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Champions Hockey League Season 23/24: extensive interview to Uzi Kakuda, Head Of Infront Productions

 UziKakudaHeadOfInfrontProductionsThe event is called Champions Hockey League - commonly referred to as “CHL” and Infornt, which is in charge of all te tv production, boasts 19 Broadcast Partners with distribution across 34 territories. 

Major broadcasters include ViaplayAMC NetworksMySportsORFTSNNHL Networks.

In addition, they distribute live streams to the Home of Hockey (Infront’s in-house streaming service) and the Official CHL YouTube Channel. 

Infront also distribute to betting partners via Infront’s in-house betting service Bettor.

Presspool: Can you provide an overall brief description about the season and participants?

Uzi Kakuda: The Champions Hockey League (CHL) is a seasonal pan-European competition that delivers fast-paced excitement to dedicated club fans, featuring Europe’s best clubs competing for the ultimate title in European club hockey. 

The event creates additional value – sportive and emotional – to the European clubs, leagues and fans by showcasing a best-of-the-best international club ice hockey competition.

A season consists of a Regular Season and the Playoffs. 

Each season, there are 24 participating teams which have historically come from 17 countries (AUT, BLR, CZE, DEN, FIN, FRA, GER, HUN, ITA, NOR, POL, SUI, SVK, SVN, SWE, UK, UKR). 

Season 2023/24 is the 9th active season of the CHL.

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Presspool: Does Infront cover the entire championship?

Infront is the exclusive commercial partner for the Champions Hockey League, responsible for the centralized sales of marketing rights, the worldwide distribution of media rights, and the centralized television production management of all games through its production arm, Infront Productions. 

In addition, Infront provides substantial support to the CHL in the overall development of the competition, delivering services in the area of digital media, promotion, and rights delivery.

Infront Productions is responsible for the multilateral coverage and delivery of the entire championship.

 

Hockey2Presspool: How many competitions are there?

Uzi Kakuda: The Regular Season consists of 72 games in total, and is played in a single table and standings format whereby each team will play against 6 different opposing teams over a total of 6 games (3 home and 3 away).

Following the Regular Season games played across Game Days 1 through 6, teams finishing 1 through 16 in the standings will advance to the Playoffs where match-ups will be automatically assigned to the playoff bracket according to the teams’ seeds based on their positions in the final standings (1st vs 16th, 2nd vs 15th, etc.).

Starting with the Round of 16, there are 29 games in the Playoffs. With the exception of the one-off Final, all games are played according to the home & away system, with the teams winning on aggregate score proceeding to the next round. (For clarity, away goals from the first game do not count as double.)

 

Presspool: How many people are part of the technical team? Is the Italian team also involved?

Uzi Kakuda: Infront Productions directly oversees and centrally manages the multilateral productions (i.e. World Feed), setting the production standards and guidelines, along with the editorial deliverables that have to be delivered by the host broadcast partner group. 

The core team consists of the Head of HB Production & Executive Producer, HB Project Manager, Media Operations & Distribution Manager, Livestream & Post-Production Project Manager, Lead MCR Helpdesk Engineer, and Lead English Commentator.

The group of host broadcast partners consist of Infront’s broadcast partners from countries with participating teams, as well as Infront Productions itself as an independent host broadcaster.

Both Infront Productions and Broadcast Partners that also serve as host broadcast partners directly source their own technical facilities providers and production teams. 

All adhere to the standards and guidelines that have been relayed to them during pre-production planning in the off-season. 

Once in-season, all productions are monitored live for quality control (both editorially and technically) at Infront Productions’ Quality Control Room at headquarters in Zug, Switzerland and at its in-house MCR in Milan Italy, as well as at a second MCR in the UK via Infront’s satellite services partner.

Infront Productions also has a separate post-production team in Milan managed by Alessandro Garrini, project manager for content management, and Diego Faverzani, project manager for live production. This area is in charge for the creation and distribution of full game highlights of all games with English voiceovers, along with additional short form digital content.

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Presspool: Who owns the production facilities?

Uzi Kakuda: The production facilities providers - for both broadcast partners and Infront Productions - are mainly third-party suppliers, and as such, are owned (for the most part) by the third-party suppliers themselves.

However, the technical facilities required for the contribution and post-production services provided by Infront Productions are owned by Infront. 

The technical facilities include a complete MCR with downlink facilities and fibre connectivity, along with a full post-production environment with editing suites.

 

Presspool: Which mobile units are engaged? 

Uzi Kakuda: The production operations and technical workflow vary according to the countries where the games are being produced. 

Generally speaking, there are 3 set-ups that we work with:

  • Traditional OB set-up - with OB and SNG on site

  • Remote set-up - with PCR (Production Control Room) and uplink based at a remote production facility

  • OB on site with remote uplink

For on-site OB units, they will vary according to the technical supplier.

