• Lucy Highton

The changing face of how we interact with sports

Stay On Target: A Technology in Sports series Leaders in Sport feature, brought to you by Target3D, the Home of Motion Capture

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In the last in their 3 part series looking at the way technology is used in our training, development, understanding and consumption of sports, Target3D co-founder, Ashley Keeler, discusses the changing face of how we interact with the sports we watch and we asks whether broadcasting needs to evolve to stay relevant.


We touched on the online public outrage from annoyed football fans over the use of the video assistant referee (VAR) in our last article. When stories like that hit the headlines, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the intrusion of technology into sport can only be a bad thing. In fact, technology is having a huge impact on sports broadcasting and how spectators consume their favourite sports. In the future we may well rely on AI generated highlight reels or VR broadcasting but right now we can already see the downward trend of video on demand (VOD) while the rise of paid for online video services continues to soar. The reality [or mixed reality] is that the spread of technology throughout sports in general is creating new experiences for fans and game-changing ways for them to interact with sport.


Some of the experiences are transformational, like allowing audiences to sit within the cockpit of a Formula 1 car through consumer-level virtual reality (VR) headsets – some are more practical, like the checking of odds via gambling apps, smooth viewing for audiences with poor internet connections, or assisting clubs in their pre/post-match analysis.


No matter how revolutionary the technology, what’s interesting to me is how the new developments are altering the ‘fan experience’.


The way we consume sports is changing at lightning speed right now - more that I have witnessed in the last 20 years. Thanks to the roll out of 5G network capabilities, I imagine that in 20 years time the scene will be unrecognisable again.


As an example, in the not-too-distant future, you may head off to the stadium to see your favourite football team; take your seat, settle down for kick off and - here’s the difference - you'll put on a pair of glasses that will stream stats, replays, audio commentary.



How will this be possible?

5G’s super-fast data delivery could be the catalyst for a potential explosion in an AR simulcast, delivering 3D video in real time without lagging. Live sporting events could be simultaneously broadcast across traditional mediums such a tv and radio, alongside augmented reality experience - giving spectators another option that potentially bridging the gap between the travel, time and expense of a live game and the passive action of watching or listening at home.


Or, what about watching a live match in your home stadium even when your team is away?

Peter Linder, head of 5G marketing for Ericsson, imagines a live experience that's "better than live" thanks to AR and VR. "What if you could invite fans to look at any angle they want? You could overlay audio in different languages or graphics, providing more data and stats. Imagine the possibilities of this multi-language 5G broadcast for international competitions like the World Cup or events where several events run simultaneously like the Olympics.


It makes sense that sporting events would be the test cases for 5G: In a stadium, you've got thousands of people in one location. With the right tech infrastructure, you can create an extremely powerful network that delivers an experience they can all enjoy - and troubleshoot - together.

"We can see a time when 5G is everywhere. AR cloud ubiquity is on its way. The place it will be first is high-value venues--stadiums, theme parks, museums--because we can go in and map them first. This is a journey, but this is the first step."

Nexus Studios co-founder, Chris O'Reilly.

OK, so that’s the future - but how is technology already changing the way we consume sports and what impact is that having on its viewership?


On screen information has come along way since the days of 8-bit graphics. You’ll have noticed it in F1 where onboard cameras are regularly broadcast alongside roaming cameras following a drivers’ every move while the use of on-screen graphics has grown, reaching 24-hour news channel proportions! Viewers have come to expect to engage with on track position, gear changes, apex and top speeds in real-time - they can even listen in to the team radio broadcasts.


We’ve taken this a step further. A more interactive form of real-time overlay was delivered by Target3D in partnership with Dimension Studios for the Golf US Open earlier this year. During broadcasts from the 148th Open Championship held in Royal Portrush, Sky's pundits made use of the new ‘Sky Scope’ feature which allowed presenters to analyse the techniques of star players using holograph replicas of each golfer. Top players such as Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and John Rahm visited Sky’s mobile capture facility during practice session downtime to have special filming sessions.


Mocap footage was used to create lifelike holographs which are then transported to Sky’s Open Zone studio, allowing the Sky Sports team to analyse, track and pause the players movements in 360 degrees.


