Stadium sailing is the mantra of the 34th America’s Cup. A new venture to bring sailing into your living room and create the world’s next great television sport and; the quest for Sunday night football status.
Who better than Stan Honey then to bring sailing to life on network television. Honey is most well-known for the work he has done through his company Sportvision. This is the man behind augmented reality on television sports – hockey’s glowing puck, football’s yellow down-lines, and all manner of other televised sporting events. He is a two-time Emmy winner for his work on sports broadcasting.
But Honey is a regular renaissance man, a world-class sailor and former Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. He first gained international respect for his sailing in 1983, when Nolan Bushnell approached him to outfit his 67’ sloop, Charley, which he was entering in the Transpac. Bushnell is the inventor of Atari and at the time was flush with money having just sold it to Warner Communications.
Honey was working at Stanford Research in geographic information systems and radars. Bushnell wanted onboard computers for his sailboat and Honey provided. He invented the first onboard computer, creating systems that calculated max speeds and told Charley’s crew how to win. Bushnell was a relative newcomer to racing, and he won with Honey’s computer.
|Stan Honey- Sailing for Television|
How did you get involved in the AC34?
I navigated for Larry on Sayonara from about 1995 until about 1997 and so I knew Larry from that and I also knew Larry because when I was head of technology at newscorp I met with Larry a couple of times.
Then when I was navigating on Groupama III for the around the world record, which was in early 2010, Larry won the America’s Cup. There was a Fortune magazine article with an interview with Larry Ellison in early 2010 in Fortune where they asked him, well you’ve won the America’s cup, you say you are going to do great TV, what are you going to do? Larry’s answer was he was going to look up an old sailing friend of his, Stan Honey, and they were going to put yellow lines in the water. And, that was actually the first I heard of it. At the time I was in the Southern Ocean navigating Grouphama, but thats when I figured out what came next.
Then Larry Ellison approached you?
Yea, well once I got in, I was at sea, there was a couple of messages from Ian Burns and Jimmy Spithill and so this project came out of that.
What specific things are you trying to do for the America’s Cup coverage?
Well you know, sailing, has, well all of the augmented reality systems whether its the first outline of the hockey puck or the down lines has the characteristic that there are important things to the sport that are hard to see.
Sailing has many of those. The boundaries, the wind direction, the identification of who is ahead and who is behind. So thats the thing about sailing that makes augmented reality compelling, there are so many things that are important to understand the event that are hard to see.
Have you made recommendations to the layouts of the courses?
I haven’t, the television executive producer, Dennis Harvey certainly has. So the race course design as it has evolved, has definitely taken into account suggestions from the television. Specific suggestions have come from the professional story tellers, you know the executive producer etc.
So what is your role in America’s Cup in terms of Director of Technology?
Well the original project was to help the T.V. story-tellers, the director producers, commentators, and reporters. To help them tell the story of the event. So to that end we built the systems to track the sailboats and the mark boats and then to be able to superimpose the their information on the live video. Showing where the boats are, where the wind is, who is ahead, who is behind, the boundaries the marks all that.
Having measured all of that data. We were then asked to build an umpiring system for race management and a race management system for race management. We also make that information available on the internet. So its used for mobile apps.
But the initial requirement was to enhance TV, and the subsequent requirements were the systems for umpiring, race management and the systems for mobile data.
What are you hoping to bring to the event, or help the event itself achieve?
The principal objective is to make it accessible for non-sailors. So that they can, very quickly, embrace the event. To get interested and be able to understand the competition.
Are there signs that you’ve been successful?
The ratings have been good. The shows on NBC have been given a ‘one rating’ rating. Even more importantly, the ratings have increased during the time it has been on air. So what that means, thats something TV Executives care a lot about. So that means that people who have just been browsing through the channels and come across the America’s Cup actually stop and watch. That’s a critical thing for TV executives.
Was it hard to get networks to pick up the coverage?
Well, any major sporting event you do a rights negotiation. In our case the major rights holder was NBC. It’s always a big drama to negotiate the major rights deal.
It’s a very important business decision for an event. So events take a lot of care in negotiating their major rights distribution arrangements.
So, is it going to be the next football or NASCAR?
That would be great, the jury is still out on whether sailing can be made a popular media sport like those other sports. But that is certainly a goal.
Its a beautiful sport, its outdoors, the boats are spectacular its complicated and there is a lot of technology involved, a lot of culture, a lot of terminology, alot of history. You know, sports fans tend to like all of that. They like a sport that has a lot of texture and depth to it and sailing certainly does.
The America’s Cup is a tricky event because every time someone wins it there is a new trustee. So its not a conventional sport like the NFL where there are professional managers year in and year out. So the AC is tricky in that respect. But certainly one of the hopes within the AC and the media is that sailing will become a more popular sport on TV.
One of the big challenges is the cameras in the helicopters, so thats more difficult than any of the other systems we have done where the cameras are mounted on tripods. Another challenge is the salt water. so all the equipment on the boats is more difficult to maintain because of the salt water. so technically its much more difficult than say NASCAR or Football. or baseball.
Every boat does it, so its like NASCAR in that respect.