This month, we’re looking at sports tech applications for media and broadcast: solutions that enable and enhance the sharing and distribution of sports content such as streaming platforms, automated broadcast graphics and online content publishers.
Two key areas of focus have emerged in delivering an engaging viewing experience for modern fans: immersion and personalisation.
As with most sectors of sports technology, out of necessity the Covid-19 pandemic rapidly increased the adoption of innovative technology solutions across media and broadcast. Social co-viewing or ‘watch together’ solutions were used to help replicate elements of the immersive stadium experience for viewers at home. These tech solutions enable fans to connect directly with other fans at home, fans in the stadium and players on the field or court. As previously discussed in our fan and sponsor engagement expert guide, the Golden State Warriors’ ‘Dub Hub’ enables fans to speak directly with players as they pass through the tunnel onto home court, turning a fan’s living room into courtside seats.
The creation of an immersive viewing experience has been enhanced by the integration of virtual (VR), augmented (AR) and mixed reality (MR) elements into the broadcast experience. Technical and computing capabilities have caught up to the much hyped expectations of what’s possible for creating a seamless viewing experience with MR, which is truly moving beyond a gimmick or showcase and looks like becoming a mainstay of broadcast going forward.
MR is used for both fan activations within the stadium and the broadcast studio sets themselves. The Carolina Panthers tapped The Famous Group to bring a virtual panther to stalk the stadium for their home games. For the broadcast studio, the graphics and animations powered by Unreal Engine, originally created for video game development, look so realistic most viewers wouldn’t be aware they’re watching a commentator in a completely virtual studio.
Check out our new mixed-reality panther that debuted today 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/8DwEvam9KM— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) September 12, 2021
Personalisation is a key emergent trend for sports media and broadcast. Similar to the digital revolution faced by the music industry in the early 2000s, modern sports fans have a growing expectation of being able to watch what they want, how they want and when they want to.
Over-the-top (OTT) and digital offerings offer a level of personalisation not found in traditional linear broadcast and new app offerings are taking this personalisation to the next level. The mobile app Buzzer targets younger demographics interested in short-form highlights by allowing them to live stream key moments of sporting events in exchange for micropayments. During the 2020/21 National Hockey League (NHL) season, Buzzer let users pay as little as US$0.99 to stream the last two minutes of any game. In addition to the NHL, the app has streaming deals with the National Basketball Association (NBA), Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and golf’s PGA Tour. The app makes personalised recommendations on what to watch based on each user’s preferences and data profile.
Beyond the personalisation of how and when sports content is delivered to fans is the evolving personalisation of what the content looks like. The ‘multicast’ simultaneous airing of a sporting event over different means (TV, digital, social, in-app) but also with separate announcers, personalities and themes to offer a customised viewing experience. By offering multiple streams or channels, fans can choose customised views into the game focused on their particular interests and language.
Multicasts are further enhanced by the application of MR to the viewing experience. An excellent example is Nickelodeon’s kid-friendly broadcast of last season’s NFL wild card game between the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears. The alternative coverage, which ran alongside the main broadcast on CBS, featured guest reporters – including Nickelodeon cartoon characters – explaining the rules, as well as on-field graphics and MR filters (most notably the “slime cannon” which covered the endzone after touchdowns). This broadcast averaged 2.06 million viewers, making it the most-watched programme on the children’s channel in nearly four years and has been renewed for this season.
Other notable applications of MR are focused on communicating advanced statistics and sports betting odds in a visually appealing way.
Technical production innovations
On the technical production side of broadcast, remote production solutions also saw a boost from the pandemic, necessitated by social distancing requirements restricting the amount of production staff on site to small teams. This necessity combined with technical innovations, including the widespread rollout of 5G, is enabling a largely remote and automated production stack. 5G has great potential to enable broadcasters to enhance coverage with higher definition cameras whilst streamlining production by managing multiple live events from a central broadcast facility.
