By: Jason Dachman
A legitimate homecoming has taken place at Sportvision. Former CTO Marv White has returned in the same position, following five years as chief technologist for innovation at ESPN. He resumes his leadership over Sportvision’s efforts in creating and innovating data-driven virtual technologies that enhance sports-video content.
“I think our motto from the beginning still applies: we want to show fans things that are hard to see, important to the game, and occur often,” says White. “With that in mind, I have a very good sense of where we need to go now that technology is moving along rapidly and becoming cheaper and [giving] us the opportunity to do a lot of innovative things.”
He returns to Sportvision at a time when virtual graphics and augmented reality are on the upswing, with all four major U.S. professional-sports leagues committed to player-tracking and visualization technologies and nearly every sports network boosting use of virtual graphics. For example, ESPN has committed to using K-Zone on every pitch this year and added a 3D prism K-Zone angle.
“The biggest difference right now is that people in sports particularly are more accepting and interested in handling large amounts of data. When I left five years ago, PitchFX was just beginning to be used by a lot of baseball teams. Today, nearly every team has a staff dedicated to utilizing that type of data. That is a significant change. [The willingness] to take risks with on-air graphics has also grown but not quite as much.”
White was previously CTO of Sportvision from 1998 to 2009, leading efforts for several of the company’s Emmy-winning technologies: 1st & Ten, the virtual first-down line in American football; PitchFX, tracking every pitch in Major League Baseball and showing the results on-air in ESPN K-Zone; NASCAR Raceview; Draft Track; and several other virtual effects in sports broadcasts.
“I think it’s a different era these days in sports, and everyone wants to be at the forefront of the data revolution — from both a coaching standpoint and a fan-engagement standpoint,” say Sportvision CEO Hank Adams. “I don’t think there is a better person to help lead our technology vision for that new era than Marv. He knows our culture so well and understands what needs to be done to innovate and serve our [customers].”
At ESPN, White was responsible for finding important new technologies and helping make those technologies useful to ESPN. He collaborated with university research groups, including Disney Research in Zurich and Pittsburgh, on topics related to video and broadcast, such as light fields, free-viewpoint video, and augmented reality.
“I got to work with folks at the leading edge of R&D, which is not an opportunity many have with a startup,” says White. “I can bring a lot of the things I learned there in terms of technologies: augmented reality, robotics, and many others.”
Prior to Sportvision, White served as GM at Etak, a pioneer in automobile navigation. He led digital mapping of the street network in the U.S. and development of commercial business applications of maps and navigation.
He was also principal researcher in applied mathematics at the U.S. Census Bureau, leading development of the interactive digital mapping needed for the agency’s large data-collection operations.