From 5G mobile connectivity to drones and data-enhanced storytelling, the biggest sporting events of 2022 show how new technologies are driving live sports production.
Without a doubt, 2022 has been a great year for world class sporting events, including the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, 2022 Tour de France, 2022 Wimbledon Championships, UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 tournament and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Broadcasting these events is a mammoth task. On the busiest day at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, 15 simultaneous events were broadcast across 19 different languages, to 50 markets across Europe with 150 different control rooms. While at Wimbledon, every match from all 18 courts across every single competition was broadcast for the first time, with AELTC delivering coverage to broadcast rights holders in some 200 territories.
- All the broadcasting innovations at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics
- Go behind the scenes at the 2022 Wimbledon tennis championships
The latest broadcast technology isn’t just central to making these productions tick, it is increasingly adding extra value by enhancing workflows, improving engagement and helping broadcasters to reach new audiences. So what broadcast lessons can we learn from the sporting events of 2022? Here are the key themes that have the potential to shape the future of live sports production and broadcasting:
5G remote production in action
There’s a lot of talk about how 5G is a transformative technology, but it’s still early days for active deployments. In one 2022 trial, BT Media & Broadcast showed how its smart broadcast network, Vena, could bring together high-performance networking, private 5G and the cloud at a Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Saracens v Northampton Saints.
Traditionally, broadcast cameras connect to the OB using RF signals that rely on proprietary equipment. Using Vena, BT Media & Broadcast linked matchday cameras to a private 5G network installed at the Saracens’ StoneX Stadium - the first time this had been done as part of a customer broadcast in the UK.
As Jamie Hindhaugh, Head of BT Sport, said: “[the] innovations at Saracens continue to highlight the key role 5G will play in the future of sports television.”
In May 2022, production company Over Exposed partnered with Gravity Media and LiveU to employ 5G remote production coverage of the Vitality London 10,000 run. With roaming cameras and LiveU units (including several motorbikes), Russell Martin, Co-Owner of Over Exposed revealed that the 5G remote setup “gave us access that with a traditional OB truck would have been either impossible or prohibitively expensive.”
With mobile cameras and 5G connectivity, said Martin, “You don’t need to spend vast amounts of money rigging equipment around London, which is, of course, also a logistical nightmare… It is a far, far more cost-effective, efficient and flexible way of working: it allowed us to gather great content wherever we wanted.”
- Read more about the use of 5G in broadcast.
In another project, Vislink’s 5G wireless camera technology was featured in a private network trial at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Using Vislink Mobile Viewpoint UltraLink-Air 5G cellular encoders, camera operators for BT Media and Broadcast and the BBC were able to roam freely within the network area and connect directly into an IP-based production environment. As Mickey Miller, CEO of Vislink explained, the Commonwealth Games was “another in a series of marquee sporting events that showcases the advantages of our public and private 5G wireless camera solutions.
“These include the ability to leverage a low-latency, uncontended network that enables a robust and reliable transmission platform for video capture,” adding that the Vislink system also “allows tighter integration into an all-IP remote production environment, and that simplifies video networks, reduces costs and creates streamlined, flexible processes for broadcast professionals.”
At IBC2022, an Accelerator project led by Al Jazeera Media Networks has been putting current 5G capabilities for live sports content production to the test. Find out more about that here.
Enhancing coverage with robotic cameras and drones
Another trend worth watching in live sports production is the increase in robotic camera systems. At the 2022 Wimbledon tennis tournament, for example, 11 of the 18 courts were crewed by professional camera operators and seven were robotic, using cameras augmented by Fletcher Group’s Tr-ACE system.
At Wimbledon, Tr-ACE used LiDAR technology for ball and player detection, creating a 3D model of each tennis match so the camera can automatically (and independently) track the action. Matches that require more storytelling can be directly controlled by a human camera operator and a director in the onsite broadcast centre. Here, the production team can vision mix and tighten/widen the automated shots as needed.
Drone use is also becoming more widespread. At the World Athletics Championships 2022, ITN Sport revealed how it used two drones to enhance its coverage of the marathon event. Together with an AGITO, a U-crane and a helicopter, they enabled the World Athletics Productions (WAP) Marathon Race Walking team to capture “new and improved angles of the Marathon and Race Walks.”
Elsewhere, Riedel Communications announced a $20 million deal with Skyroads to use its SKYBOT-CAM systems to bolster coverage of SailGP’s global sail racing championship starting in 2024. The high payload drones incorporate professional broadcast gyro stabilised camera systems with live video, audio, and data downlinks, making them capable of delivering “new and immersive imagery” with sustainability firmly in mind.
As Warren Jones, Chief Technology Officer at SailGP explains: “Today’s professional airborne broadcast camera systems are mainly helicopter-based and require enormous organisational, technical, and budgetary effort for a photographic platform that, although creating high quality pictures, is unsustainable in the long run.”
And for a taste of just what drones can bring to sports broadcasting, the footage of Rory McIlroy hitting a sweet practice shot on the 18th hole at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles was captured by a drone flying at nearly 100mph.
Rory at Riv 🚁 pic.twitter.com/IolcsAhZcI— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 17, 2022
“We wanted to try something different where we had a player and try to follow the ball as they hit,” Michael Riceman, the PGA Tour’s VP of original and social content told SportTechie. “When you just wrap your head around that concept, having a drone that can fly up to 100 miles an hour, be there on impact, get the trajectory right and fly with the ball in the frame…We’re pleased we were able to pull it off. It was encouraging to see people loving it and wanting to see more types of drone work.”
