ATP Media was set up in early 2001 to provide a centralised broadcast production for the worldwide right to the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, the ATP World Tour Masters 100 and the ATP World Tour 500.
Since its inception, with unrivalled access and a uniquely integrated position within the top tier of men's tennis, the organisation has gone from strength to strength and is now looking to use its place in the industry to spearhead innovation.
Here, ATP Media’s media director of technology and broadcast, Shane Warden, talks to SportsPro about the company’s unique place in the market, and the next steps it is taking with VR.
ATP Media is a unique proposition, so where does it sit within the wider broadcast market?
First of all, the ATP Media serves the men’s ATP tours, as the official technology and distribution partner. Our role is unique in sports media because we are, in essence, a completely vertically integrated company.
In some sports, when they’ve sold the rights they will then appoint a host broadcaster, and then a distribution partner, and then there might be a content management partner, and then potentially even a digital partner. We are very different, in that we cover all of these bases exclusively for the ATP.
In layman’s terms, what services do you provide to the ATP, and how does this differ from other sports?
We act as the main distributor and broadcaster of all ATP events. The cameras that you see around the courts are ours; we specify the ones we want and we crew them. When you see all the production crews at the back, as well, they are also all us. Within tennis, we are the go-to people.
On top of that we also do distribution work. We have our own distribution platform, and we have fibred up every one of the 26 events across the 500 Series and the Master Series which gives us a dedicated 24/7, 365-days fibre broadband at all of the destinations across the globe.
How beneficial has that fibre network been in taking ATP Media to new heights?
It’s been pivotal. This is a huge thing for us.
The global fibre backbone we have invested in gives us such speed of distribution that our broadcasters can access content directly, rather than relying on satellites. This gives us a huge advantage on the volume of media we can access and move around and produce.
At Indian Wells we were distributing 14 concurrent feeds coming from nine different courts alongside our world feed - our fully produced main action package, brought together as a continuous broadcast - which is an immense volume of content. With the fibre, our broadcasters can pick and choose what they want to get and when they want it, immediately pulling any content directly. They can focus on players from their territories, or anything like that. We have a lot of content, and this is letting us distribute it rapidly.
Alongside this fibre network, how are you making use of cloud-based technology to better serve your broadcasters?
As I mentioned, we previously would’ve used satellites to distribute content. We would have to wait for a satellite slot, which could be any number of hours, before even getting close to distributing through it, and having to squash it all into the slot.
Now, we are embracing cloud technology and it is allowing us to clip up all of our news packages, highlight packages, and any other content to then store on the cloud. With this, our partners and broadcasters can access it immediately, and download it with immense ease.
It means we can constantly deliver content, sending out more than ever before.
Why do you think you, as an organisation, are able to innovate so much?
It comes back to what I was saying before. Being such a vertically integrated company where we know that whatever happens we are going to be working with the ATP, it gives us freedom elsewhere.
A lot of content is about access and we have that guaranteed, we know that we can interview the players and capture all of the matches, so it means we have the stable base to then go out and experiment upon.
We are all about staying agile now, and we genuinely believe that because of our unique position we can sit at the front edge of sports media innovation. We want to continue on to the next thing, and the last thing any sports rights owner wants is that the world of sports media has shifted and adopted something and we are years behind it. It is for this reason that VR is our next big adventure.
You are unveiling your virtual reality offering alongside Sony – how is it all going to work?
It’s been an experience where we’ve tried things to work out what works well.
We began with a test at the beginning of Indian Wells, where for the whole week we worked with a system called LiveLike, and it was relatively successful and worked to an extent as a proof of concept.
But we soon started to understand VR better, and see it as a three-pronged attack. Once you’ve put the headset on there are three ways of having an experience.
There is having a totally virtual experience, whereby absolutely everything is made up and it’s completely constructed - as is the case with VR gaming. That is something that is absolutely perfect for gaming, as I say, because you can construct the entire world and it’s very immersive, but it doesn’t suit a sports broadcast, for obvious reasons.
The second option is 360 experiences. This is where reality is shot with a 360-degree camera and everything you see through the headset is real. This has been good for some sports so far, but in tennis we’ve found some challenges. It’s been difficult knowing where to put the camera – we tried it on the net, but that is actually not a particularly nice experience, especially when much of men’s tennis is played from the baseline. It just didn’t quite cut it.
What we eventually decided worked best for us, and is what we have done with Sony, is to combine both things.
Our first VR concepts basically combine a 360-degree broadcast with artificial, digitally created options and second screens within the headset. We have decided on a number of positons where you can watch the tennis in 360 from, one being a hospitality area and one being courtside. Alongside this, where you can become completely immersed in the action, you can also pull up highlights screens, statistics, and data visualisation screens that you can then move around your 360 experience, augmented over the top. So you are there, watching the action and you can also have a stats screen to your left, a highlights screen to your right. It’s a totally immersive combined possibility.
How has the partnership with Sony enabled you to do this?
The important thing about it is the movement, and the ability to add and take away add screens and place them wherever you want, so that is why it was critical we did this through Sony’s PlayStation VR platform.
It’s an incredible product, and we know it would help us to achieve this goal thanks to its simple to use and intuitive operation. We wanted to replicate the feeling of being there and create an augmented experience that lets fans engage and interact with the sport in a way they never could before.
What is next for ATP Media?
We are going to be completely revamping our Tennis TV in the New Year, which is going to be a really exciting development that we can’t talk too much about yet. But really we think VR is going to be huge in sports media, and we want to make sure we get this right and then continue to innovate, as we are doing, around it. That’s our goal here.