Further technology innovations in AI-powered automated camera systems have been especially important for grassroots and youth sports to realise a high quality broadcast without a large and expensive on-site production team. AI-powered cameras use computer vision to identify elements of the game (e.g. game ball, players, goal) and automatically follow the action. Customised graphics and scoring overlays can also be automatically applied to the footage before it’s hosted online. This enables high schools and smaller collegiate sports programmes to stream and record their events from a fixed automated camera system without any production crew present.
The US high school sports streaming market is dominated by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Network. The NFHS is the governing body for most high school sports and activities, encompassing 19,500 high schools and more than 12 million students across the US. The NFHS Network is a joint venture between the NFHS and PlayOn! Sports, its exclusive rights holder.
In March 2019, Israeli AI camera system company, Pixellot, signed a seven-year contract to provide automated camera systems to 20,000 NFHS schools “for free”. Under the terms of the partnership, all athletic events in a venue with these free Pixellot cameras installed must be streamed to the NFHS Network. The NFHS Network aims to recoup the upfront costs of installing the Pixellot systems by streaming more events and therefore acquiring more subscribers to its OTT platform.
An area for future innovation and improvement is developing a unified, modern approach to viewership metrics. The current systems of measurement are fractured, ill-defined and don’t take into account the multi-screen and multi-platform consumption habits of modern fans.
One of the first steps of being able to serve fans better is being able to develop a deeper understanding of their consumption habits and preferences. Beyond developing even a common base level of viewership, measuring engagement is more important than just recording the number of eyeballs on screens. It’s very difficult for the sports industry to sense check how well we’re doing in actually engaging viewers if there isn’t a common approach to quantifying, and qualifying, success.
Below is a sample of some innovative companies offering media and broadcast technology solutions.
- MyCujoo (Eleven Sports)
Computer vision and automated camera systems
- Synergy Sports (Sportradar)
- Second Spectrum
- The Famous Group
Automated graphics, live stats overlays and virtual advertising
- WSC Sports
Automated sound production
- Salsa Sound
Cloud production and management
Remote multilingual commentary
Remote secure interview
Thanks for reading the fourth instalment of a monthly series examining the world of sports technology, brought to you by Thomas Alomes and the team at Sports Tech World Series.
In each column, we will provide insights into the global sports tech market drawn from our latest industry research, consulting clients and expert interviews. Our aim is to quickly inform you on what’s happening in the industry now, where it’s heading in the future and who are the major players, both emerging and established, operating at the cutting edge of this exciting space.
To make more sense of sports tech, we have classified the industry into sub-categories. Having covered betting and fantasy sports in this edition, the different areas being covered in this series are:
Solutions designed to improve the efficiency and customer experience in stadiums and venues.
Athlete performance and tracking
Devices and platforms used to measure or track athletes with the purpose of testing and improving performance.
Athlete, team and event management
Solutions that support the management of athletes, teams, leagues and events, with a focus on improving overall efficiencies at an individual and organisational level.
Solutions focused specifically on the unique challenges of betting and fantasy sports.
Data capture and analysis
Data processing, capture and analysis solutions that support insights and decision making for a variety of sports related organisations.
Esports and virtual sports
Solutions focused specifically on the unique challenges of esports and gaming.
Solutions designed to enhance and improve the experience of the fan, or increase the value for the sponsor, including memberships and social media engagement.
Media and broadcast
Solutions that enable and enhance the sharing and distribution of sports content such as streaming platforms, automated broadcast graphics and online content publishers.
Sports Tech World Series (STWS) is the trusted resource in the global sports technology ecosystem. We provide research, consulting and market insight services to help teams, leagues, governments, investors and vendors to achieve results and meaningful impact over the hype in sports technology and sports innovation.
About Thomas Alomes
An industry consultant, researcher and speaker, Thomas Alomes is a global leader in sports technology ecosystem growth and development with a passion for connecting the best people with the best ideas. He is currently head of North America at STWS and the founder of Sports Innovation Texas.