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No pitchside cameras at Hungarian league in reduced production set-up

Hungarian national championships match between DVTK and Mezokovesd on May 30, 2020 (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images)

The host broadcast of matches from the Nemzeti Bajnokság, the top-tier football championship in Hungary, is being undertaken with a reduced production set-up with no cameras allowed alongside the field of play.

Following the shutdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the league returned last week with strict health protocols in place and government-mandated social-distancing measures that ensured that no more than one seat in four was occupied by fans.

MTVA, the Hungarian public-service broadcaster that holds rights to the league, resumed its coverage on Saturday.

Speaking during the European Broadcasting Union’s virtual roundtable led by Glen Killane, the new executive director at Eurovision Sport, David Szekely, channel director at M4 Sport, MTVA’s free-to-air television channel, said: “We have very strict rules to be able to broadcast the matches. For example, we changed the camera positions.

“We won’t be next to the field because everyone who is on the field or next to the field and can be in interaction with the players needs to have a negative test from the previous 24-to-36 hours.”

M4 Sport hopes to return to its studio in the middle of June to present match coverage, Szekely said. Since the resumption of the league, M4 Sport’s presenters have been on-site at the stadiums for the pre- and post-match segments.

In response to the slew of event postponements and cancellations, M4 Sport showed a re-run of all matches from the 2016 Uefa European Championship, the first major tournament in 30 years that Hungary had qualified for. The broadcaster also cleared rights agreements to show Barcelona’s 1992 Olympics and archive Formula 1 races. A re-run of Hungary’s famous 3-0 win over Brazil in 1986 also proved particularly popular with viewers.

Szekely was joined in the discussion by Barbara Slater of the BBC, the UK public broadcaster and EBU member.

Slater, the director of BBC Sport, agreed that production of live sport “isn’t going to look and feel the same” and that there were likely to be not as many cameras at venues and that they would be positioned differently. The BBC will also not be able to send the same “army of reporters” that usually attend events.

She noted: “This is a time for development as well. We’re certainly looking in a greater way than we have in the past to remote production.

“We are working with partners in our studio operation at the BBC base in Salford and looking at how to run galleries and those operational spaces safely. [There are] very strict protocols with staff safety the number one concern.”

One live event returning to the BBC’s schedules will be the World Snooker Championship, which will take place (without fans) from July 31 to August 16, covering most of the window in which the BBC would have been broadcasting the now-postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The BBC is to air around 200 hours from the the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.

Slater said: “If there can’t be a crowd, we’re still going to get pretty close to the experience that we would have had.”

Post Covid-19 market consolidation

Looking ahead to a post-Covid-19 sports media industry, both Szekely and Slater predicted the market would consolidate.

Szekely claimed that the EBU, with its “very strict system and good base”, can be “one of the winners” when the market emerges on the other side of the crisis.

He predicted that “a lot of business models” in the sports media sector will face “huge issues”.

The stance echoes that of Stefan Kürten, Killane’s predecessor at Eurovison Sport, who told SportBusiness last month that the EBU could emerge from the crisis in a stronger position than other players in a consolidated market.

He said: “We clearly foresee that our role in a changing environment might even be to see a bigger focus again on first-screen public-service broadcasting. As a more general remark, throughout the crisis people are focusing more on public-service media…

“…We are not dependent on subscriptions. There is a business case that has to be revised differently [for subscription broadcasters], whereas on our side this is not the case.”

Commenting on the road map ahead, Slater remarked: “Sport will come through this. There may be some consolidation. This has shown that there are some events that are fragile and it will certainly hit some areas than other.

“Perhaps the middle tier that is more finely balanced commercially [will be hit]. The prime events will remain the prime events and will return maybe stronger than ever because people will appreciate them all the more.”