Advanced IP video within stadiums for sporting organizations and broadcasters

Monday, November 12, 2012

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For example, in the NFL, the historic approach to conducting long-distance interviews was via satellite. This is a very expensive and latency-inherent solution, especially for bidirectional communication with round-trip times over two seconds. But with IP video, cross-country latency is reduced to as low as 120 milliseconds, giving a more fluid feel to interviews

The sports broadcasting workflow has remained largely unchanged for the past 50 years. Broadcasters produce game feeds, and feeds are distributed throughout a venue, delivered to the press, produced for broadcast, and recorded for later team review. Peter Maag, Chief Marketing Officer, Haivision examines the arrival of IP that video has completely changed the game. 

Today’s “content now” consumers and providers are turning to IP video solutions for new ways to engage, distribute, and analyze content without any game-to-gadget delay. By looking closer at this new model, we will discover how IP video can augment the fan experience, enhance press activities, and allow teams and leagues to improve the overall media experience and the teams’ performance.  

The Fan Experience
Sports fans are demanding more immersive experiences and today’s stadiums are providing solutions to answer this challenge. Within private boxes, installations are enabling fans to control their content through IP video systems fueled by every camera on the field. Video-on-demand assets are generated in real time within the IP video system to provide instant replay capabilities. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL currently offer a powerful blend of live action and total viewer control within their 129 luxury boxes. Using a combination of HD cameras on the field, HD source encoders, a secure IP video administration system, and streaming player technology, patrons are treated to unique premium content on game days. This includes close-up camera views of the game that they could never get at home — live, in HD, with negligible latency. Fans also have access to replays and can review archived footage from previous games. 

A second way stadiums are using IP video to enhance the fan experience is through digital signage. Once content producers send their feeds through an IP video system, feeds can also be sent directly to signage systems throughout entire stadiums. However, success is dependent on low latency and security. Early installations taking advantage of IP video for in-stadium delivery such as the deployment at Yankee Stadium were unsuccessful because action was delayed in some parts by up to 8 seconds, becoming more of a continuous replay rather than live action on the screen. But in a more recent application, the University of Oregon installed a signage system that delivers real-time, live HD video to hundreds of screens within their arena — keeping fans engaged regardless of their location at the venue. The system also enables live streaming of outside events before and after games, enticing fans to come to the arena earlier and attracting an audience that would normally watch games elsewhere. In order to ensure secure delivery and live-feed monitoring, all players are controlled from a central location. In premier-league sports, management must ensure that feeds cannot be recorded by people on the network, since these assets are critical to their success.

In addition to providing experience-enhancing tools, ensuring low latency, and delivering content securely, the future of the live sporting experience will be contingent on one important feature: streaming to handheld devices. Organizations such as Formula One have already experimented with the idea of delivering live content to fans via custom mobile devices since racetracks make it impossible for spectators to view every angle of the action. But problems with latency rendered the initiative suboptimal in addition to the cost of custom viewing devices and infrastructure. Today, most mobile devices are capable of handling video and sporting leagues are starting to experiment with technologies that can get low-latency video transmission right to everyday mobile devices. This will be revolutionary when delivered within stadiums. To date, nobody has successfully implemented this type of solution, but companies such as Haivision are investing in technology that will soon make this vision a reality. 

Media, League, and Team Applications 
For the media, a flexible, easy-to-navigate system containing all camera feeds, angles, and external feeds is extremely important for providing top coverage of major sporting events. There is also the need to monitor multiple feeds simultaneously and accurately record events in progress. IP video enables these types of functionalities by making the same feeds that would satisfy the immersive fan experience in the private box available to the media within flexible multi-stream players. During the 2012 London Games, both NBC and CTV used Haivision’s Makito technology to bring feeds from the Olympic village to North American producers. This IP solution enabled producers to have a greater creative say in the mix downs of events that were happening in London.

IP video is also being used to aggregate all press operations back to league broadcast centers where segments are assembled. In the case of interactive interviews between league spokespeople and reporters, IP video becomes very interesting since it provides a low cost, high performance way to have continuous feeds span across very large regions. For example, in the NFL, the historic approach to conducting long-distance interviews was via satellite. This is a very expensive and latency-inherent solution, especially for bidirectional communication with round-trip times over two seconds. But with IP video, cross-country latency is reduced to as low as 120 milliseconds, giving a more fluid feel to interviews. This is important since on-air talent is not always trained to use satellite communications systems that contain delay, and low latency significantly enhances the interview experience. 

Today, both the NFL and MLB use IP video to power their interactive broadcast systems. The solution delivers high-quality video with low latency between the leagues’ media centers and studios within practice fields, stadiums, and home studios across the U.S., enabling fluid, highly interactive interviews between all the leagues’ remote locations and contributors.

For the management of big-league sports teams, IP video deployments in stadiums are allowing coaching staff and management to analyze games like never before. By monitoring and recording different areas of the playing field, teams can better study opposing teams, review games more effectively, and improve individual player performance. Playback tools are also making game-time intermissions, post-game debriefs, and practice training sessions more efficient for both players and their coaches. 

IP video is also allowing teams to better address their fan base, as broadcasters tend to stream more regional content over the Internet. Traditionally, only a very small percentage of live and pre-recorded press-type content reached local viewers since the prime broadcasting systems did not have enough airtime for each individual constituent. But as media is being placed over the IP video network, content can be provided on a more continual basis to regional viewers via the Internet, practically for free. Therefore, as infrastructure migrates to IP video systems, teams are given more exposure at the local level, through around-the-clock video via the Web. 

More Content Over-The-Top
Player technologies on multiple devices are fueling an increasing demand for sports content over-the-top (OTT). During the 2012 London Games, iStreamPlanet, a leader in live Internet broadcasting, turned to Haivision to provide KulaByte encoding technology to deliver 16 simultaneous channels over multiplatform devices. This gave viewers customized control combined with high-quality, low-latency video to the device of their choice, enhancing both their quality of experience and engagement during the event. In another application, the Czech broadcaster Barrandov began delivering live feeds of soccer matches over-the-top to Internet and home viewers through IP video. Using Haivision’s Mako-HD H.264 encoders, the solution enables cost-effective streaming without relying on traditional broadcast techniques. Viewers across the country now have access to soccer matches live via the broadcaster’s website or through their home-based set-top boxes.

Whether in sports or any other large-scale live event, a stutter in the action will damage the viewer’s quality of experience. As broadcasters, stadiums, and sports teams migrate toward IP video, high-quality solutions with low latency will be key to leveraging the full potential of streaming technology. Second, as OTT streaming and high-performance video to mobile devices become more accepted means of entertainment, models for deployment and consumption will be completely redefined. Sports stakeholders will need to pair up with innovative partners at the forefront of the action, because with big games on the line, the entire planet is watching.


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