I t’s no secret that the stakes are high in sports broadcast. As Quantum’s Skip Levens said, there are “no second takes, millions of highly discriminating and knowledgeable customers scrutinizing your every move, and every play has the potential to make history.” There’s a lot of money to be made, but the competition between networks can be as fierce as anything on the road, field, court or diamond.
So it’s no surprise that sports production pushes the envelope when it comes to adopting new technology. We’re only halfway through 2015 and we’ve seen some amazing leaps forward this year, in five key areas:
1. Higher definition content
While the rest of the broadcast industry prepares to produce 4K content, sports is racing ahead to 8K. This month, MLB recorded their first game ever in 8K and streamed it to monitors scattered around Yankee stadium. At Wimbledon, select visitors watched the tennis action in 8K on a massive 105-inch display on the roof of the broadcast center. For the FIFA Women’s World Cup, matches were broadcast in 8K for live public viewings at two venues in Japan. The boost in image quality is also coming from higher frame rates and greater dynamic range, such as the ultra-slow-motion camera capturing at 8x frame rates in 4K at the finish line of the 2015 Kentucky Derby or the HDR cameras tested at the MLB’s All Star Game last week.
2. More cameras capture action everywhere
How many cameras do you need to cover a sports event? ESPN covered Monday Night Football with 32 cameras last season, then boosted it to 40 cameras for the 2015 NBA finals. Showtime & HBO somehow packed in 18 cameras to cover a 22×22 ring for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Meanwhile, cameras are appearing in new places, from MLB’s DirtCams and CatcherCams at home plate to handlebar -mounted cameras in the Tour de France to drones flying above the action at the X-Games in Aspen.
3. Realtime event data analysis
Sports fans have always been stats fans. Now they’re getting more data and they’re getting it in realtime. In January, the NHL went live at their All-Star game with an active tracking system that used transmitters embedded in pucks and sewn into players’ jerseys, giving their broadcast partners real-time game data. During last year’s Home Run Derby, optical and radar-based analytics accurately predicting all but one home runs out of 200 hits while the ball was still in the infield. And at this month’s Tour de France, cycling fans can track riders in the peloton for the first time on their smartphones using data from GPS sensors mounted under bike saddles.
4. More screens in more stadiums
Despite swearing that he would never see it happen, Mark Cuban lost the battle: his Dallas Mavericks’ arena now offers Wi-Fi to fans and delivers special content to their smartphones, from stats and replays to marketing merchandise and concessions. Meanwhile, NFL has asked its stadiums to provide free Wi-Fi access to fans by 2016. The Wi-Fi traffic is not just fans sharing stadium selfies: sports venues are reporting 50/50 split between uploading and downloading data. And between all those instant replays at different camera angles, teams are making money on seat upgrades and jersey sales.
5. Bringing the live experience home
What happens in the stadium doesn’t stay in the stadium. For the 2015 Cricket World Cup, ESPN sold live and on-demand coverage directly to consumers for viewing on smartphones, tablets and computers—no cable subscription required. That doesn’t mean pay-per-view is dead. Despite low-ball estimates before the fight, 4.4 million customers shelled out about $100 for Mayweather vs Pacquiao, breaking down service in many areas due to unexpected demand.
What this means for many sports content producers—teams, leagues and broadcasters alike—is they’ll need to step up their workflow game. Each of these new trends places new demands on their workflows, starting with its storage.
Scalable Collaborative Storage. More camera streams and higher-definition content can bog down all but the most scalable storage systems. Solutions that flowed smoothly with eight HD cameras will likely choke on a dozen cameras with a few capturing 4K. Higher frame rates of super-slo-mo cameras can chew up storage almost as fast as bumping up a resolution level. Then there’s the plethora of delivery formats. Workflows will need higher storage performance to ingest and share these multiple streams of dense footage across larger teams of editors and producers, and of course higher storage capacity to deliver and store it all, during the event, on-demand and long-term.
Sophisticated Asset Management. Analytic data gathered during the event needs to go not just to the jumbotron, broadcast partners and consumer apps, but must also be managed along with other content in asset management systems. Asset management systems built for simple legacy timecode-based event logging will struggle to accommodate the more advanced metadata coming from new analytics. Workflows that integrate analytic data into content management rather than use parallel database will have a significant leg up when it comes to quickly adding insight during broadcast and when monetizing from past sporting events.
Scalable, Secure Archives. The story doesn’t stop when the game ends. Keeping past event content active in the workflow helps producers to use moments from the past to tell the best stories on game day. At the same time, teams are monetizing content directly to diehard fans while networks are selling stock video online from decades of historic archives. The same forces that make content production more challenging—higher resolution, higher frame rates, more cameras, more delivery formats—make managing archives more complex. Workflows that rely on removable disks or small tape library will need an upgrade to cash in on these opportunities.
Finally, innovation in the stadium needs to be matched by innovation in the workflow. If anyone on the production team isn’t on site at the stadium, a solution that offers cloud collaboration should be considered. Where content needs to be readily available for re-monetization, extending an online environment with object storage may be the most efficient and straightforward to support parallel workflows.
Will You Be At the SVG Sports Asset Management and Storage Forum?
If you’re in the New York City area and want to learn more about the challenges and solutions for sports broadcast, join us at the SVG Sports Asset Management and Storage Forum on July 29. Quantum VP of Media & Entertainment Alex Grossman will be speaking on how to balance onsite vs the cloud for storage and archive.