Delivering the ultimate sports fan experience

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

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“Video drives viewing across all online platforms – with 106m requests for BBC Olympic video content across all online platforms, more than double seen for any previous events."
The highly chronicled success of the first truly digital Olympics made it clear that live sports content is growing impressively on digital and that viewers are engaging more than ever with events via mobile, social, and digital video media. Keith Wymbs, Vice President Marketing for Elemental Technologies believes that the multiscreen future for sports production is a certainty.

“Video drives viewing across all online platforms – with 106m requests for BBC Olympic video content across all online platforms, more than double seen for any previous events. According to research from Conviva, a leading video optimisation company, consumers watch 240% more content when buffering does not occur in live streamed video events. Conversely, for every 1% increase in buffering of an internet video, the asset is watched three fewer minutes.”

It is clear that digital sports delivery has come of age. An industry survey commissioned in 2012 by Content Delivery Network (CDN) operator Level 3 Communications, found that that 58% of UK consumers polled planned to watch sports online at the time of the 2012 Olympics. Emblematic of that forecast was the BBC’s account of having delivered its most successful online event ever, attracting a record-breaking 55m global browsers to BBC Sport online over the course of the Games. 

Increasingly, sports content programmers are accelerating the development of applications to address the fan-engagement, advertising, and monetisation opportunities associated with multiscreen viewing experiences. Examples include the Eurosport European Player, the ESPN ScoreCenter app, and the new BBC Sport smartphone app, as well as the second-screen features that CBSSports.com will deliver to fans for Super Bowl XLVII live stream. 

In addition to transforming the sports fan experience, device proliferation and second screen applications are driving significant change within the infrastructure of fixed and mobile sports production facilities.  

Broadcasters and service providers want to be able to capitalise on the fragmented attention of fans during live programming as linear telecasts become just one element in multifaceted production efforts at high-profile sport events, such as golf majors, tennis Grand Slams, and the Olympic Games. They are embracing second-screen-driven revenue streams to engage and retain viewers, attract new viewers, and extend brand and sponsor messaging for advertising partners.

As a result, sports productions globally are investing more in multiscreen-capable infrastructure, whether at fixed facilities or in mobile news gathering environments.
The multiscreen market is changing almost daily. Any technology platform in the video delivery workflow has to be flexible enough to evolve continually with the market and ready to provide a high-quality viewing experience across a range of target devices. Following are a few key considerations for sports production professionals planning to design and deploy next-generation, multi-platform-ready fixed and mobile facilities. 

Ready?

It is clear that future proofing is key in a rapidly shifting market. The shift to HD was one thing, with a few companies driving the vision and go-forward approach that ultimately became the standard for the industry and norm for consumers. The multiscreen universe is an entirely different beast, with the decisions about standards and technologies being made by many entities across ever-expanding cable, broadcast and online industries. Sports production professionals don’t want to risk expense and lost-market opportunities with technology flipping, and are seeking the most future-proofed and scalable designs possible for their next-generation fixed- and mobile-production facility investments.

Set?

Video is the crucial asset for truly engaging digital sport experiences. With increased demand for high-quality content across multiple screens, it’s vital for sports production facilities to incorporate a video processing ecosystem. That solution must be able to keep pace with infrastructure that reliably delivers professional-grade, high-quality content as efficiently as possible.

Another key factor is data-integrated video, which enables fans to have the full context around each play and player as well as a rich digital video experience that enables them to fully experience the passion and emotions of sports event. A data-integrated video system requires the ability to display results and stats that are fully synchronised with video so that fans have all standings at any given time. 

Go!

There is no doubt that quality is vital. Video drives online viewing, but it is the quality of that video that is the key to a positive online sport experience. In its research, Redshift also found that one in five viewers said a poor online streaming experience affects their enjoyment of sports viewing. 

Of all video disruptions, buffering has been found to have the largest impact on viewer engagement. According to research from Conviva, a leading video optimisation company, consumers watch 240% more content when buffering does not occur in live streamed video events. Conversely, for every 1% increase in buffering of an internet video, the asset is watched three fewer minutes. 

The shift to online and multiscreen sports viewing also presents unique challenges in preparing and delivering high-quality video content. For an online audience, source material must be compressed to appropriately-sized bit rates for reliable and efficient video streaming on a large scale. At the same time, streamed content must retain high visual and audio quality in order to provide an engaging viewing experience.  

To address these challenges, sports production facilities must have access to video processing solutions capable of delivering multiple ABR streams. These solutions must potentially be able to perform real-time encoding and output of multiple HD and SD streams simultaneously. This last point is key to practical considerations, from lower power consumption to a much smaller footprint needed in space-constrained facilities.

The 2012 Olympics were the most digitally watched event in history and provided some impressive statistics. On the busiest day, the BBC alone delivered 2.8 petabytes of digital content, with the peak traffic moment occurring when UK cyclist Bradley Wiggins won Gold which resulted in a 700 Gb/s spike.

CTV reported 31.9m viewers tuned in across all platforms in Canada, up 88% from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and reaching an incredible 95% of Canada’s population. Users logged over 662 million hours of content, an average of 21 hours per viewer. Eurosport.com averaged 5.6m daily visitors in France and across continental Europe during the Olympics, up 36% over its normal site traffic. Video viewership, on the other hand, increased 80% during the Games with a peak of 13m viewers. 

NHK reached more than 26m online viewers in Japan and streamed up to 20 events each day across eight simultaneous Internet channels. In Tokyo, 38% of households viewed the Opening Ceremonies live despite a 4:30am start time, with many using IP connected devices to tune in. Terra hit 97.8m total viewers in Latin America and streamed 122.4m videos through its online portal, both live and on demand.

Facilities must multitask, a requirement that is essential to meet viewers’ demand for more content on any device. Signals are increasingly divvied up, with regular network broadcast and sports television channels also being utilised for mobile devices and second-screen platforms. That means mobile production trucks must supply multiple feeds out of a single vehicle or compound. In some cases, new trucks are brought in specifically to handle streaming productions at live sports events.  

Whatever the facility structure, it must be able to reach multiple screens over all distribution platforms including terrestrial, satellite, cable, IPTV, and also over the top (OTT) via adaptive streaming.

Elemental is helping both fixed and mobile Sports Production Facilities to deliver the multiscreen experience. Our systems helped bring the Olympics to viewers via transnational feeds, and video and mobile services for the BBC, CTV (Canada), Eurosport, and Terra (Latin America). For the Olympics, Elemental Live systems were housed in third-party-provided rack space in London within the International Broadcast Center. Today, these systems are rack-mounted within a state-of-the-art operations centre powering some of the world’s biggest sports events. 

Elemental Live is a video processing system that provides content producers and distributors with video and audio encoding for live streaming to new media platforms. The high-density system executes simultaneous processing and encoding of multiple adaptive bit rate outputs and delivers high-quality, high-efficiency performance when streaming live video to any device. 

During the Olympics, Elemental supported applications that ranged from enabling a video user experience integrating synchronised data visualisation and navigation to provide a uniquely tailored experience for each event, which was deployed for computers, smartphones and tablets, to an application which powered all of the BBC’s TV graphics and online video. In total, Elemental powered Olympic coverage in more than 70 countries across four continents, delivering an estimated 600m streams.

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