A Unique Approach toward Virtual Broadcasting
Aron Kennedy is the Vice President of Game Day Production & Broadcast Operations and is in his seventh season with the San Fransisco 49ers. Having nearly a two-decade-long experience in the production world, Kennedy has worked in all kinds of production gigs, including engineering, audiovisual, commercial, and extreme sports. He also assisted in revamping Levi's Stadium by developing a technologically advanced production department and a robust control room. Before joining the 49ers, he had served as the Director of Game Day Production for the Philadelphia Eagles for 11 seasons.
In an interview with CIO Review magazine, he has shared his perspective on the latest technology trends in the audiovisual space, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled a sudden but necessary coalescing of traditional broadcasting methodologies with virtual ones.
Mention any of the challenges or trends you've seen in the audiovisual space recently?
The audiovisual space faced several challenges due to the onset of the pandemic. For instance, it suddenly had to adapt to a new environment and reinvent itself to carry on with its objective of providing information to football fans. It had to reimagine and blend the traditional broadcasting methodologies with the virtual ones to build a hybrid architecture of audiovisual broadcasting. As a broadcaster, we needed to adapt ourselves to this abrupt shift to live streaming platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and so on, from traditional mediums. In simpler words, the pandemic has forced us to implement this otherwise yet-to-come hybrid model of audiovisual broadcasting in a minimal period.
Tell us about the projects that you have been working on before the pandemic?
Before the onset of COVID-19, we worked on a major project where we were trying to implement the 8K resolution cameras to map the American football field digitally. In American football, we use the data we capture to help our teams win games on the field. The videos we capture allow us to challenge a referee's decision if need be, and potentially overturn their verdicts.
Also, thanks to this technology, we are now capable of zooming in close to the action without losing any clarity, and broadcast a 1080p feed to the stadium's 200x48 foot video boards for our audience. Having a technology like this is nothing short of a game-changer for the future of broadcasting. Another mind-blowing shift that the world had witnessed was that of from standard definition to high definition to 4K. But the real impact is getting brought in by our jump from HD to 8K resolution. It is just that brilliant and is almost better than reality.
But with great changes comes greater challenges. Today, with this adoption of an 8K resolution, we are facing challenges in the workflow, in the preparation of a game, in the usage of data and footage during and post-game, and so on. File management is another issue of which we have just scratched the surface. But, overall, it is going to be an exciting and incredible journey, and we are happy to be at the forefront of it.
Given the current scenario, what can companies do to ensure success?
The foremost thing that ensures the success of a company is a team effort. It takes an efficient team, capable leadership, and hunger for success for a company to move forward. In our case, all these elements worked perfectly well together. The support we received from our leadership end of 49ers was enough for our ideas to gain traction. When we were starting this 8K project, the concept looked kind of like a pipe dream because we had no idea about things like the cost of the camera, the budget it would take to bring the concept to fruition, the time it would take to execute the idea, and so on. But as soon as we started working on it, everything started to make sense.
We are also grateful for having a partner like Foxconn, an industrial internet entity, to help us in this project. The way our visions aligned with each other surely helped us a lot to successfully complete our project. So, I think it is the support we got from our partners, our vendors, our leaders, integrators, and everybody else that made us successful.
If you had to draw an analogy between your personality traits, hobbies, and how it reflects on your leadership, what would that be?
I always loved technology as well as production. Apart from that, my father was an aerospace engineer, and my mother was the director of Fine Arts at a university; so, I believe that I have inherited a brain that constitutes 51 percent talent in engineering and 49 percent in production. Also, I have an immense love for music, and to me, it is an art form that possesses both mathematics and science in it. It makes me excited to think about how beautifully arts meets engineering and production meets science in this world. So, I would surely give credits to my parents, my brain, and my hobbies to help me become who I am today.
How do you envision the future of this space with all these potentials, disruptions, and transformations that are happening?
In my opinion, the future depends on how perfectly we know our audiences and how quickly we adapt to them. Also, it depends on how the digital and social world is colliding with the broadcast industry and what is coming out of it. Apart from that, the world of the internet is changing so fast. When I was starting my career, we were needed to read articles and look at images to gather information about something, but today, we have informative videos! Furthermore, these videos are not even of 30 minutes, but just 30 seconds. People lean more towards getting a huge amount of information in a short time period, and this kind of demand presents the broadcasters with a particular set of challenges. We are now required to think of ways to keep our audience engaged. Additionally, suppose, if we end up making videos of longer duration; in that case, we are required to find ways to slice and dice it up to present a piece of content for our viewers that is alluring enough for them to keep them hooked.
In a nutshell, we are already pushing the envelope of technology way beyond our imagination. For instance, we are already flying drones over Mars and capturing high-resolution images of its surfaces. But with all these innovations happening in the audiovisual space, we must keep our focus on how to use these for the betterment of humankind.