Technology changing the way we see sports

Technology is advancing the way we engage with sport, with the introduction of high-speed broadband speeds. Find out what this will mean for the viewers at home as well as those in the industry.

Technology changing the way we see sports
Technology changing the way we see sports

At the NAB Show in Las Vegas (April 6-11,2019), it is apparent that there is not just one technology but a convergence of several. The technologies are advancing the industry at a breakneck pace. Nowhere is this more evident than in the arena of live sports.Here you will see developments in IP, Cloud, 5G and AI combining to transform the fundamentals of production, delivery and experience.

CTOs can see tremendous potential in the convergence of these technologies. At the same time, they must also feel that the foundations of which their existing business is based on, is changing right underneath them.

The increasing demand for live events has burst wide open, thanks to new technology enabling reliable, high-quality, at-home or remote production, over the internet. In turn, broadcasters are finding the flexibility to produce and distribute more video content with fewer resources.

If implemented correctly, remote production can reduce the movement of people and OB equipment; increase the utilisation of kit; reduce on-site setup times and maximise the efficiency of production teams. Many factors stop this being realised completely. Among the most pressing is the amount of bandwidth required to transport uncompressed video; varying bandwidth availability, and QoS at each venue as well as different workflows for different events requiring different equipment.

Ultimately, the aim is to move all the equipment to a centralised production centre except for robotic cameras. This would mean replacing OB hardware with replay servers, switchers and graphics in the Cloud.

We are quite a few years away from this happening at Tier one events. Satellite and dedicated fibres remain the quickest and most reliable means of delivering high-quality signals. For the time being it trumps the internet only route.

Manufacturers are keen to steady the pace at which they must transition from box-shifting vendors to purveyors of software-defined tools offered on a pay as you go rate.

The introduction of 5G broadband could transform contribution links in the next few years. Initially, costs are likely to be high, and networks will be rolled out in limited urban areas. There will also be networks built for major events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Cellular link vendors are preparing to outfit their transmission kit with 5G chips.

5G will be significant for delivery, with bitrates of 1 Gigabit to 10 Gigabit and millisecond latency promised. This should make 4K live streaming and interactive (personalised) user experience as well as Virtual Reality (at 4K per eye) commercial propositions.

4G is already at breaking point with the amount of data it is handling; the majority of which is video. 5G unlocks this and more. The capacity of an end to end 5G chain (blending wireless and fixed-line technologies) will enable delivery of vast amounts of data, unlocking an era of content personalisation.

On the production side, machine learning algorithms are being adapted to automate live sports production and publishing. Some systems already do this, using remote, and automated camera feeds incorporating AI-triggered graphics and virtual ad tools. Others apply the AI/ML brain on the cache of just recorded material to pump out highlights’ packages in next to no time. The core of these is automated tagging and analysis of metadata for slicing the media into. Eventually producing individual viewer experiences.

Such on-demand curated editorial is underpinned by object-based delivery. BT Sport has plans to advance in this area, a move that will enable viewers the chance to personalise and control aspects of programme output. These could include; controlling stadium crowd noise levels and different live commentary. The BBC, also an OBB pioneer, is pondering how audiences in 2022 might create their own personalised streams for Match of the Day.

It is worth mentioning that camera arrays are being installed in major club stadiums. They will be primed for 360-degree real-time augmented reality as well as unlimited viewing choices.

In the next phase of UHD rollout, we may factor in 8K HDR and 60-120-240fps, this will appease the growing interest in gathering data from sensors on athletes during play.

There is an astonishing range of technologies coming forward, all breaking the conventional frame of broadcast action and bringing an even greater immediacy and intimacy to our sporting experience.

Posted by Adrian Pennington, technology journalist. March 13, 2019.

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