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The immersive world of sports TV

3 January 2017
Stan Dimitrov, Ericsson

As viewers increasingly watch video content on multiple screens, often engaging with more than one platform at the same time, the battle for content providers is no longer just about growth of viewership, but also about retaining the audience’s attention. That holds true even more in the case of premium content – and sports in particular – as broadcasters seek to extract as much value as possible from their investment. Creating immersive sports experiences can be one way to turn viewers into fans – not only of a particular sport but of a media brand as well.

An immersive experience is stimulating to the senses and captivating enough to keep a viewer’s attention focused on the screen (or screens) used for consuming the content. There are three main elements to such an experience – excellent picture quality; data and insights related to the sport/game, presented in an understandable way; and the social aspect of sharing the experience and interacting with the content.

Picture quality

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 of offering high quality video experiences. However, the challenge will be to deliver them in an efficient manner without sacrificing flexibility and reliability.

Advances in UHD broadcasting, such as new HEVC based solutions that can process UHD as a single picture, show that it is possible to deliver high quality content without stitching together multiple signals. This delivers savings of up to 40 per cent on bandwidth use for TV service providers, with far greater network efficiencies and far smaller investments in hardware to deliver the picture quality essential for coverage of premium events. These kinds of media processing developments will contribute to improving affordability and increasing the availability of 4K and UHD content.

Access to data and insights

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 be 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.

A player’s positions and speed during the entire game, the direction of a kick, tracking a ball at every serve or pass – these 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 won’t be able to capture and retain a viewer’s attention. By analysing 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. As sports analytics and visualisation technology develops, these insights will be used to create alternative sports stories, comparing the real game with a theoretical best move. In the not too distant future, viewers may even be able to have full access to the data and visualise it on their own TVs.

Sharing the experience

Another integral part of the sports experience is the social aspect – the ability to share the sports experience with others and enjoy it together. An important opportunity to spark discussions and engage viewers is the possibility to create “snackable” pieces of content with the highlights of the games ready and easy to share with their friends and family on social media, for example. But they also want to know all of 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, and 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.

The right combination of picture quality, sports insights and shareable highlights is an important part of any initiative to increase viewers’ attention and engagement. However, the ultimate immersive experience is no doubt yet to come as augmented reality technology evolves and become more widely available. Viewers will be able to experience all the action in their living rooms without disconnecting from their environment and the people they are with. At the same time, they will have access to content and data to play with in real-time without moving their eyes from the game they are watching.

By Stan Dimitrov, product marketing manager, online video services and sports graphics, Ericsson

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