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‘The cameras will go where TV doesn’t usually have access’: Discovery Sports prepares for metaverse debut

Warner Bros Discovery's Francois Ribiero and Scott Young talk to TVBEurope about the broadcaster's coverage of cycling's UCI Track Champions League, and why the metaverse is like "the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow"

Warner Bros Discovery Sports is aiming to take cycling fans even closer to the action as it heads into the metaverse for the first time during its coverage of the second season of cycling’s UCI Track Champions League.

The five-round championship starts on Saturday with the opening round in Mallorca, Spain, before moving on to Berlin (19th November) and Paris (26th November) ahead of its climax with a double-header at the Lee Valley VeloPark in London (2nd-3rd December).

Warner Bros Discovery will broadcast every round live on discovery Plus, GCN+, the Eurosport App and Eurosport 1. And, for the first time, it will take fans into the metaverse during the weekend in London.

This is the second year WBD has broadcast the event, and it will be offering fans watching via ‘traditional’ TV as many new innovations as those engaging via the metaverse. “We want to improve in every sector,” Fran├žois Ribeiro, head of Discovery Sports Events, tells TVBEurope. “You will definitely see more data than last year. We made a promise that we wanted to be the cycling series where 100 per cent of the riders’ data will be available live. You will be able to see that this year, not only on our app but also on the linear product and on the 360 LED screens around the track.”

To make this possible, WBD is working with AWS on the data acquisition, using sensors on the riders, including their chests and bike pedals. “We have 20 anchors around the track to extract that data which we stream into a data lake at AWS and then we process it to make it understandable and improve the storytelling,” explains Ribiero.

The graphics to explain such complicated details are created by WBD themselves, via a department known internally as ‘Star Team’. “They work alongside Francois and his team to turn their vision into the look and feel of each of the Discovery Sports Events projects,” explains Scott Young, SVP content and production at Warner Bros Discovery Sports Europe.

“That is then executed sometimes with assistance from external companies based on load,” he adds. “We have our own production control rooms that we run across our main markets and we use external outside broadcast facilities to connect to that. That can differ from project to project. NEP are a major partner in Track Champions League, but we have partnerships with every major technical supplier across all of our sports.”

WBD is already preparing for 2023, where it wants to show viewers something they’ve never seen before. “We want to use data to explain the drag effect on track cycling, which is fundamental,” adds Ribiero. “If you speak to someone like Chris Hoy, who is part of our presenting team, he would tell you it’s probably the most important thing. And yet no broadcaster has been able to explain it to the viewer. We are already preparing to do that in season three.”

The biggest innovation this year, however, is the plan to deliver an immersive experience within the metaverse, which will be available during the finals weekend on 2nd and 3rd December. It will enable viewers to not only watch the traditional live broadcast, but also follow particular athletes via live on-board cameras, as well as cameras on the referee and all around the floor. “The cameras will go where TV doesn’t usually have access in order to get as close as possible to the riders and give a broadcast experience which is different from the product delivered on linear TV and social media,” states Ribiero.

“It’s really something which has probably never been done at that scale in the sports industry. We can do it because Discovery Sports produces the entire value chain, we produce the international feed, we broadcast it, we distribute it, we own the commercial rights. So it’s up to us to decide the experience when you go into that digital world.”

The innovation makes WBD one of the first major broadcasters to test the waters of the metaverse. For Ribiero, it offers an opportunity to be as creative as possible. “The power of your creativity is the only boundary,” he says. “It’s a learning curve for us to see how we understand what we can do with the tool and how can we engage with the audience and how we can compliment our offerings on linear and digital basis.”

Plans are already in place to include the technology in 2023. “The metaverse fans see in season three will probably be a bit different to the current version,” Ribiero states. “We are preparing the metaverse for another asset, but I think we need to learn how it works before we release it further.”

“We’ll continue to push the boundaries as much as we can,” adds Young, “and we encourage every sporting body to get involved as much as possible. Right now the metaverse is a catchphrase that’s in every meeting. Finding people who genuinely know how to use it is quite extraordinary. It’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But it’s coming and it’s going to be really important in keeping a live sport audience engaged.”