Staying connected even in the toughest and furthest conditions

By Gerbrand Schalkwijk

While it is hard to gather exact figures on its popularity, extreme sports have evidently been gaining ground in recent years. The number of people attempting to summit Mount Everest has been rising since the 1990s. Wingsuit flying, reputed to be the most extreme sport of all, is also soaring in popularity.

Extreme sports content is also catching on among TV audiences. In the US, for instance, many more people are watching extreme or action sports on TV. Social media is increasingly becoming one medium that sports fans rely on for extreme sports content.

Indeed, extreme sports content is a much-valued commodity today. Race organisers and broadcasters, as a result, should be making the most out of this new revenue stream and ensuring quality on-demand sports content is delivered to the screens of extreme sports lovers in real time.

Yet, delivery of content for global sporting events is already a mammoth task in itself. With most extreme sports such as the Dakar Rally or BC Bike Race taking place in remote or hostile environments, providing coverage of these races would be an even greater undertaking due to logistical challenges such as the lack of backbone infrastructure needed for transmission.

As such, in extreme environments like this, reliable, high-speed mobile satellite connectivity is indispensable. While some sports event organisers have been slower in recognising the gaps and acting on them, the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) has already been, for five of its editions, deploying vital on-board connectivity capabilities on their sailboats through Inmarsat. In fact, the 2017-18 race is the most digitally connected sporting event that plays on the toughest and remote area — four of the world’s oceans.

Redefining the sports fan experience

The new age sports fan is mobile first, ‘always-on’, and wants to be in the know. They are also avidly streaming content on the Internet and following their favourite sports idol or team on social media for updates. According to an online survey by McKinsey, over 60% of millennials use at least one social media platform to watch match highlights or check for news and scores.

Sports fans today want to be included in all the latest sports conversations. And they can do so with the VOR. In addition to the crew, on every Volvo Ocean 65 yacht there is a dedicated Onboard Reporter. This reporter is not allowed to participate in the sailing in any way; his/her role is to tell the story of what is happening on-board, pushing out content as they shoot it.

Further to the Onboard Reporters’ handheld cameras, drones and 360-degree cameras on each Volvo Ocean 65, seven HD cameras have been installed and built to withstand harsh environment. These can be controlled by the Onboard Reporters or even the production team back in the Race HQ over Inmarsat’s network. The footage is then edited or, at times, beamed back live over Inmarsat’s FleetBroadband 500 from the boats to a global audience in real time. It means that nothing gets missed and the fans know exactly what is going on with their favourite team.

Implementing robust connectivity

Leveraging Inmarsat’s fleet of satellites for the fifth consecutive time, the Volvo Ocean Race has displaced traditional broadcasting and redefined fan experience by allowing viewers and enthusiasts to ‘get on board’ and ‘sail alongside’ the crew digitally.

Indeed, sports enthusiasts, game-goers or athletes of the very near future would be almost completely reliant on technology and expecting reliable connectivity to be a norm wherever they go. In fact, satellite technology would soon become the backbone of sports coverage as fans expect content to be delivered from all sorts of locations.

Gerbrand Schalkwijk is deputy president and COO, Inmarsat Maritime.

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