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Alive & active: Will 2022 be the year hybrid live sports come roaring back?

By Loewe Tan

Live sports broadcasters around the globe have adapted to the realities of the pandemic world, with the provision of on-and-off site experience, reaching new audiences and monetising new ways of engagement. The new market opportunities are further enhanced with maturing technologies from IP, 5G, to personalised advertisement. How then should live broadcasters tap on technologies to meet the market demands of physical and virtual audiences? 

Latency, latency, latency

Latency was said to be a major stumbling block to a successful live sports broadcast, but latency has been greatly reduced by up to 60 seconds since the advent of IP and emergence of new video processing format. For instance, the adaptive bitrate streaming (ABR) method is moving towards the direct path technology, which connects video delivery from the encoder to the packager directly, eliminating buffer delays and ensuring a smoother content delivery network. 

The burgeoning growth of multicast to smart devices is also driving up the demand for ultra-low latency network. Hence, careful consideration should be given to choosing the technology that synchronises and delivers instantly the live feeds.

MediaKind is now offering Encoding Live, an any-screen software solution for high-quality, live video encoding/transcoding to any device. The IP-centric approach to video transcoding of all standards (MPEG-2, H.264, HEVC and VVC), across real-time broadcast applications from IPTV, cable, satellite direct-to-home and internet TV. 

NBC Sports selected MediaKind as its encoding technology provider for its production of 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. MediaKind used a range of video processing and advanced modular receiver technologies to support NBC Sports’ high-quality, low-latency, and reliable video distribution to viewers throughout the United States. 

Allen Broome, CEO of MediaKind, highlighted: “While content is now delivered to more platforms and screens than ever before, the same principles of successful live event coverage still apply: ensuring resiliency, reliability, and optimal picture quality.”

Decoding live stream

Telestream is offering its Lightspeed Live Stream — an enterprise-class live streaming system that can ingest, encode, package and deploy multiple sources to multiple destinations. Lightspeed Live Stream can ingest multiple baseband SDI or IP video sources — MPTS, SPTS, RTMP — and encode multiple variants or ABR packages to deploy them to multiple destinations. Furthermore, it can directly integrate API with Facebook Live, YouTube Live and RTMP streaming are boosting near real-time engagement through social media platforms. 

TVU Network, the official sponsor and provider of IP-based video infrastructure to 2022 SEA Games happening now in Hanoi, Vietnam, is offering its TVU Transceiver as the primary edge-device for TVU, IP and cloud workflows. It is designed to host TVU applications including  SDI/IP encode and decide, frame-accurate IP video switching, graphics overlay, AI-based close captioning, store and forward file transfers … and more.

To ensure that broadcasters around the world can access the footage, TVU’s cloud-based SaaS solutions is providing broadcasters with the essential tools to store, search and clip edit as well as providing audio commentary on all content produced during the event, from production facilities in their home countries or anywhere in the world.

However, adoption of new technology increases the expenses of the broadcast company by multiple folds — and its direct monetary benefits ought to be intricately balanced.

A hybrid event, for instance, involves personalised ad insertions and immersive fan engagement modules that increases revenue stream for the broadcasters, but lengthen the buffering period. How should broadcasters find an equilibrium between both the imperatives? 

Immersive hybrid viewing experience

Some industry players have introduced innovations that nurture social bonds to momentarily ease the increased latency. For instance, NFL partners with Yahoo Sports to debut Watch Together, an application that enable users to invite friends to join a split-screen conference call, while livestreaming the game.

Broadcasters are creatively embracing technology to elevate fan engagement through live betting, in-game trivia and personal camera angles for in-stadium like immersive viewing experience. 

The personalised camera views are made possible with 5G technology that allowed producers to capture fast-moving alluring sportsmanship and send camera feeds from a remote location to the OB van or production room instantaneously.

V6 Production has adopted LiveU’s REMI solution, combining LiveU’s LU800 multi-cam 5G production-level units, for the Thailand Super Series — from live supercar racing to boxing. Multiple high-resolution video streams are transmitted remotely – to the OB switcher for recording, and direct to customers’ broadcast and streaming platforms including traditional TV broadcasting networks, OTT, and social media.

Vichit Yodburee, Managing Director, V6 Production Company Limited, said: “LiveU technology proves that there is no limit to creativity when it comes to sports productions. 

“LiveU provides signal reliability in crowded areas and over a long distance, together with the highest video quality, even when the camera is moving at high speeds. 

“We can capture the action from multiple angles, getting up close to the athletes and drivers – even inside the cars – generating video views from anywhere for a unique viewing experience. 

“This enables us to offer greater value to our customers, providing a more creative and professional live production, while saving costs using the REMI workflow. 

“We see many opportunities for the technology and are planning to use LiveU for entertainment and corporate events as well, such as festival openings and product launches.”

As such, the benefits of livestream greatly improve the viewing experience and engage sports fan at a deeper level. Amazon Prime Video allows Premier League fans to toggle between live games, or can watch up to three streams simultaneously across devices.

What is even more amazing is that Amazon’s X-Ray offers multiple audio options, expert analysis, replays, fan polls and next-gen stats.

As the COVID-19 pandemic becomes an endemic, more events are roaring back to life in hybrid formats. Will this kickstart new business models that can monetise both on-and-off site audiences, whilst leveraging on 5G and other cutting-edge technologies to deliver never-before viewing experiences.

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