Passing the Ball to Technology: How Innovation is Impacting Sports Broadcasts

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Sports always attract a lot of attention. International competitions like the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup are broadcast live on national TV channels, and there are many people who discuss players online. Watching your favourite  athletes and experiencing tense moments with them is something we all are so used to.

However, we still cannot watch semi-professional or non-professional teams live; they are often left behind in the backstage of big sports. This is happening due to the high cost of broadcasting, and due to the complexity of the process and technologies required for high-quality data transmission. Thankfully, we are already seeing evidence that this situation will change dramatically in the near future; broadcasts will become more accessible to matches of any level due to the introduction of new approaches. Let’s take a look at such innovations in sports and see how they are changing the industry.

Minimizing the Impact of Quarantine Restrictions

Automatic online broadcasting technologies are becoming even more important with the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions around the world, which have caused the current crisis in sports. Sport teams have been unable to play matches and have not made any revenue from them. Similarly, sports broadcasters lost hundreds of millions of dollars because they could not show ads during games. The fans stayed at home and will not return to the stadiums soon.

The pandemic has increased the need for automatic, high-quality match broadcast solutions that require minimal human management. Football clubs such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Celtic are already considering using an automatic online broadcasting system. Even before the pandemic, analysts predicted in 2019 that technology that attracts fans will have the greatest impact on sports in the future. We see that this is indeed the case (such as the the LA Galaxy fan engagement platform that GlobalLogic helped develop), and COVID-19 has only further influenced this trend.

Information is Changing the Sports Industry

There are two ways to grow and use video content in sports: (1) broadcast personalization and (2) sports analytics.

Sporting event broadcasts are becoming more and more personalized. For example, how about switching between cameras and watching match moments that are of interest to you? During the 2020 NFL season, CBS Sports deployed 26 cameras so that football fans could choose the one to watch — both live and on-demand. For now, such technology is not available to amateur sports, but it is a promising start.

Sports analytics is developing much faster than personalization. By capturing the video footage during a game, coaches and managers can quickly adapt their strategies and set new goals. Sporting matches now require more preparation than before, and the competition has become more intense in both professional and amateur leagues. Athletes can also watch a repeat of a sporting event, analyze their performance, and identify what can be improved. In addition, the entire team can prepare for future matches, noting the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents.

Technologies are Affordable to All

The implementation of advanced technology requires big money. While professional teams can purchase expensive equipment and hire a large team of specialists, amateur clubs cannot afford these luxuries. However, more and more new technologies are emerging that enable online broadcasting at relatively low costs. Some of these technologies can even be used in educational settings. For example, Polk County schools in North Carolina recently joined the National Federation of High Schools (NHFS) Network to stream sporting events online.

The main task of such systems is simple and obvious: to minimize the budget and to make the process of broadcasting games as simple as possible in both technical and organizational terms (i.e., the solution can be accessible for semi-professional and amateur clubs).

Pixellot AI Camera Solution

One such affordable broadcast system alternative is the Pixellot AI camera solution, which GlobalLogic helped develop and continues to evolve. Pixellot automates the end-to-end video production and data collection for broadcasting and coaching. The solution consists of several cameras in a single camera head unit, which is connected to a computer that controls the shooting mode (i.e., panoramic view or television view). The system (1) analyzes video streams in real-time, (2) automatically recognizes and tracks objects on the field, and (3) generates an authentic broadcast feed that follows the action of the game.

Each broadcast displays not only the total score of the game, but also the actions of each individual player (e.g., goals, assists, interceptions, blocks, fouls, etc.). All this is possible due to machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. The Pixellot system is able to recognize, monitor, and detect command colours. It can define the boundaries of a playing field, the role of the people who are on it (i.e., players,  referees, etc.), and what is happening on it (e.g., pass, goal, kick, etc.).

Pixellot is also making inroads into content personalization, which as I mentioned before, is a highly desirable technology for the sports industry. The system generates all players statistics per match or season in two clicks; creates highlight reels in moments; and allows you to download these videos, edit them, share them on social networks, comment on them, or save them. Whether you are a spectator, coach, talent recruiter, the Pixellot system makes the viewing process more interactive and interesting. It also opens up new horizons for analyzing and evaluating young players’ prospects.  Through analytics, an athlete can see their strengths and weaknesses and track their progress.

Future Development

This new broadcast technology will only evolve and spread in the future. We can already see this, especially when there are about 40,000 online broadcasts of 130 sports leagues on 6,000 fields and stadiums every month. Every day, more and more people are joining different platforms to watch online broadcasts. This applies even to school competitions. For example, the Jupiter Christian School in Florida has installed equipment for broadcasting sports games so that they can be watched at home. This is also important when talking about reducing the number of contacts during the quarantine. 

To improve the user experience when watching broadcasts online, integration with OTT media like Netflix or Megogo — which according to Forbes is already displacing traditional television — will be strengthened. The user will have an entire OTT online platform for their local or amateur club, which is currently nowhere to be found. In addition, there may also be integration with sports bookmakers, which are a large market.

Also in the future, viewers will be able to watch the game in a more interactive form using augmented or virtual reality. For example, with Pixellot, GlobalLogic plans to expand the system features and allow each user to freely choose what to look at: a ball, goal, player, or any other object. Our developers are also working on creating (1) a heat map of the field to track where a player was most active, as well as (2) an attack map that shows to which side of the field a player is most likely to pass, etc. 

So as online broadcasts gain momentum and become more commonplace and familiar to fans, new technologies will become integral to improving and expanding the current sports industry.

 

Pass the ball

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Ihor Rohatskyi

Project Manager, Engineering

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