2020 will raise the bar even higher for sports broadcasting than action-packed 2019 says Grass Valley
By Tim Shoulders, president, Grass Valley
Live sports broadcasting has always been at the cutting edge of production techniques and the driving force behind the evolution of television. A bumper year for major sporting events, 2020 will raise the bar even higher, with events like the Tokyo Olympics, the Ryder Cup golf and the Euro 2020 soccer keeping audiences around the world glued to their screens.
Sports content remains a big draw for consumers and broadcasters alike. In the US alone, the sports media market is set to reach $22.42 billion by the end of 2019 (SportBusiness Consulting).
Traditional linear broadcast, which has long been the stronghold for premier sports, is now under pressure from newer entrants to the live sports arena, as online and streaming companies muscle in on the market. Niche sports are also pursuing direct-to-consumer models, creating even more competition for viewers’ attention. WWE, for instance, reached 1.51 million paid subscribers and saw revenues rise to $186.3 million in 2019 (WWE Q4 2019 results).
Production becomes distributed
Linear broadcast has been facing tightening budgets for several years now while the pressure to deliver bigger and better productions is rising. Sports fans also want to access content on a variety of platforms from linear and online to social media. Increasingly, social platforms are the go-to content source for many consumers, with one in five sports fans now looking for content on social media (GlobalWebIndex).
The big question for sports content producers in 2020 will be: “How can we efficiently produce more great content?” Remote production, in its many forms, is the answer.
Remote production workflows will make a regular appearance in the months ahead. However, given the sheer number of major sporting events on the calendar in 2020, the industry will start to look for greater efficiencies. The next logical step – and certainly what our customers are telling us they need – is the wider distribution of resources.
At Grass Valley, we call this distributed remote production, which allows multiple locations to be utilised thanks to high bandwidth connectivity. Imagine a scenario in which a technical director can work on several events in a single day, regardless of where in the world they are taking place. What about having on-air talent cover multiple games without having to travel? We are not too far from this being a reality.
Esports will show the way
While traditional sports production is becoming more centralised, it will be shaped by a global phenomenon. 2019 saw eSports secure a strong foothold in the mainstream and increasingly adopt traditional sports broadcast approaches to deliver the high quality content that gaming fans demand.
Esports is the domain of a new generation of sports fans; they watch on different platforms, engage in a whole host of ways, and have a strong social presence. During a live production, eSports producers even respond in real time to what fans want, reacting to live audience comments and feedback via social channels.
Traditional sports can gain valuable insight from the inherent approaches and features of Esports production and we expect to see more of this influence in the mainstream broadcast world. The interactive and mobile nature of eSports is also something that traditional sports producers can take valuable lessons from.
Anything that eSports does can be used in a traditional sports production context, so expect to see some changes when you settle down to watch Monday Night Football or the next UEFA Champions League final!
Resolution gets a dynamic touch
It’s not just interactivity and any screen access that are high on consumers’ lists. Sports fans want to feel that they are getting an equally good – or better – experience on their home screen as they would in the venue. This means giving them stunning images that bring them as close to the live action as possible.
Sports production has always led the way with adopting the latest resolution or formats; in 2020, the Tokyo Olympics will push the envelope further with 8K set to be widely used during the event.
With the excitement around the games, 8K will remain a big talking point in the coming year, without a doubt. However, we believe the big area of growth will be 4K UHD adoption. Although this is now the de facto content capture format for many high end productions, it’s still not universal so there is a lot of scope left in the market.
High Dynamic Range (HDR), which delivers the perceivable wow factor that consumers want – even in HD – will also be more prominent in the year ahead, particularly in premier live sports production.
Looking ahead with IP
IP underpins many of the themes above, opening up distributed remote production; supporting higher resolutions and social media integration; and allowing interactive services to be spun-up quickly.
We’re approaching the tipping point with IP and there’s enormous momentum and acceptance globally. The improved flexibility and workflow efficiency that IP delivers is a key focus for our customers as they drive to stay ahead of the curve in a fast moving mediascape.
At Grass Valley, our focus will remain on open standards. Customers tell us they want to choose best-of-breed systems without having to worry about complex integration. We are committed to driving interoperability, helping our customers build seamless multi-vendor systems within a single IP ecosystem.
The momentum behind IP will continue to drive the software-centric future of our business, with workflows hosted in the cloud – or virtualised on commodity hardware – and applications being orchestrated using software. We also expect to see developments in internal IP processing, or what’s known as full raster processing, rather than simple IP I/O. As a frontrunner in driving the industry transition to IP, these areas are a priority for Grass Valley.
Change on the horizon
Just as broadcasters have to evolve to stay ahead of the curve, live sports production is constantly changing to stay relevant to a new generation of fans. With so many high profile sporting events slated for 2020, there’ll be plenty of opportunity for sports broadcasters and production companies to trial and roll out new workflows and deliver new-look content, whether that’s UHD HDR or incorporating live social media interaction.
By the end of 2020, the industry will look very different from the way it did just 12 months ago. What won’t change, however, is the drive to help sports fans feel all the excitement and thrill of a game from the comfort of their armchair.