Petros DeDoncker, Target3D’s Motion Capture Technician, who installed and managed the optical tracking system which enabled the capture of the golf club, said “As a sports enthusiast, when I look at training utilising 2D video even I can determine the amount of info I get is very limited. This project enables the viewer to be fully immersed into an experience and move around in 3D and 360 and see how its performing from the left or right, or up or down, or bottom to top. As a learning platform it’s really useful. It starts with golf, but you can think of any sport that contains a swing or a throw - tennis, cricket, squash, badminton. Because it’s been proven with one sport, a similar tracking technique to other sports is easily transferable.”


So what about viewer interaction with the content? There’s a multitude of new ways for audiences to participate in their favourite sports events. You can even interact with the content from the comfort of your sofa!


NBA recently introduced “Predict the Game,” the free-to-play contest NBC Sports Washington ran this year with a 20-game schedule. The contest includes dedicated studio hosts who will provide updates and interact with viewers throughout the game.

The season’s first “Predict the Game” augmented broadcast, featured a permanent graphic overlay with real-time statistics and sports betting information and prompted viewers to make predictions about the on-court action for the chance to win $500 in four separate quarter-long contests.


Next year’s Olympic Games, taking place in Japan, have a particular focus on making sure that viewers will be able to enjoy the action across all devices in the best possible form. Advances in entertainment technology mean that audiences are now primed to consume the 3,000 hours of coverage across 339 events in whichever way is most contextually suited to them, both while the events are live and in pre- and post-event form.


The rapid growth of e-sports is displayed in staggering numbers; in 2018, 380 million viewers watched an incredible 6.6 billion hours of it.


Imagine if, 125 years ago when the IOC was re-established, the committee had been told e-sports may be added to the adenda! Well, we’re almost there, with news that Intel is bringing an esports tournament to Japan in 2020. Looking ahead at ways to immerse viewers further in sports, Intel recently announced an Olympic-sanctioned e-sports tournament taking place days before the Games open, with an e-sports hotel in Tokyo due in time for the Games. Intel True VR will be deployed in a range of sports and venues for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and content will be distributed by rights-holding broadcasters, including the opening and closing ceremonies, track & field, gymnastics, boxing and beach volleyball.


Mocap is already changing the way children in schools interact with sports...


Broadcasters need to look well beyond the traditional realms of TV, radio and online streaming to stay ahead, with children growing up with tech that wasn't yet a concept 20 years ago. Younger people drive change. Already, the number of young people watching television is on the decline, favouring social media as a way of keeping up with friends, news and sports. Added to that, mocap is already changing the way children in schools interact with sports, with games publisher EA Sports creating a curriculum for children across England and Wales that can be used to inspire children to exercise. Liverpool defender Joe Gomez was joined by three Year 6 pupils who all donned mocap suits whilst they covered throwing, catching, marking and intercepting and heading. Their actions were captured by mocap cameras, were digitally enhanced in the same manner as the annual Fifa football game and the Ultimate PE Lesson is available as a free online resource for teachers via the Premier League Primary Stars website.


So, we can see that from the days of television and radio being King in the sports broadcasting arena, with the audience being passive, the future is firmly shaped by VR and mocap technology. Bringing the experience to fans to immerse themselves in, to be part of, not simply to view is key to this evolution. The dream of physically walking out onto the pitch at Wembley or taking a hairpin bend at Silverstone was always just that – a dream. With VR however, that dream is becoming a huge step more attainable. Events and social interaction are replacing traditional audience - content relationship.


The ‘fan experience’ also explains the rebounding popularity of attending events among younger people and why so many fans try to recreate that experience in the home, whether for the big game or for Glastonbury. The abundance of digital video content makes most of it ephemeral and inessential. The challenge to sports broadcasters and rights holders is to frame their coverage in a way that shows it really matters.


“If you don’t have participation,” said Gareth Capon, Grabyo chief executive, “If you don’t have an interest in the sport, then at some point it’s going to disappear because you’re going to have a generation of people who grow up and don’t care.”


Motion capture technologies require a controlled environment to ensure the best accuracy. Target3D’s central London studio provides this and is often taken over by people in the sports or entertainment fields to do just that. Or, we can bring it on the road to your club or facility. Get in touch to start the conversation today.