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BT Sport’s Match Day Experience aims to turn viewers into pundits

TVBEurope finds out more about the augmented reality being employed in BT Sport's Match Day Experience feature.

In October, BT Sport and EE launched a new Match Day Experience feature on the BT Sport app offering 360 pitch-side viewing, a Watch Together feature, Dolby Atmos and augmented reality.

The package is available to customers of EE’s Full Works plan and 5G iPhone, and is available via the BT sport app.

One of the key features of Match Day Experience is its use of augmented reality. BT Sport has worked with both Visualise and Second Spectrum to develop different features within the experience that use AR. Visualise has supported the Match Day Live and Stadium Experience features, while Second Spectrum has provided the video streams augmented with stats/graphics in Manager Mode.

The use of AR is to help BT Sport tell additional stories and providing extra insight for the games to two different sets of fans as Paul Hunt, executive director at Second Spectrum, tells TVBEurope. “We can deliver to the casual fan, because just putting names above above the players heads is interesting as it engages the fan that a little bit more. And we also appeal to the the fan who goes every week and wants to know more about the coaching strategy and understand more about the game.

“We use our cameras that are placed around the pitch, and we track all the players automatically 25 frames a second. We know how fast they’re moving and we know what relationship they have with each other as well,” he continues. “We can use that use that tracking data, the X, Y and Z coordinates of all the players and crucially the ball as well, and translate that data into the language of a coach. Because we know where all the players are on the field we know where the ball is, and we can interpret and understand what the phase of the play is, where the players are, if they moving quickly forward, is the defence settled in its formation? We essentially take all our data from the pitch, we align that to the video, and then we deliver it to the screen. And we don’t just deliver it in static tabular form we integrate it into the action. So it becomes part of the part of the broadcast if you like.”

Hunt adds that currently there is around two minutes latency between the live broadcast and the Match Day Experience feature. “At the moment with BT Sport it’s about getting the technology stable, getting it working successfully. We wanted it to be accurate first, and then fast second, although fast comes a close second. Within the course of the next few months we’ll reduce the latency to a matter of seconds and we’ll certainly keep everybody posted about when we’re going to do that.”

Visualise’s role in the app has been to take fans right into the heart of the match day experience, and co-founder and CEO Henry Stuart says they want fans to feel like they can bring the game into their own space. “We’re building 3D objects in the app that you can place on your coffee table, on the floor, and you can expand the size of that stadium to your whole room if you wanted,” he says.

“The technology that we’ve now got in the BT Sport app means users could have life-sized players standing there with their match photos with all the stats and information about them, and then you’d be able to walk around that. For launch the plan was to use a generic stadium and then have a series of different stats, and team lineups that can be visualised on that stadium’s surface. But the ultimate aim here is to start to give people the tools to play with, potentially becoming your own pundit and getting that information in and around you, and then the sky’s the limit from there.”

Visualise is also working on the Stadium Experience area of the Match Day Experience. “In the BT app there’s a doorway that has these shiny doors and they open when you walk towards it, and then through there is a another world,” explains Stuart. “You’re completely immersed in a 360 video where you can look all around you, it can be the dressing rooms or the tunnel, somewhere on the pitch. One of the key things that BT Sport has done over the years is be at the forefront of creating live 360 streams as well. So there is the ability to have that as a way of walking into the 360 live content.”

Stuart adds that this technology and experience is limited to just football, and could be used for other sports that BT Sport holds the rights to. “Imagine the next sport we do is an Anthony Joshua flight. You can place a portal which is actually a circle and as you walk towards it and you look down into that hole in the floor, you realise that you’re suspended above the fight, you’re in the middle of the boxing ring, looking down and live streaming a 360 camera above the two boxers who are fighting. There’s quite a broad range of things that this technology can actually open up and allow through the app.”

According to Sam Kemp, EE products and services technology director, the launch of the new Apple 5G phone, and the on-going launch of 5G across the UK, seemed the perfect time to debut Match Day Experience. “We looked into the BT Sport app, which we wanted to make 5G ready, and what we mean by that is there’s a number of services and innovations within that pipeline that would really benefit from the 5G service. Our thinking was, we’ve got a 5G network, we’ve got this amazing new device which is going to take 5G mass market, and we’ve got a BT Sport application that would really benefit from having access to 5G for some of our new innovative services. So it was a marriage of values, attributes, and wanting to give our customers a really differentiated level of experience.”

Jamie Hindhaugh, BT Sport’s chief operating officer, adds that 5G will give BT Sport the opportunity to reach out to fans like never before. “The one area of our audience we’ve never really been able to cater for are those fans who are actually at the game,” he explains. “5G takes away your fear around connectivity, so that means that we’re actually going to be able to give great content and great viewpoints to our audiences while they’re at the game as well, which I think is a real game changer.”

Having made the experience available on the BT Sport mobile app, could it move to BT’s set top box or BT Sport’s linear channels? “Right now the experience is definitely a mobile led experience,” says Kemp. “This is an innovation and an evolutionary story, so it’s really important for us to give that to our most precious BT Sport customers. What we are doing is exploring other opportunities and how to bring this to a wider device ecosystem and maybe to an even wider audience. We’re always constantly thinking how we can bring our capabilities to the biggest audience.”