Media Spotlight is a new column we will run each Tuesday focused on the world of sports media her in ireland and further afield.

We will bring together news, analysis, interviews and other content looking to deliver a better understanding of how the sports media works and how it is in an ever changing state of flux.

To kick off the column today we are pleased to bring you an exclusive interview in the Irish market with Ariff Sidi, the General Manager and Chief Product Officer , Media Platform at Verizon Media, one of the world’s biggest players in the world of OTT sports broadcasting.

 

How involved have you been with the discussions taking place across sport about the return to play?

We have been involved in many conversations with leagues and sports broadcasters about how best to create a sense of fan engagement and community when events are played in empty (or near empty) venues.

There are a couple of different dynamics that we are collaborating on. First, how to bring some remote fan engagement back into the venue – both for the benefit of players and, possibly, the small number of fans in stadiums.

Second, how we can bring fan engagement into an OTT experience as well. There may be some overlap in solving for both of these, but the solutions are not necessarily the same. We need to consider video latency relative to the gameplay and how to capture and share fan reactions at the right times in the right experience.

For example, if a striker is through on goal, their home fans could play a big part in willing them on to score. But if the “crowd” reaction comes out of time with what’s happening, the result may actually lead to an undesirable outcome in the actual game.

Given the early indications from Germany and England it would appear that we could be in for record viewing figures, will that place an additional burden on broadcasters to get it right in strange circumstances?

The Bundesliga showed there is an enormous pent-up demand for live sports after Sky Deutschland recorded a record five million viewers for the league’s return. The return of the English Premier League also saw a peak of 2.6 million viewers during the match between Manchester City and Arsenal, which was the best viewing figures for a game in over three years.

The record viewing figures from the Bundesliga and the English Premier League suggest that it is not just football fans tuning in, it is also likely to be more casual viewers desperate for a slice of live sports action.

Broadcasters need to prepare for this surge in online traffic by nailing the fundamentals of live streaming. Having sufficient bandwidth and network capacity to deliver live streams that are not riddled with delays and buffering is crucial. We know that broadcasters are looking at new ways to boost fan engagement while matches are being played behind closed doors, but integrating new applications is futile if fans are unable to access a high-quality stream.

In terms of the team needed how many broadcast technical staff do you imagine you would employ to a sporting event?

When it comes to supporting our broadcast customers with their event streams, we typically deploy a flexible event operations staff of tens to over a hundred individuals based on the particular needs of that customer and that event.

Not all events are created equal, with variation in how and where we source the contribution feed and how often advertising might need to be inserted, to name just a couple of considerations.

As events change because of how we leverage new technologies to drive new consumer experiences, we certainly expect the needs for staffing to change accordingly.

If we are going to see record numbers are there any potential capacity issues to be concerned about or are the days of buffering well behind us now?

As mentioned earlier, it is crucial that broadcasters have the right amount of bandwidth and capacity to meet the surge in online traffic. One of the best ways to manage the huge amounts of traffic is by rerouting it to a different content delivery network to minimize delays and buffering if one becomes overloaded.

We help our customers make these decisions in real-time for their critical events. For example, when we streamed Super Bowl LIV in UHD HDR, the first time that was ever done, all UHD traffic was shifted to our CDN to ensure a seamless experience for consumers.

What are some of the ways that you feel will be used to deflect from the empty stands and the lack of match day atmosphere?

Live sports being played behind closed doors will highlight how important in-stadium crowds are for creating an exhilarating match-day experience. Broadcasters will not be able to replicate the same atmosphere but there are a number of ways they can create an immersive and engaging experience for fans.

As we saw in the Bundesliga and Premier League, crowd audio feeds are being used to return some normalcy and deflect from the empty stands. Some broadcasters are already integrating new applications and features to help recreate the live sports experience for viewers at home. Ahead of the return of the Premier League, Sky unveiled a Sky Sports Fan Zone which allows viewers to watch the match in online rooms with friends and also post predictions and participate in polls.

One avenue that we may see broadcasters explore, and where we are developing new technologies, is allowing for some form of sentiment capture from viewers, similar to how popular mobile live streaming apps communicate viewership and popularity back to viewers in the shared experience.

For example, viewers could have the option to capture video from their device cameras to use for fan reaction shots. Applications such as these encourage active participation in the game and taps into the popularity of second screening where viewers often take part in social media discussions during a live sports match and share their reactions to key moments in the game.

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