Wearable technology: the new Point of View for sports broadcast

Ali Zarkesh, VP Product Management at Vislink
Ali Zarkesh, VP Product Management at Vislink

From the VCR to the DVR to the rise of Netflix, technology has constantly evolved to give viewers more freedom when choosing what they want to watch and how they want to watch it. Streaming services have undoubtedly had the biggest impact, forcing linear TV from the limelight while ushering in the age of ‘catch up’ and ‘on demand’ content. The face of modern broadcast has changed significantly as a result and has had a direct effect on advertising revenues. But there’s one area that’s successfully managed to resist this industry-wide shift – live sports.

 According to new research by Deloitte, 53 percent of Americans stream TV shows and video on a monthly basis. This change is taking place at a time when second screen viewing has become so popular that consumer research company Nielsen, the ratings indicator by which TV advertising is bought and sold, is now working on tools to measure television viewing habits accurately on mobile devices. As more and more consumers are changing their viewing habits, advertisers are being forced to stretch advertising spend across a number of mediums. They can no longer target live TV alone, and instead are constantly looking for where the most eyeballs will see their content. Yet live sports remains an exception.

Football, ice hockey, and other sporting events are typically watched live, giving broadcasters a guaranteed viewership regardless of whether consumers choose to watch via a pay TV package or stream over the internet. As a result, live sports viewing is still the number one reason why many viewers have not cut the cord, and why, according to a survey by Adobe Digital Index Benchmark Report, sport programming makes up 37% of all TV viewing today. As a result, live sport broadcasting continues to represents a major avenue for generating advertising income.

Yet as online services have led consumers to expect a user-driven experience, broadcasters now face an ongoing struggle to keep them engaged with live television, even when it comes to sports. In order to keep viewers tuned in, and retain the high engagement rates required to attract the biggest advertising spend, broadcasters need to deliver a top-of-the-line experience. This can be either be through enhanced video quality or by offering new viewpoints of the game and players.

To deliver on the promise of enhanced video quality, broadcasters are gearing up to film and produce video in 4K, which delivers four times the resolution of HD, providing crystal clear images to television screens. There are several camera manufacturers on the market already offering 4K cameras, but, at present, there are no live shows being broadcast using this new standard. To pave the way for full adoption of 4K delivery, viewers will need to be sold on the benefits of paying for a compatible television set, and broadcasters will need to find a reliable and cost-effective way of transmitting video at four times the bit rate of HD.

The next evolution of video compression and encoding will have a key role to play in this regard. High Efficiency Video Coding (commonly referred to as HEVC or H.265) will give broadcasters the means to handle higher resolution 4K video without drastically increasing transmission costs. As sales of 4K televisions increase, broadcasters will continue to evaluate the costs and benefits of delivering 4K content to viewers. Several manufacturers are already ahead of the potential market by developing HEVC/H.265 hardware encoders and decoders capable of offering the cost savings broadcasters need when they decide to make the switchover, but also immediate performance benefits and efficiency with H.264 streams.

Another way to provide an immersive viewing experience is Point of View (POV) live video footage. Viewers are able to experience the game “through the eyes” of the players or coaches. For example, a soccer player wearing a POV camera and transmitter would give producers the flexibility to cut to video of him kicking a goal into the net. In order to provide this type of customized live viewing experience, however, broadcasters need a reliable way to deliver video imagery from a player’s POV. Recent advances in the development of miniature transmitters are making this a reality, letting broadcasters inject small amounts of POV footage into current game broadcasts.

POV cameras have already been used at a range of sporting events, including the NHL Playoffs and the Winter X Games held in Colorado this February. GoPro HERO4 cameras were paired with Vislink’s purpose-built HEROCast transmitter and mounted to the helmets of snowboarders, letting viewers experience the “ride” as if they themselves were on the board. This new method of capturing the most exciting camera angles from sporting events has created a far more immersive television viewing experience, and is essential in helping broadcasters to retain control of live sports broadcasting.

As producers become more familiar with how to incorporate POV camera angles into live broadcasts, viewers will start to see more of this type of footage. Consequently, as viewers experience the immersive nature and unique perspectives offered by new wearable camera equipment, they will begin to demand more of it.

Taking POV one step further, broadcasters could provide this on-demand to viewers by outfitting several players on a team and letting the viewer at home choose which player’s “eyes” they want to experience the game through. It is likely that consumers would be willing to pay an additional subscription fee to customize their viewing experience to this level. For example, if every car in a NASCAR race was outfitted with a POV camera, viewers could switch back and forth between the cars to experience the race from any driver’s seat.

Broadcasters can’t stop the changing habits of TV consumption, but they can tune in to changing demands around live broadcast. Only by providing viewers with the best possible quality and the best possible camera angles, delivered without delay or glitches, will broadcaster retain control over their most profitable segment of the TV market – live sports.

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