Most people saw CNN’s experiment with the hologram reporters on Election Night last week. Most people don’t know that the company responsible for the technology and execution of streaming a 3D-image from Chicago to CNN headquarters is a small Tel Aviv-based company called SportVU Ltd.
Just three years ago, SportVU CEO Shimon Katzubes had a small start-up technological business just trying to make it in the real world. He never expected that in August his company and his life would change forever.
“The whole concept started about three months ago in an exhibition show,” Katzubes said. “CNN came across our technology. That’s how it all began.”
David Bohrman, CNN’s senior executive producer of flagship prime-time newscasts, had been looking for a technology like Katzubes and knew he had found what he had been looking for.
SportVU’s technology was first designed to use in instant replays at sporting events. The 360-degree views would allow officials to look at plays like never before.
But Bohrman and CNN had other ideas. This small Tel Aviv start-up would be thrown into the national spotlight with very little time to prepare.
“It was a once in a lifetime moment,” Katzubes said. “We are a small company in Tel Aviv and all of a sudden we have a huge opportunity to go live in such a huge event in such a key moment.”
The technology was still being developed and tweaked when CNN went to Israel to review how the device would work.
“We were developing the technology for the last two-and-a-half years,” Katzubes said. “We didn’t get much of a chance to test it. CNN came to Israel a month ago to test and review it.”
CNN liked what it saw and flew Katzubes to the United States to set up the device for the very first time — ever.
A green screen ring and 35 cameras were set up in both Chicago and Arizona. Having never actually set up the ring before, Katzubes and SportVU didn’t know how it would go.
The night before Election Night, Katzubes got the go-ahead from CNN that they would actually use the technology live on Tuesday.
The original plan didn’t call for CNN reporter Jessica Yellin to be the first figure to be beamed into CNN headquarters.
“The original one (plan) was supposed to have Obama in the ring, or the winner,” Katzubes said. “But due to constraints and security problems he (Obama) did interviews in the hotel and not the park. The FBI didn’t want to bring him back to the park.”
Since the success of the green ring on Election Night, Katzubes said his company has experienced a massive spike in exposure for the company.
“In the last week we had an enormous amount of responses,” he said, “ hundreds of thousands of hits to our Web site. It’s very exciting.”
SportVU has also gotten requests from other networks like MTV to use the hologram technology in the future.
As for the technology’s original purpose for being used in sports, Katzubes said that some professional sport leagues interested in his product have contacted him.
Still riding the high of a successful election night, Katzubes and his team back in Tel Aviv know its now time to get back to work and continue to improve their now famous hologram device.
“It’s something you just couldn’t plan or think of.”
(Mike Zoller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)