of the production trucks on site and immediately fed into a real time graphics engine for incorporation into the live telecast.

Overseas broadcasters are also using extended reality (XR) explainer segments that transport talent into fully or partially 3D environments to discuss a wide range of topics. Once the graphic treatment changes, the viewer is transported to a new environment, with mood lighting and “graphic essences” tightly synchronized with the video. In the U.S., perhaps one of the most prominent examples of this has been The Weather Channel, which produces explainers on a variety of weather and environmental topics.

The Backdrop Becomes The Graphic

NBC News is using AR to explain the news through visualizations and data analysis from its NBC News Digital Data/Graphics team. These graphics are typically displayed on large LED video walls, particularly the seamless ones that use bezel-less panels tiled together. Curved LED panels to build columns and anchor backgrounds are starting to become more prevalent as well. For animated segments, designers typically create animation controllers with object keyframes and then organize them on a timeline, where they can be triggered them at different times during a live sporting event or newscast - manually or automatically.

MSNBC weather coverage now regularly includes AR graphics to help tell the story better.

MSNBC weather coverage now regularly includes AR graphics to help tell the story better.

Whether curved or straight, LED displays, synchronized with graphics systems, allow a newscast to change the environment to fit the story and relay the information in a more visual way. This helps viewers get a deeper understanding of specific stories and elevates the overall newscast. The LED backdrop has started encroaching on the longtime use of chroma key green screen for weather and looks to be the present and future of newscasts.

Adaptive Graphics

Today’s broadcast graphics production is not just for television any more. Broadcasters know that viewers are on the go and are taking the necessary steps to grab attention whatever the viewing platform. In fact, there’s been a shift to social-first content formats. Recent surveys have found that the majority of Gen Z is now consuming news on social media. So social media graphics need as much attention as the on-air variety.

Due to legacy workflows that support linear TV, Web and social, many broadcasters are running several production lines in parallel (which can be time consuming and a waste of resources). This is why technologies like Adaptive Graphics production platforms have become so important. They leverage user-generated, rules-based automation to resize and re-encode content to adapt to different viewing platforms. Everything is produced from a single workflow and the final output is only locked in as the very last process. Everything up to then is fluid, editable and consistent.

For production teams this means a single workflow can be set up to automatically adjust resolution and format to support specific display devices and effectively enables graphic artists to create once and “publish” multiple times.

Because these complex graphics require large data sets that must be input into the renderer, many new graphics platforms include database management features to get the desired results.

Artificial Intelligence

Live sports broadcasting has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, thanks in part to the integration of artificial intelligence (AI). The days of simple play-by-play coverage are long gone. AI is now at the forefront of enhancing the fan experience by delivering real-time statistics, captivating graphics, and instant highlights. In this way AI is reshaping sports broadcasting, offering fans an immersive and data-rich experience like never before.

AI-powered systems are now capable of processing vast amounts of data and delivering real-time statistics during live sports broadcasts. This technology enables broadcasters to provide viewers with up-to-the-minute information on player performance, team statistics, and historical data. From player speed to passing accuracy, fans can access a wealth of information at their fingertips, making the viewing experience more engaging and informative.

At the end of the day it’s clear that the use of video and graphics images are incredibly important in capturing audience attention and cannot be underestimated in our increasingly visual world. Because visuals are processed so quickly, they cause a faster and stronger reaction than words. Visuals help your audience engage with the content, and the emotional reactions your visuals elicit lead to a higher level of information retention (and better ratings).

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