As you read this blog, we’ll be wrapping up yet another great IBC in Amsterdam, where one of our main themes this year has been how to create immersive sports experiences and turn viewers into fans – not only of a particular sport but of your media brand as well.
So what is an immersive sports experience? My definition: an experience so overwhelming and stimulating to your senses that you don’t want to turn your eyes away from the screen (or multiple screens) you’re watching. To create such an experience, you need excellent picture quality – to feel as if you are actually in the stadium – all the data about the game, athletes and teams presented in an understandable way and available at your fingertips, and the possibility to share the experience and interact with the content.
Providing the best picture quality is often considered to be sufficient to deliver an immersive experience. It’s certainly an essential component and 4K/UHD will no doubt become the baseline standards for viewing sports and other live programming. Almost every broadcaster and sports content owner will want to include the option to offer high quality video experiences. However, the challenge will be to deliver them in an efficient manner without sacrificing flexibility and reliability. For instance, we all know that broadcasting in UHD. requires considerable channel capacity and various video processing technologies to put together.
At IBC, we have proven that UHD TV content can be broadcast without stitching together multiple signals, delivering savings of up to 40% on bandwidth use for TV service providers, with far greater network efficiencies and far smaller investments required in hardware to deliver optimal picture quality. These kinds of media processing advances will contribute to improving affordability and increasing the availability of 4K and UHD content.
Data is also turning out to be an integral part of the immersive sports experience. As with any other TV content, viewers want to have access to the most relevant information about the games they are watching: biographies of the athletes, leagues, teams, past sports events and so on. All that information should be easy to discover and available at their fingertips, especially when they have multiple screens at their disposal. However, having this information available alone cannot deliver much value and engage viewers; it has to be structured and represented in an intelligent and visually appealing way.
Knowing a player’s position and speed, the direction of a kick, tracking a ball at every serve or pass are just some examples of data that might be interesting to fans. But unlike team and events information, showing this data in its raw state won’t mean much and certainly won’t capture a viewer’s attention. By analyzing and interpreting the raw data, broadcasters can create a compelling story through graphics and on-screen effects. For example, instead of just pointing at where a player is positioned on the field, why not bring to life the whole team formation and see how it changes over the course of a match? Instead of noting a player’s serve, why not map out the trajectory of all the balls served and display it on screen for further analysis? With sports graphics, data is turned into sports insight. In the future, we will use these insights to create alternative sports stories, comparing the real game with a theoretical best move. It may even be possible to allow viewers to play with the data themselves and visualize it on their own TV or better still, on their living room tables using augmented reality devices.
Another integral part of the sports experience is the social aspect – the ability to share your experience with others and enjoy it together. Viewers want to be able to share their favorite moments from the game with their friends and family, but they also want to know all the buzz that’s happening around that particular game on social media – what players and other fans are tweeting about, what the comments from pundits are, how their friends are experiencing the game. All this chatter might be both distracting and stimulating, so it is important to integrate it appropriately with the screen or multiple screens where the sports content is.
Providing an immersive sports experience is just part of the solution to the challenge mentioned earlier – how do you attract more viewers, deepen engagement and extract more value from the content you already have. In part two of this blog, I will share a few more ideas of how media companies can further address this challenge.
Stan Dimitrov, Product Marketing Manager, Online Video Services and Sports Graphics