Post-Podium Stories – Warner Bros. Discovery Sports Europe

Warner Bros. Discovery Sports Europe is the latest organization to feature in our Post-Podium Stories – a series revisiting our 2022 Sport Technology Award winners.

Last year the media giant scooped the Best Use of Technology by a Broadcaster award for its state-of-the-art mixed-reality studio that transported millions of viewers to Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. In a broadcasting first, it not only beamed the world’s greatest athletes into its virtual studio but was credited with ‘redefining the viewing experience’ in an Olympic Games like no other.

Here, Alex Dinnin, Head of Graphics and Innovation at Warner Bros. Discovery Sports Europe, provides an update on the technology shaping on-screen visuals and graphics and his top tips for business and individuals in the sports tech sector.

What has changed for your business in the last six months?
From a visual and graphics perspective, the release of Unreal Engine 5 is going to be a complete game changer for all virtual studios. Being able to think on a larger scale is a blessing for studio designs. 
 
Traditionally used as a gaming engine, the possibilities of applying it in broadcast production to create truly immersive content and experiences for viewers are endless.
 
To my knowledge, we were the first multi-market broadcaster to use UE5 for a live sports production. We used Unreal 4 for our coverage of a multitude of very different events including Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, tennis Grand Slams, the Tour de France and the Tour de France Femmes.
 
For the Winter Olympics, using Unreal Engine to develop graphics and virtual settings within our award-winning mixed-reality Cube studio took our coverage to a whole new level. We were able to create 26 different virtual environments offering immersive presentation and analysis positions for our on-air teams, including a vast cinematic winter resort set within the face of a snow-capped mountain. 
 
This meant that everything looked completely realistic to the untrained eye and ultimately provided our viewers at home with a much more exciting and engaging experience.
 
To be able to completely reskin our Cube studio at the touch of a button is revolutionary and enables us to switch between covering different sports immediately from the very same location. I’m excited about the opportunities ahead using Unreal Engine 5 – there is no limit to what we could build over the coming months.

What are the biggest changes happening in your part of the sports sector?
Due to the advances in virtual studios, it’s really exciting to be thinking about a traditional broadcast studio in a completely different way. Gone are the days of two people sitting in a small cupboard. We can now transport our presenters and guests to anywhere in the world, just like we did from our Cube studio for Beijing 2022. 
 
While this also ended up supporting the efforts to reduce our on-site footprint while producing our coverage of the Games given the pandemic, it also allowed us to create even more engaging experiences for our viewers.
 
Working with virtual studios is like learning a whole new discipline. Keeping pace with the latest innovations and advancements is a full-time job in itself!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given about working in sports / sports technology (personal or professional)?
Earlier in my career I had one piece of advice drummed into me on a daily basis… no matter how clever it is or how good it looks; it has to be editorially relevant.
 
This is something we live for Warner Bros. Discovery Sports Europe. We don’t simply use new technology for the sake of innovation. We do it to enhance our storytelling around some of the world’s biggest sporting events, helping to better connect our audiences with the action and athletes competing to unlock the power of different sports. Allowing us and our experts to tell even greater stories in the most compelling way.

What is the best piece of advice you’d pass on to a client or start-up in your world?
Think big – it’s only your imagination holding you back! 

The 2023 edition of The Sports Technology Awards will mark the 10th anniversary of the leading international celebration of tech-led innovation in sport and – for the very first time – be celebrated in New York. To find out more about the ‘Oscars of sports technology’ please visit sportstechnologyawards.com.

Cloud Production: Setting the Standard for Live Sport

By Ophir Zardok, Director, Sports Solutions and Business Strategy, LiveU

Cloud production has been a hot topic since its use accelerated during the pandemic. The sports industry at large has increasingly turned to cloud production workflows and technologies to produce and distribute live content. At LiveU, we view cloud production as incorporating five stages, facilitating an end-to-end workflow:

1. video creation (capturing the content)

2. connecting from the field to your cloud production platform

3. producing your content on your cloud production platform

4. managing your live production

5. sharing your content over IP to your chosen endpoints (e.g. broadcasters or social media platforms).

Perhaps on account of its rapid success and adoption, there are many misconceptions around the benefits and limitations of cloud production workflows from a live sports perspective. In this article, I share some recent experiences in order to challenge some common misconceptions.

