Around the year 2000 I was in college majoring in digital media or video production or broadcasting or something. The actual name of the program changed several times. In a broadcast class with Professor K we had an assignment to write about the future of our field. Where we thought it was going and what that would look like. I predicted three things:
1 - Digital media integration in cars
2 - On demand streaming services
3 - VFX integration in live sports.
Digital media in cars is a no-brainer now. But keep in mind smart phones were just PDAs that made calls and I was stealing music on Napster over a phone line when I wrote this. And Napster is what I was thinking about in the paper. I wrote that a near infinite variety of music would be available on demand in the same console that controlled the radio. I imagined some kind of interface more advanced than the typical car stereo would have to be created to control it. When cars became compatible with iPods and smartphones I considered this to be checked off. Infotainment systems were the ultimate fulfillment of that idea though. It was the purpose-built custom interface to control all the media that made me go “Yes! This! This is what I saw in my head!”
On demand streaming services came from this thing we did in college. File sharing services were just beginning to illegally offer movies and tv shows that you could download. The bottleneck was that ISPs back then weren’t as fast as they are now. You could get an entire movie in standard definition if you left your computer on overnight and the download didn’t get interrupted. But if you were transferring files within the campus network everything was so much faster. You could get that same movie in 20 minutes. You could get a full episode of The Simpson’s in just a few minutes. A few enterprising people secretly dumped gigs of files onto public computers in the engineering building and then shared password protected folders that only they knew about on the campus network. I found out about some of these computers and got a few passwords. I traded passwords with other people who knew of different shared folders and before I knew it I could watch maybe 100 different tv series and a couple hundred movies from my dorm room by navigating to the computer on the network and opening the file remotely. I didn’t even have to copy it to my computer. On demand streaming television. It was so convenient and so easy. One day other people were going to see the value in this. I just knew it.
VFX integration in live sports is by far the least successful prediction, but it has been done. When I wrote about this I was thinking of 2 things. The first was The Matrix and NFL replay officiating. The second was that poorly executed computer generated line that Fox tried to use during hockey games to help viewers follow the puck. When it came to replays in the NFL I realized you were limited by the number of available camera angles. In The Matrix the Wachowskis had come up with a technique to interpolate the frames in between 2 camera angles. You may know it as bullet time. I was convinced that given enough coverage and faster computers the same technique could give you every angle you could possibly need to see if a player was in or out of bounds. Something like this has been used in test broadcasts and occasionally, if the review takes long enough, they’ll take stills from 2 camera angles and combine them to see if they can get more information. However this is a gimmick for TV viewers that is rarely used and as far as I can tell not used at all by officials. Still, the principle is sound and it has technically been done. What did take off though was the something similar to the hockey puck line. The idea behind the laser puck was really cool: Overlay graphics that interacted, or appeared to interact, with live action. The best use I’ve seen of this is the field overlay graphics for football. The line of scrimmage, the first down marker, the down and yardage graphics all placed accurately on the field, though only visible to broadcast viewers. Players can run through and over them and they hold their tracking. Cool stuff. A similar innovation is billboards in baseball stadiums. Sometimes instead of a sponsor it will just be a green billboard intended to be tracked and have graphics inserted during live broadcasts.
I had no hand in actually bringing these innovations to life and I’m no a futurist. I just looked at what was around and made some educated guesses. I think that’s what creativity is. The ability to look at two things and come up with a third thing that wasn’t there before. I have some ideas about where we go next and perhaps this time around I’ll be able to have a hand in bringing them to life.