2024’s summer of sport: A technological and commercial springboard

The tennis court in front of the Eiffel Tower for the Paris 2024 Olympics

By Kieran Kunhya, CEO, Open Broadcast Systems

Viewers across the globe will be transfixed this summer by monumental sporting achievements, all of which will be the culmination of years of work. While the summer of sport always brings huge sporting change and development, even innovation in sports at times, it is also a springboard for new technology.

In just four years, the way in which live sports is produced and distributed has changed dramatically. But for once, they are not solely technical changes – 2024’s summer of sport is a tipping point for commercial changes in the way broadcast technology is bought. Not only will those developments impact this year’s games, but the summer of sport will help to drive innovation, paving the way for more sporting events to be delivered using new technology.

The move to software and cloud

Behind the scenes, there will be substantial changes in the technology used to produce and deliver sporting content to viewers – changes which have also been a long time coming. The main drivers of this change are the move to software-based tools and the cloud, something that has been steadily increasing across all types of broadcast content over the past four years. Live sports broadcast has seen a lot of innovation in that time, initially driven by niche content that can more easily afford to experiment.

Now, however, as the use cases are proven, we are seeing this technology become more widespread and we are beginning to see more high-profile events adopting software and cloud-based tools and workflows. Indeed, the fact that the rack rooms at the summer sporting events contain substantially more IT hardware than ever before illustrates just how far we have come with transitioning the industry from fixed-function hardware to Commercial-of-the-Shelf (COTS) IT hardware.

However, if you consider even just the operational advantages, it is easy to see why it makes sense, especially for sporting events of this type, where the tools needed during the event could be very different to afterwards. Using COTS, the hardware can be repurposed for different uses, something that is simply not possible with fixed-function hardware. Once fixed-function hardware is deployed it can never be changed, whereas IT hardware comes in all shapes and sizes, meaning it can be adapted for the particular use case.

In our case, we can deploy generic compute resources and add capabilities in the field as requirements change. For example, in a major sporting event this summer, the small-form factor hardware we provided is capable of adding extra encoders or decoders, or even swapping between products.

Innovation in commercial models

As well as providing operational efficiencies, the move to software allows for innovation in commercial models. Traditionally, broadcast equipment has been a capex purchase owing to the cost of the specialist hardware. But the use of relatively lower cost IT hardware means more innovative Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) approaches can be used. Furthermore, the move to cloud has led to a much greater awareness of opex purchasing.

For major sporting events, it is obvious to see why event-based opex pricing is much more attractive. Of course, using COTS hardware means that the right tools can be added and removed as required. For media service providers, this allows for an easier reconciliation of costs to their clients. So, it is no surprise that this summer of sport has been the first where we have had a normalisation of opex purchasing, both during the evaluation and procurement process.

For us, this summer is the first time where end-users have specifically requested event-based pricing. As a result, several clients are using consumption-based billing during this summer of sport. And this trend is happening across every type of product and technology right throughout the media chain.

Live sports beyond the summer

Every four years we are used to seeing a flurry of new technical innovations in broadcasting. But this year, the revolution is happening behind the scenes and these developments will certainly continue right through sports broadcasting. The transition to COTS IT hardware is now unstoppable, especially with the move to IP technologies such as ST 2110, SRT and cloud processing, all of which lend themselves to using IT hardware. At the same time, the request for opex pricing will certainly continue for future events across a wide range of products. But it doesn’t stop there. All of this is of course a stepping stone for moving to fully cloud-based networks. I believe we will see this as a knock-on for all live broadcasts and maybe the next summer of sport will be entirely cloud-based.

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