Virtual sets and data visualisation
Virtual sets aren’t a new invention and you see them everywhere. The Warner Bros. Discovery Sports mixed reality Cube studio, for example, has popped up at the Olympics, Grand Slam tennis tournaments and the Tour de France. More than just a digital set, virtual studios like The Cube can act as a canvas for data visualisation that can transform the viewing experience and enhance sports storytelling.
As Scott Young, SVP Content and Production at Warner Bros. Discovery Sports (WBDS) Europe told IBC365: “Even if you’re not a cycling fan you know the Tour is a classic cycling race and an amazing tourism postcard. So, when we look at the scale of the event, we are asking ourselves: how do we explain cycling to those more casual viewers who probably don’t know the intricate detail of how it works?”
In this case, WBDS introduced an ‘inclinometer’ to give a 3D representation of the race topography, showing the enormity of what the peloton is up against on each stage. “The inclinator is important to show, for instance, the rate of descent, which can be as much of a challenge for riders as uphill, particularly in wet weather,” adds Scott Young.
In football, Stats Perform has introduced Opta Vision data feeds for the 2022-23 season. In the pursuit of enriched sports data, Opta Vision combines traditional Opta event information with tracking data (e.g. stadium feeds from stadium camera systems) to create a merged dataset. New metrics include: team Shape Analysis, Expected Pass Completion, Active Runs and Expected Threat (xThreat), which calculates the “likelihood of a shot happening within the next ten seconds of play.”
”Generation Z is half as likely to watch sports often as millennials and twice as likely to never watch, according to a survey.” - Rory Renwick
“By synchronising event and tracking data and then utilising our AI capabilities to generate enriched insights,” says Nancy Hensley, Chief Product Officer at Stats Perform, “we will be empowering performance analysis departments at teams, as well as a broadcaster’s production team, to identify new performance trends and tell great stories of the game.”
At Wimbledon 2022, AELTC worked with IBM to scrape data from various input points to tell stories about how tennis is changing. Spanish tennis sensation Carlos Alcaraz, for example, uses dropshots more frequently and more aggressively on hard/clay courts, and data-driven analysis of his matches can spot this.
New visualisation technology was also in play at the R&A 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews. Using a ‘digital twin’ of the St Andrews course mapped by NTT Data, fans could follow the action in real-time via ShotView ball-tracking technology. To achieve this, ShotView recorders were installed at key points on every hole, enabling the platform to visualise the live position of every golfer on the course and their performance - “every chip, drive, putt, slice, eagle and bogey… across 7,313 yards, 18 holes, four days and 156 players.”
“Despite the complexity of the data collection and processing, the end result is a simple, accessible and beautiful design which allows new fans and old, experienced golfers and newbies to watch, understand and enjoy this most elegant of sports at this, the most exciting, historic and iconic golf Championship in the world,” writes Chris Low, Digital Technology Manager at The R&A.
Reaching new audiences beyond linear TV
While big events such as the 2022 UEFA European Women’s Football Championship and the Commonwealth Games have pushed the boundaries of live sports production, broadcasters are also wary of changing consumption habits, especially amongst younger audiences.
Consider the 2022 partnership between Six Nations Rugby and TikTok. The deal sees the social media platform sponsor the Women’s Six Nations through to 2025, as well as become the Official Fans of the Guinness Six Nations and Autumn Nations Series. With over 5.1 billion views for its #rugby content, TikTok is “a compelling place to engage new and existing audiences,” suggests Rich Waterworth, General Manager, Europe, TikTok.
Embracing new distribution channels is a smart move. As Rory Renwick, a consultant with video services innovator Accedo.tv, explains: “Generation Z is half as likely to watch sports often as millennials and twice as likely to never watch, according to a survey. However, that doesn’t mean this generation is not engaging with sports – it is just more likely to be on social media and in smaller, bite-sized pieces.”
As previously reported, Delaware North’s ‘Future Of’ report suggests that only a small percentage of Gen Z “will watch a three-hour live sporting event, preferring video highlights on YouTube, TikTok and other outlets, usually curated by social media stars.” The report goes on to forecast that, while today’s “highlights, in-play clips and off-field content are worth less than $5 billion,” they could “eclipse the value of live rights in the 2030s.”
That said, according to Yvonne Monterroso, director product management at broadcast connectivity specialist Dejero, the ability to reach these new audiences still hinges on “the acquisition, production and distribution technology that has developed rapidly over the last few years… From sailing and mountaineering to marathons and cycling, events previously considered impractical to broadcast are now being made available live online.”
Taking that niche sentiment to what is surely the extreme, ESPN is set to broadcast the Financial Modeling World Cup (FMWC), where Excel professionals test their logical thinking skills in battles to solve spreadsheet-based tasks. Yes, it’s a thing.
The most successful live sports productions are not only innovating in front of and behind the camera, they are catering to the needs of a changing audience. This is an audience that can’t always watch live; wants to stream content online; craves clips and highlights on the digital platforms they frequent and delights in enriched storytelling and insight.
And if that audience eventually ends up in the metaverse, Italy’s Serie A has already broadcast there. The 2022 match between AC Milan and Fiorentina was accessible (via an NFT ticket) in The Nemesis metaverse, via a partnership with blockchain firm ConsenSys. When we look at the incredibly rapid evolution of live sport broadcast so far in 2022, it’s very clear indeed that we ain’t seen nothing yet…
How rights holders capture sport is changing. But so is how and where it is broadcast. To discover more about the future of live sports production, book your ticket for IBC2022 or dig into the articles below:
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