Live TV?From Rolex Kentucky!

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Almost 30 years ago (29, to be exact) the first competition I covered as a brand-new staff reporter for The Chronicle of the Horse was the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. I can still remember how it was so much bigger and better than any other equestrian competition I'd ever seen before, and I remember thinking what an extraordinary spectator event it could be. I've been to Rolex Kentucky every year but two since then, and for the last five years I've worked on the Media Center staff, where my main job is writing the press releases during the event. So I can tell you that the event that enthralled me back in 1982 was merely an introduction to the spectacle that is Rolex Kentucky today. that's why I was excited when the U.S. Equestrian Federation announced a week ago that Rolex Kentucky?s show jumping climax is going to be shown live on NBC-TV on Sunday May 1, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT. So I called up my friend Bob Hughes, who's produced the Rolex Kentucky telecast ever since it became a four-star three-day event 13 years ago, to talk about this exciting development. Ever since 2004, the Carr-Hughes production of Rolex Kentucky has been shown on NBC one to two weeks after the event, which gives lots of time to do post-production work on the 60- to 90-minute broadcast. Carr-Hughes also produced, and NBC telecast, 8 ? hours worth of prime-time coverage of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky last fall, a landmark moment for equestrian sports on network TV. After the WEG, Bob and I talked a great deal about the effects the WEG might have on U.S. horse sports, so the first thing I asked him was whether the live telecast was a WEG effect. ?Yes and no,? he told me. ?Certainly the network?s confidence in the broadcast went way up after he WEG, but it was more a result of us pushing for it, to try and create a more dynamic broadcast. ?If you put on two programs, one live and one taped, the live show tends to get better ratings. People watch it because it's happening right now, and they don't want to miss it. So doing it live was the next natural step for the broadcast.? The trick for Bob?and, I'm afraid, the disappointment for eventing fans in particular but for anyone who loves to watch horses compete?is that this year?s show is only going to be a one-hour broadcast, because NBC was locked in to other programming they already had scheduled. So I can just about guarantee anyone reading this that you'll be disappointed with the amount of action you see. it's a simple matter of time. Bob told me that a one-hour broadcast means that he only has 44 minutes for ?content,? because the other 16 minutes goes to commercials and network promotion. Obviously, show jumping is the only phase you're going to see live, and because each round takes about three minutes, you're only going to see the top seven or eight horses jump (from a starting field of 50-plus horses). That means show jumping will take almost 25 of the 44 minutes. The rest is going to be what Bob calls ?telling the story.? The hosts will explain the event and describe how those top seven or eight horses got to be at the top before the final phase, with some momentary footage of dressage (probably just a minute or so of the dressage leader?s test) and somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes of cross- country highlights. And then they have to spend a few minutes interviewing the winner and wrapping up. ?it's going to be a very, very compact show,? Bob said, adding, ?it's an event that deserves more time, but that time was not available this year.? But Here's good news, eventing and horse fans: You can watch every single dressage test, every cross-country round and every show jumping round via video streaming on the USEF Network (www.usefnetwork.com), from Thursday through Sunday, April 28-May 1. Bob?s actually very excited about having that broadcast platform too, because filming the cross-country action is a huge effort, ?so we're glad people will get to see what we do.? Bob noted that webcasts like what the USEF has been doing since the WEG are a boon for sports that aren?t TV friendly because of the time they require or because of their complexity. A perfect example, he said, is the Tour de France, the event to end all events for bicyclists but a yawner for everyone else, and since it takes two weeks to complete, it's poorly suited to a one-hour TV production. Still, Bob sees this first live production as the next logical step in developing the Rolex Kentucky broadcast, not as a one-off. He hopes to expand the broadcast to 90 minutes next year and even to show cross-country on Saturday and the show jumping on Sunday sometime in the future. Maybe not that far in the future' I asked Bob how hard it was going to be to do the show live. He sighed and then said, ?THere's no question that live ratchets it up. It puts a lot of pressure on the organizers too, because they've got to keep the jumping going on time. ?But I think it's worth it. it's a better show, a more exciting and engaging show. I'm excited, but in the back of my mind I'm the guy who's got to make it work. I guess this is why I don't have any hair! ?But seriously,? he added, ?live is fun. Everyone on the staff comes with their A game?they're really focused on what they're doing?because tHere's no fixing it in post-production. We've got to get it right the first time.? Heather and I will be working at Rolex Kentucky, seeing it all live and in person, so Heather will set our Tivo to record the show while we're gone. (that's not something I can do!) Make sure you do the same thing if you're not going to be home on the afternoon of May 1.