COVID-19 Disruption Makes TV Creativity A Necessity

TV,  as well as sports TV content, keeps developing new wrinkles in producing TV content -- all due to pandemic issues around safety. It means keeping audiences/fans away, protecting cast, crew and athletes.

On the heels of Fox Sports offering computer-generated, video-game animation of crowds using AR technology, camera-tracking and real-time graphics, the NBA is adding real-time video Zoom-like fans.

Using Microsoft and its Teams video conferencing platform some 300 fans — split by team — will be inserted in a 17-foot sideline video board during actual games. Fans can interact with each other; the NBA will mix audio into the game broadcasts.

There are been virtually no fans in stands for sports, save for NASCAR, which has allow some social-distancing fans during races.

Major League Baseball, which just started, has added previous-aired audio of in-stadium fans background sounds -- murmurs, cheers, etc. -- in real-time to live, on-field in-stadium action, audio which is picked up on TV/radio broadcasts.



(While no-fans-in-stands is a safe approach, did we forget about the players? Now, MLB has real concerns, given the recent outbreak of COVID-19, infecting nearly half of the Miami Marlins baseball team and/or staff.)

For years, there has been an outcry, as well as praise, when it comes to entertainment sweetening of audio, especially comedy television. We speak of the venerable laugh track.

Does it make a difference if sports TV has its audio track to make participants and TV viewers feel better, safer, more comfortable?

How far should this go?  For example, should we get an audience audio track for, say, live TV newscasts? Forget about fact-checking at the moment. What about a laugh track when certain politicians and officials are speaking?

Will we now see and hear lots of Zoom-like technology -- individual people in boxed-like videos on screen for other TV content -- dramas, movies, unscripted, reality TV shows?

Yesterday’s controversy is today’s standard: Three decades ago, a Stephen Bochco-drama “Cop Rock,” circa 1990, made controversial additions — adding musical numbers to a serious police drama.

Critics were up in arms. At the time, Bochco, a successful TV producer, could only manage one season of “Cop Rock.” (Side note: Theme music for show composed by Randy Newman.)

These days, we have more music incorporated into dramas, comedies and dramedies --  Fox’s “Glee” of a few years back or NBC’s recent “Perfect Harmony” (now cancelled). Still, those were mostly set musical-stage performances as part of the story lines.

One of the most engaging shows has been “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” on NBC, which has been renewed for another season. It works in musical/dance numbers -- fantasy-like content --- as part of its story lines.

With pandemic disruption looking to change everything -- not just now but in the long-term -- think what this will mean to traditional linear, live TV prime-time programming. More engagement, creative content experiments, or bigger viewing declines?

The crowd murmurs and animates while we watch. 

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