Avid Deko Systems are Odds-On Favorite for International Sound's Premier Racing Telecasts

Every horse and dog racing fan who heads out to the track or to the nearest off-track betting location is always on the hunt for a sure bet, yet the odds-on favorite for ensuring their success may be a surprising choice. It is the Avid Deko on-air graphics system, which plays a pivotal role at racetracks across the country, helping bettors keep pace with all the wagering and racing data.

Pikesville, Md.,-based International Sound, a company that provides simulcast production services to nearly 50 racetracks nationwide, relies on 45 Avid Deko on-air graphics systems to deliver crisp, clean, and highly legible graphics that give racing fans at the racetracks and other wagering locations the latest results, odds, and news. These graphics are used for both live television broadcasts as well as for viewing on television monitors and display boards throughout a track.

Display information includes odds displays, probable odds, daily doubles, pools, and other exotic wagers as sent by the “tote” company, which supplies data feeds with wagering information. (The term “tote” originated from the first racetrack scoreboards built by the American Totalizator Company, hence the term “tote board.”) With the integration of program information and full post-parade information, statistics and other data are also available for on-screen display.

“Our systems travel from track to track during the year,” says director of communications Joe Gordon. “They’ll be at one track from October to March and then off to another track that runs from May to September.” Tracks include Pimlico, Monmouth Park, Churchill Downs, Delaware Park, Calder, Del Mar, and Suffolk Downs, among others. Tracks that run races year round, such as The Meadows and Twin River, have permanent installations.

 Getting information out is critical, and accuracy is critical. We can't be wrong; the wrong data will cause the track to loose money.
- Joe Gordon, Director of Communications, International Sound

Off and Running with Streamlined Graphics

Churchill Downs Simulcast Productions, a customer of International Sound, relied on an Avid Deko setup to support the renowned Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky., this past May. The setup included three Deko 1000 systems for the worldwide simulcast production, including a Deko 1000 system to run graphics for the 16:9 scoreboard in the infield. Another Deko model was on hand to run current Derby odds leading up to the race.

“We’re operating a four-hour live show every day [from each track],” says Gordon. “It’s very regimented in that everything happens on a International Sound has been relying on Deko systems for 11 years. “When we first started we just wanted to get up and running and make Deko functional,” says Gordon. “It was so easy to use. And as we grew we started to need to customize the systems for individual clients: the graphics themselves, what information was displayed, etc.”

The Deko 1000 system easily allows for visual image and style to be defined once and then used throughout all productions using graphic templates. An optional 2D Motion Pack also expands the visual capabilities to individual character effects to create unique looks for various racetracks as required.

Pulling data in from the different tote companies that provide wagering data and then automatically displaying that information to eager viewers is also an essential part of the workflow. International Sound created an efficient plug-in interface to several different tote companies to input data quickly. “Today we build everything off of those plug-ins and all the [race]tracks are based on the same software,” explains Gordon. “They also allow the system to change which data stream is coming in and also the protocol.”

 What we need more than anything else [is] a product that we can count on.

Racing Through Production

Graphics is only one part of International Sound’s programming responsibility. At 25 of the tracks it handles all of the live production work, supplying people, cameras, lenses, even satellite connectivity. Hitachi Z3000 cameras, Canon and Fujinon lenses, Echolab production switchers, and, soon, a Ross switcher that will be used in a new serial digital control room, are among the tools it relies on to simulcast races.

But it’s the Deko system that stands at the heart of every production for one simple reason: it drives the wagering. “There is a lot of data interaction with live odds and pricing,” explains Gordon. “The goal is to get people to wager, so we need to make the signal standout [from other races on other screens] and make it easy for bettors to find the odds they want to wager on. But we also need to easily display changes to the race card, for example when a horse is scratched. Getting that information out is critical, and accuracy is critical. We can’t be wrong; the wrong data will cause the track to lose money.”

That’s why the point-and-click interface of the Deko system, along with pre-templated graphics that place the right data in the right field, gives International Sound an advantage over the competition. Operators can spend more time making sure the right data is flowing through the system rather than tweaking the design or changing fonts.

The Deko system’s ability to scale graphics automatically is also essential, ensuring that graphics are legible. A minimum and maximum font size can be set, and larger fields can be automatically scaled to a smaller, readable font size, while smaller fields can be given the largest, most bold type to fit the available space.

An Edging feature around characters also improves legibility, helping white letters pop off of light grey backgrounds. The ability to play animations can also attract a bettor’s attention. The Deko 1000 system can even play those animations regardless of the character count, allowing the graphics to be played immediately and without impacting the other graphics.

Staying the Course

The biggest confirmation of the success that International Sound has had with its Deko systems is the company’s long-term and consistent use of the product. Gordon appreciates the continual product enhancements with more sophisticated and comprehensive features: first by Digital GraphiX, then Pinnacle Systems, Inc., and now Avid Technology, Inc.

“We’ve begun using the feature called ‘DekoObjex’ to bring in crawls for ticker displays,” says Gordon. “It’s very easy to use and it just works, and that’s what we need more than anything else - a product that we can count on.”

Looking to the future, Gordon sees an eventual move to HD. The transition to HD has been slow in large part due to the need to replace tens of thousands of 4:3 television monitors at all of the racetracks, OTBs, and other simulcast wagering facilities. Pimlico alone would require more than 1,000 television sets to be replaced - and many of those television viewing areas would need to be rebuilt to fit a widescreen HD set.

“Plus the satellite side is costly to replace,” says Gordon. “You would have to receive two signals: one SD and one HD to ensure everybody can broadcast the race.”

However, when the time is right, Deko systems will be on hand to make the transition to HD with the Avid Deko 3000 system and its Hybrid SD/HD capabilities. “The quality of the output has been great,” says Gordon. “Plus there is very little downtime. [With Avid Deko systems,] we can accomplish in a one-channel system what other manufacturers couldn’t accomplish in two.”

* CREDIT: Images courtesy of International Sound