A multitude of technologies have emerged to take the coverage of live sports to another level.
By Satyam Nagwekar
The emerging trends in sports reflect the happenings in the broader broadcast technology space. With rapid strides in technology, an even greater degree of personalised content delivery is upon us. As a result, rights holders and their production companies are investing in equipment that can support the fast-moving elements in the live-sports environment. With social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook streaming sports, the amount of metrics available on end viewers will allow broadcasters to specifically target those viewers.
“We are moving towards an age where we are delivering a more immersive experience to the viewer. We have to find out whether 360 views is the answer or are there other ways to deliver this sense of immersion,” said Mark Bowden, Head of Project Management (Sports) at ChyronHego Tim Felstead, Head of Product Marketing at Snell Advanced Media, said, “UHD with wide colour gamut and high dynamic range are certain to have a big impact on live sports broadcasting. All of these will combine to increase the ‘wow’ factor in valuable live sports content.”
Cameron O´Neill, APAC Director at Riedel, said that the main upcoming technology for sports broadcasting was remote production. “There is increased competition for sports broadcasting and as well as an increased demand for the number of sports that are covered,” he observed.
Remote production, which allows an OB provider to service multiple venues from a central studio, is boosting utilisation rates thereby lowering the cost per event.
Emergence of IP
IP—for real-time high data rate media transport—is fundamentally a change in the core infrastructure and brings flexibility and scalability where SDI-based systems would struggle, said Felstead.
“We don’t see IP having as much of an impact on video quality, but once IP solutions become more widespread and standards-based, they will definitely make life easier for broadcasters,” pointed out Bowden.
The new crop of production codecs (such as TICO and LLVC), aimed at making production video fit on IP infrastructure, are key enablers. “These lighter-compression codecs are rationalising workflows and improving the redundancy provision, making production infrastructure robust,” said Trow.
The initial IP codecs offered much better bandwidth and compression than using a satellite. “IP is what helped us get from SD to HD broadcasting, and that was well before anyone was discussing “live IP” on the acquisition side,” said O´Neill. OB providers are leveraging IP to help them work on remote production more than using it to increase quality.
At the moment, live coverage of sports events in 8K seems confined to Japan and the immense potential is yet untapped. There are a huge number of complexities that 8K needs to overcome in order to manage the demands of real-time and live production.
“There is no real way to transmit it to a viewer in the real time that sports require. No one wants to see their video buffering to see if their team scored or missed. Shooting in 8K, however, leads to a whole range of options such as selectable viewing. VR could be used to allow people to view the content in their own way,” O’Neill remarked.
Bowden concurred. “8K might be valuable as a production tool that feeds a UHD or HD broadcast but certainly not as an end-to-end format. Also, I don’t think there is a critical mass of consumers who fully understand the benefits of super-high-resolution video at the moment.”
Shinya Koshie, National Head (Professional Solution Division) at Sony India differed. “We think it’s a matter of time before we see wider adoption of 8K. In fact, it is already starting to be adopted in major sporting events globally. Japanese broadcaster NHK has started broadcasting 8K coverage of certain sporting events and we can expect other broadcasters to follow.”
He said that at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Olympic Broadcasting Services and NHK distributed 8K and down-converted 4K (distributed with one-hour delay) footage. Approximately 100 hours of coverage was produced, including both ceremonies and daily live coverage of track and field events, basketball, and football.”
Remote production is a reality for many preeminent events these days. German broadcaster RTL’s Formula 1 production is now totally remote with only camera operators and on-screen talent at the track.
Said O’Neill, “In The Netherlands, Ericcson has been using a remote production system for a number of years now for football matches. And Fox Sports Australia has just announced a partnership with NEP that will see them run 800 remotes a year from facilities in Sydney and Melbourne. Remote production is quickly becoming the best practice.
The determining factor would be the quantum of low-cost bandwidth available between the event location and the production centre, according to Felstead. “If telecom costs are prohibitively high, large-scale true remote production becomes very difficult to justify.”
Second-screen services are a major compliment to live games. While still an emerging application, this area is being increasingly leveraged to increase the overall appeal of sports coverage.
Those covering events are quickly realising the hunger amongst viewers to access statistics associated with an event, said Trow. In the past, this led to a significant percentage of surfing activity being related to an event.
With the lack of technical barriers, Bowden said that it was more about rights and distribution agreements. “There are the rights of the players that need to be considered and how they are handled is still a little unclear.”
There are a number of providers now that are providing content distribution networks as a service. “So, you can basically just “buy” airtime from them. That airtime can be live video or stats from a game site, it doesn’t matter,” said O’Neill. Moreover, there are a number of services that can take that live data and turn it into something for a viewer to enjoy–either on their main screen or on a second screen.
The Drone Factor
Camera technology, meanwhile, hasn’t been left behind. The popularity of drone technology in TV has surged in recent years and broadcasters have been using them since the 2012 Olympics in London. Some manufacturers are taking into account the form factor of their cameras with regard to mounting on drones when they develop their products. Cameras are also becoming faster, better, and smaller with a constant evolution of features to suit drone usage.
“Other ways in which cameras have evolved include the ability to record 4K resolution video for sharper and more detailed footage, full-frame sensors, and the ability to capture low-light video and high-resolution images,” said Koshie.
Despite some technological barriers, there has been no better than now for a fan of sports. With technology improving all the time, the experience is only set to get more immersive. See you at the game!