In terms of EVS, for the production standard used for the Regular Season through the Round of 16, we require a minimum of 16 channels in total (12 inputs and 4 outputs - e.g. 2 x 8ch EVS). 

As there is an increase in cameras and some upgrades in the production standard for the Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals, we require a minimum of 24 channels (18 inputs, 6 outputs, e.g.3 x 8ch EVS).

For the Final, with the further addition of special cameras, etc. we would anticipate an additional machine or two, but it remains subject to the final production plan as this planned separately as a one-off.

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Presspool: Can you give more details on the camera layout? 

Uzi Kakuda: Multilateral Camera Plan: Regular Season + Round of 16

Variation A:Multilateral Camera Narrative: Regular Season + Round of 16

Versions A & B:

The base camera plan ensures full coverage of the field of play regardless of the venue infrastructure – e.g. whether the team benches are opposite the main camera position or on the same side.

 

For the Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals, 3 fixed cameras will be added to the base production plan, while the standard reverse camera (Camera 3) is upgraded to a triple-speed super slomotion camera (SSM 3x) and the two fixed cameras behind the goals (Cameras 6 and 7) upgraded to remote cameras.

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Presspool: How many feeds were created?

Uzi Kakuda: Only 1 feed (World Feed with clean International Stereo Sound) is produced and distributed. 

The home and/or away broadcaster may integrate domestic commentary into the second audio pair if present at venue. 

There is no English guide commentary on the satellite feed, but we centrally apply remote English Commentary to all games that are livestreamed on to CHL’s YouTube Channel.

Audio is in standard 2.0 stereo.

 

Presspool: How is the graphics? Who creates it? Were AR, VR, MR, etc., used?

Uzi Kakuda: Infront Productions is in fully charge of the development (from RFP through delivery) of the on-screen design and graphics package (including title sequences). 

Infront Productions has appointed Jump Design & Direction based out of the UK to bring Infront Productions’ vision to life. 

The package does not include AR/VR, etc. graphics. 

A new OSD is currently being developed and will be released for the 2024/25 season and onwards.

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Presspool: Does this production differ from others done in the past? Was there an evolution in recently applied technologies? 

Uzi Kakuda: Infront Productions has long been bringing in live audio from head coaches during designated timings and game officials into the coverage - which had not been standard practice in other ice hockey productions as most came delayed, if at all. 

CHL productions adds focus on providing context to what is visible in pictures, allowing viewers to better immerse themselves into the ongoings of the game in real time.

Infront Productions was the first to implement rinkboard cameras in Europe, placing PTZs (e.g. Q-Balls, Sony, etc.) behind the advertising boards at the corners to get angles at ice-level through the plexiglas (at Finals). 

Feasibility of implementation remains subject to the rinkboard systems used by the host clubs.

We continue to use a 2D suspension cam, along with referee helmet cams in the Final for the last several years.

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Presspool: Were any technical experiments conducted? Are there any planned for the future?

Uzi Kakuda: Yes, we are planning for a never-seen-before camera to be used - but it is still undergoing research and development with a collaborator. 
We have to wait and see if it will be feasible, hopefully for next season.

 

Presspool: Did the production undergo any stylistic changes to meet the evolving preferences of both linear and OTT on-demand audiences?

Uzi Kakuda: Given our group-wide expertise and history in specializing in host productions, we generally apply a traditional, puritanical approach to host productions. 

However, given the quantity of concurrent games on a given game day and the increase in non-linear distribution with a plug-and-play approach, we are looking to address and establish a balance of having enough substance in the world feed to have it stand alone, however, while ensuring that its multilateral nature and purpose to serve broadcast partners remain intact.

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Presspool: How much time is needed for the setup, how many days of preparation?

Uzi Kakuda: For on-site productions, we recommend OB units to arrive by game day -1. 

However, depending on the faceoff time, it is just as feasible to have the technical team come in the morning and set up. 

The team must be ready for the 15-minute End-to-End test at the standardized timing of 2 hours before faceoff for each game.

In terms of preparation for a season, the off-season (from March through August) is the busiest period for Infront Productions and Media Operations with pre-production planning and coordination with broadcast partners, technical providers, clubs, etc.

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Presspool: How are signal transport handled? Is there a master control involved?

Uzi Kakuda: All signals are made available via satellite. 

We have an MCR at our satellite services provider based in the UK with a dedicated engineering helpdesk on game days. 

We have our own MCR in Milan taking all signals via satellite and also via fibre from the MCR in the UK. 

Our MCR in Milan then distributes all live stream feeds to Infront’s in-house services, CHL’s digital channels, and to select broadcast partners.

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 TAg

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