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How data from the PGA Tour could help drive Formula One’s TV coverage

Formula One's data director and Bundesliga's EVP digital innovations tell TVBEurope how they draw inspiration from other sports, and how partnering with AWS has helped transform their media workflows

Rob Smedley, data director at Formula One, has revealed how he takes inspiration from other sports as F1 looks to enhance the TV viewing experience.

Speaking at a special event hosted by AWS featuring both Smedley and Andreas Heyden, EVP Digital Innovations at Bundesliga, TVBEurope asked if the pair look at other sports to see how they are engaging with viewers.

“At Formula One, especially in the area of data and fan engagement, I think we’ve still got an awful lot to learn. We’re still on that journey. It’s kind of a sleeping giant and we’ve just got to make sure that we navigate through the waters correctly, so therefore there’s lots of different sports that we take inspiration from,” said Smedley.

“Only last week that I got together with the guys from the PGA Tour, two completely different sports in Formula One and golf, but actually when you look at the challenges that the PGA Tour has where quite often what you’re watching on the broadcast feed is only a tiny proportion of what’s actually happening, then the PGA is actually quite similar in the way they are able to package high definition image data, telemetry data, or statistical data. They’re really well advanced with that.

“This is the beauty of where we are with data and sports broadcasting now, I think that all of the leagues around the world are on this really fast journey,” continued Smedley. “I think the reality is that everybody’s bought into this now, and therefore there’s just a great deal to learn because the rate of development and innovation is so high. It’s like every six months somebody is doing something new. It almost feels like a global community of using technology for various purposes throughout sports broadcasting.”

“I completely agree with Rob that the stuff that is most distant to you inspires you the most,” added the Bundesliga’s Heyden. “I really love going to Roland Garros, what France Televisions showcases there is really awesome. It’s always the latest broadcasting technology etc. We’re also looking at what the NHL is doing in terms of the experience in the stadium. We’re also experimenting with 5G in stadium experiences, augmented reality etc.

“Sport seems to be often very self-reflective and I think it’s always important to take a look at the big tech giants. What is Amazon Prime doing? What is Netflix doing? What is Twitch doing? Because we have something very unique, people are interested in what we are doing. We have to be careful that we don’t get to self-centred, we have to be open for ideas from the outside.”

Asked what they think has been the biggest transformation for their sport since they partnered with AWS, Heyden said the way that AWS helped Bundesliga to be radically customer centric has been a huge positive. “Secondly, having cutting edge technology and being able to inspire our partner to think and have an ever evolving roadmap that just delivers more value every year, that helped us the most.”

For Formula One, the biggest transformation of working with AWS has been the levels of collaboration. “It’s an absolutely true partnership, and it’s a very balanced partnership as well,” explained Smedley.

“We’re not technologists, that is not part of the of the DNA of Formula One. When we understood that the digital transformation was absolutely necessary in order to transform our product, and to grow the fan base and to engage a bigger demographic, it was a very natural migration to partner with AWS, and we’ve gone as far now as to actually have what I like to call an embedded team. We take the technologies from AWS such as machine learning, AI, data scientists, solutions, architects, developers, DevOps, we’ve got all of those functions, and I’ve embedded them within within my departments, because I think that’s the only way that you get that true cross flow of collaboration.

“It was so refreshing to have this technology giant that had the same ethos, which is to fail fast. You’ve got to get to the wrong answer as quickly as you can in order to get to the right answer. You’re not throwing things across the other side of the fence to each other, you’re able to collaborate on a day to day basis. You can do great things.”