Eurovision Media Services (EMS) – the business arm of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an Association of public service media organisations – has been delivering media services at major sports events for the past 60 years.
It continues to be at the forefront of technological advancements in the industry. EMS’s recently launched hybrid network, Eurovision FLEX, and its video repository service, Eurovision NEX, have supported the company’s stated desire to be a holistic provider that delivers innovative solutions to sports federations and media organizations across a range of platforms.
Graham Warren, chief operating officer of EMS, believes that being a first choice media services provider under the umbrella of the EBU helps in “developing innovation that sports federations and media organisations want”.
“Apart from handling the international distribution of many top sports events, we also produce some of them,” he says. “This year we had: the Fina World Championships 2017 [in aquatics] in Budapest, the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong, and the IBU Biathlon World Cups in Europe and South Korea, to name a few.”
Although EMS has in its portfolio “a range of standard solutions that are ready to deploy for different types of events”, Warren acknowledges that the sheer diversity of sports means each event, especially larger multi-venue ones, end up having “some form of customisation”.
Graham Warren, chief operating officer of Eurovision Media Services
“All events come with certain challenges,” notes Warren. “For us, I would say that the most complex ones are those where we are the host broadcaster, meaning that we manage the overall event production, venue services and distribution.
“Events like this must be coordinated well. Everything needs to be done flawlessly. For example, this summer we were in Budapest as the host broadcaster for the Fina World Championships 2017. We took care of the full production of the international broadcast feed – up to four simultaneous feeds from five venues – and distributed the event over the Eurovision Global Network to rights holders globally.”
EMS has predominantly worked in live linear television offerings and while Warren admits that “OTT [over-the-top] is a reasonable alternative” to traditional TV, it is the difference in production values, latency issues, and quality that, in his opinion, still gives linear services an edge.
“Linear TV continues to play an important role,” maintains Warren. “Especially for live sport because of the immediate experience for the fan. However, we also recognise the increasing significance of non-linear viewing. We work closely with sports federations and media organisations to make sure they can capitalise on the additional content produced at live events through catch-up and on demand services.
“Both platforms have their place but in the short to medium term I am convinced that they will continue to complement each other.”
The increasing amount of focus in immersive technologies such as virtual reality or augmented reality, 360-degree video and second-screen content is also something that EMS is exploring.
Last year, the organisation launched a hybrid network called Eurovision FLEX. The idea of Eurovision FLEX came from the realisation that sports federations and media organisations face increasing pressure to provide more and more engaging content to their audiences on multiple devices while optimising their costs as much as possible.
Eurovision’s FLEX system allows content to be delivered via internet, fibre and satellite technology
“Eurovision FLEX was originally developed to enable media organisations to deliver live and recorded content seamlessly over the internet, fibre and satellite, thereby providing alternative options for delivering content and reducing cost,” says Warren. “We have now expanded its range to allow media organisations to manage and adapt the way their content is delivered from a user-friendly web portal.”
EMS’s other piece of technological advancement which helps in the distribution of live sport is Eurovision NEX, which was debuted at the Uefa European Championship in 2016.
“We know that additional video content and data for second screens is very valuable to sports federations and their sponsors. Eurovision NEX allows sports federations to deliver high quality video files in a quick and secure way via satellite, fibre or internet”, explains Warren.
“To do this, we place a “NEX box” at the rights holders’ premises. The NEX box serves as a repository for video files such as near-live clips, highlights or any additional content that complements the live coverage of the event.”.
EMS has, in the past, declared its aspirations to become a holistic provider and, as Warren puts it, “work right along the value chain”. The Briton believes that the company is getting close to realising that dream of being able to offer sports federations and media organisations innovative solutions across the board.
“What we see from the many sports federations that we deal with is a demand for more one-stop-shop solutions for their events,” says Warren. “I believe this is because the events are now more complex with the need to deliver more content for web and mobile applications or to social media. Live video on TV isn’t enough anymore.
“All of this needs to be coordinated and managed. Luckily for us, most sports federations prefer to focus on the editorial angle and have us take care of the rest.
“To me, this is the holistic approach. Taking into account developments in media technology, working closely with sports federations and media organisations to understand their needs and adapting our solutions to cater for these needs at each step of the process. We’ve enjoyed doing this for the past 60 years and look forward to continuing to do so in the future!”