Sky Sports turns to netball to build their cloud capabilities

Sky Sports were amongst the front runners in adopting and building the capabilities to manage cloud production workflows to deliver high quality live sports broadcasts. They used the sport of netball as a platform to accelerate their cloud production capabilities during the pandemic, opting to create live multi-camera cloud-based productions using public internet to distribute feeds over IP. Internet contribution was managed through LiveU straight to the cloud using hybrid 5G / internet connectivity to ensure reliable distribution of the live feed.

Scaling beach volleyball content in the cloud

Volleyball World, a partnership between the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) and CVC Capital Partners, switched to a cloud production workflow to increase the live video content they produced around the Beach Volleyball Pro Tour 2022. The goal was to create more value for broadcast partners and drive fan engagement across their own digital platforms and to achieve this they needed a more flexible and cost-efficient system compared to traditional satellite distribution.

Going into the project, Volleyball World had some concerns. These included a reliance on public internet, particularly around the “first mile” of delivery over the internet from camera to their cloud production platform. Volleyball World operates in facilities ranging from established venues like Roland Garros in Paris to remote beach locations in the Maldives and, in many locations, they have a dependency upon potentially unstable public WiFi networks. This limitation was overcome using cellular bonding solutions. Two independent lines were established to distribute the feed to their cloud production platform – one main configuration and one back-up.

The Volleyball World team were also concerned about their ability to onboard broadcast partners into a new way of working with live content delivered over IP. This was solved by taking a more consultative approach with broadcasters and ultimately IP delivery ensured that Volleyball World could, for the first time, track which broadcast partners were accessing the feeds and when.

The multiple transcoding steps involved in the new workflow led to concerns being raised around the potential reduction in image quality as well as increased latency. The latter’s impact on, amongst other things, the requirement for low latency betting streams would be an issue for some of Volleyball World’s partners. In the end, broadcast partner feedback was excellent in terms of image quality and in some cases, quality was considered better than with satellite delivery. Feeds were generally also turned around faster than they were before, especially when compared with intercontinental distribution of satellite feeds under the previous workflow.

The results of the switch to a cloud production workflow speak for themselves. Volleyball World increased production volume ten-fold and costs were estimated to be cut by a seventh, compared to the cost of distributing the equivalent content via satellite. They also enjoyed increased flexibility to sell media rights to broadcasters up until the day before the event and create new content assets for broadcasters.

Delivering a sustainable future for live sports broadcasting

One of the most significant benefits that the switch to a cloud production workflow brought to Volleyball World was a general reduction in their carbon footprint resulting from reduced power consumption and fewer people traveling on-site (no SNG and no on-site commentary).

Moving forward, Volleyball World is planning to create a dedicated remote master control room to edit their live productions. This will enable them to improve consistency by using the same production team for all productions while reducing costs and environmental impact.

The environmental benefits of cloud production are increasingly being understood and measured. In a recent white paper, cloud video editing experts and LiveU technology partner, Blackbird, demonstrated that a cloud native video editing solution can save up to 91% carbon emissions compared to a traditional workflow.

Blending the traditional with the new

While IP distribution is on the rise, satellite distribution still remains critical to many broadcasters across the world. Many of our sports clients ask us for hybrid satellite / IP distribution solutions which led LiveU to partner with the leader in global content connectivity solution, SES.

We are collaborating to convert satellite feeds to IP so that feeds can be distributed via cloud production platforms and ingested by, for example, a sports OTT platform. This also works in reverse where a broadcaster does not have the capabilities to receive a feed that is distributed via IP. For example, Oranda Singapore recently deployed the SES and LiveU joint solution to distribute live broadcasts of sports climbing in Korea to viewers across EMEA, Americas and Asia.

Reach for the sky by taking your production to the cloud

While many of the most advanced cloud production use cases in sport have been focused on so-called second or third tier sports, there is undoubtedly a broader shift happening across the industry. Advances in technology, including the roll-out of 5G cellular networks, will further accelerate the adoption of the cloud as the default for live sports production.

The flexibility of the cloud presents all manner of opportunities to integrate added value elements that can enhance the experience and increase fan engagement. The scalability, cost effectiveness and environmental benefits speak to a bright future for cloud production workflows as the driver of a new era of live sports broadcasting.

LiveU is shaping the future of live video, powering video production workflows and cloud services for news, sports, and other verticals by offering the highest quality, reliable and cost-effective end-to-end solutions for all types of live production. For more information, visit LiveU’s website or follow the company on Twitter or LinkedIn.