Inside the TV production of a high profile Serie A match

Panorama.it (Giovanni Capuano) Before the game, we’re English. Or at least, we nearly are. We’re definitely trying to become more Anglo-Saxon and less Italian in how we export our football to the world, showing what Serie A has to offer. So we need to give more time to seeing how the play develops, to looking for the detail, the emotion, and to using slow motion (though not excessively). Welcome to where the live transmission of our league’s biggest games is put together: images that are beamed to millions of Italian homes and end up being shared across the world.

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The game is the derby at San Siro, the first time Mediaset Premium will show an Italian league game in Ultra HD (better known as 4K) after first using it during last season’s Champions League final on 28th May. Around 100 people are involved, 2 directors (the 2nd will produce the normal HD transmission), 27 cameras positioned across San Siro and kilometres of cables running through the stadium to the vans outside, where the game is created and sent out to the world.

Last season, the task of packaging the Serie A product was centralised and put under the control of the Lega. The decision was made following the fallout from a controversial offside decision in Juventus-Milan, which caused more than a little uncertainty. Who was in control? Was there the danger that some controversial incidents would be censured? Who would guarantee teams were treated equally?

Watching from behind the scenes, there’s no Big Brother. Just the storytelling of the event in which only a few things can be expected: the game, first and foremost, close-ups in the stands, and no space at all to be given to offensive or discriminatory behaviour off the pitch. The 2 directors (Popi Bonnici and Giorgio Galli) are in charge; there isn’t anyone stood over their shoulders, and everything proceeds according to the arrangement that has been taught to cameramen, technicians, slow-motion replay experts and directors for the last year.

“No pointless replays, it’s better to understand how the teams are playing”

Milan-Inter gave us the perfect incident to understand where Italian football is going from a TV perspective, when Inter equalised for the first time when Candreva scored following a throw in that Milan players were protesting about. The 4K director had shown the incident live, so there were no replays because everything was already clear. “This isn’t about censoring it. We were already on the right camera and we’d already seen it live,” Bonnici tells his team. “We’ll send all the replays to the TV stations later so that they can use them in the post-match analysis and create montages – we’re here to tell the story, not to comment on it.”

However, the director in charge of the HD feed was on a wider view of the pitch and so he showed the replay. It was a different choice, but the same school of thought. And the slow-motion replays of thousands of fouls and little incidents which we’ve been used to for ever are now disappearing, reduced to the bare minimum and used only when needed as “it’s better to understand how the teams are playing.” It also often enables directors to anticipate where the action is going in order to choose the best camera angles to show it from.

The introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referees) is a hot topic which is only going to become hotter, as Italy are among the countries to be experimenting with it. Today, VARs work using images and camera angles produced by the Lega, which can all be watched at the same time in a designated area. The quality of the images is high, but it’s possible to go even above their 50 frames per second which is still double the traditional 25.

That though is a question of costs. The most important thing of all is that transparency is guaranteed. Referees and fans will have to learn to have faith in a match’s production team and forget about the idea of an all-seeing Big Brother. The director has no other purpose than to smooth out a product which will be sold around the world, where people are more likely to be interested in how a game is developing than in analysing countless often insignificant incidents throughout a game. Just as the Premier League, with its sharp and spectacular packaging and TV contracts worth billions, has taught us.

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