During World Cup 2014, ESPN will introduce new technology codenamed Virtual Presenter that could give viewers a unique perspective on watching the world’s game.
“We are going to use technology that’s an extension of what we do with ESPN Axis. We are now going to be able to take our commentators live and put them into the play,” explained ESPN Coordinating Producer Amy Rosenfeld, who revealed the details in an exclusive interview with World Soccer Talk.
The technology will give ESPN soccer analysts an opportunity during half-time or post-match analysis to “step into the play” and turn around to show you the different views and perspective.
“Not only can we diagram the plays as it happens, but the analysts can diagram what should have happened,” added Rosenfeld.
Here’s a video clip of what the Virtual Presenter technology may look like from an example used by Canal+ in Spain for its UEFA Champions League coverage:
The Virtual Presenter technology was just a few of the fascinating topics that we discussed with Rosenfeld. Here’s the rest of the interview:
Harris: How difficult is it going to be to surpass ESPN’s coverage of World Cup 2010 such as production, the whole package and what we’ll see for World Cup 2014?
Amy Rosenfeld (AR): “Honestly, the nature of being in Brazil already elevates the experience because you’re in a soccer mad country. I think that it will be hard to screw this up from the standpoint of that it’s rolled right out in front of us, in terms of the passion of the country. If we can do justice to what it means to be a Brazilian hosting the World Cup, we’ll have achieved something.
“I think to surpass the 2010 World Cup, we’re always trying to elevate it. Literally ten minutes after World Cup 2010 ended, we were already analyzing it. We said ‘Ok, this was great. Attaboy us. But what do we now do to advance?’ We’re very hopeful that the viewer experience will be even better. We learned lessons in 2010. Guess what, we made some mistakes, sure. We had a lovely production. We were nit-picking where improvements can be made, where in the past (since World Cup 2006) we made sea changes. Now I feel very comfortable that ESPN is in a place where we’ve set a benchmark and now it’s an exciting moment to challenge that benchmark, not be fearful of it.”
Harris: Is there a particular area of the coverage where you’re looking to improve from World Cup 2010?
Rosenfeld: “I think one of the things that we at ESPN will try to do better is to tell the stories of the players. When we look back at 2010, I think we did the X and O’s very well. I think we hit South Africa, the culture and place well. I think one of our tenants for this coverage is to be really telling the story of the players throughout the tournament.
“We will elevate our coverage by making people care about the players, not just who they are on the field, but who they are as a person — giving the viewers a rooting interest.”
Harris: What do you want the lasting impression to be — the legacy — of what people will remember ESPN’s coverage of World Cup 2014 since it’ll be the last World Cup that ESPN will have for a minimum of 12 years?
Rosenfeld: “I want the lasting impression to be that we gave justice to soccer and what that sport means, and what it means to be a fan of soccer, how amazing the game is, as well as doing justice to the country and the sport. And that we walk away from World Cups for the time being to say ‘We gave that coverage the respectful treatment that it has so deserved for so many years in this country.’”
Harris: Without politicizing the World Cup, how is ESPN going to address the expected protests and related incidents?
Rosenfeld: “Yes. We’re prepared to cover the news. We as soccer fans know that there always is strife of one form or another — be it team versus team, or internal struggles in countries. In the Confederations Cup, it was a good introduction for ESPN as to how we handle what is unraveling here in terms of the protests.
“We’re not going to focus on the troubles in the country, but we’re not going to ignore it. It would be unfair to go to the country and whitewash the protests. It’s going on. That will be part of the tournament. Now we will certainly cover the news when we see it. We’ve got news people like Bob Woodruff, Jeremy Schaap and Bob Ley. We have heavy-hitting journalists to be able to handle whatever unravels. What will be interesting is where does that mesh into the soccer?
“It’s our duty to cover the entire scope of the event which unfortunately will probably involve include some political protests and disruptions.”
Harris: How will ESPN leverage social media in terms of TV production of World Cup 2014?
Rosenfeld: “One of the things that’s very interesting is that the soccer community is extremely social media savvy. I have been overwhelmed by the second screen experience of the conversation. I think it’s because soccer creates such great conversation that now you’ve expanded that community so rather than having soccer fans sitting in a bar, they’re sitting at a tablet with all of their great friends.
“Our commentators have really adapted that as part of their delivery. A lot of our commentators are engaging that audience so we’re going to take that and move that forward. We are going to utilize social media both on television and digitally to make the world aware of what the conversation is going on digitally.
“That’s part of our audience. That’s part of our community. We need to serve them.
“We’re also going to do a lot of fan engagement where you can be participating in the conversation.”
As an aside, Rosenfeld tips Ruud van Nistelrooy to be the breakout star among the analysts due to his thoughtful and deep analysis that he brings to the game. Could he become the next Roberto Martinez of World Cup punditry? We’ll have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, one of the unique features of ESPN’s broadcast this summer will be its use of an outside patio for nightly discussions of World Cup matches. ESPN Executive Producer Jed Drake explained how during the last World Cup that some of the remarkable discussions about the games were in the hotel bar or lobby after the cameras were turned off. But this summer, with the outside patio overlooking the beach, the cameras will be switched on for a relaxing and informal chat about the beautiful game.
Lastly ESPN President John Skipper keyed in on how instrumental the resources of ESPN Brazil will be in making ESPN’s coverage even better. ESPN will be able to tap into the resources and talent of an already well-oiled organization instead of going in to the country as a foreign broadcast company.
Meanwhile, here’s an in-depth interview with Rosenfeld by the Awful Announcing podcast: