Artificial intelligence and machine learning: Inside Deltatre’s Innovation Hub

Inside Deltatre’s Innovation Lab, in the ‘OGR’, an innovation and art hub in Turin, Italy. (Pictures taken pre-pandemic)

Deltatre has a global presence, high profile client base and impressive product and services suite. However, it acknowledges that the business, and indeed the wider industry, must continue to innovate by uncovering technologies that will be central to a ‘fan first’ experience in the years to come.

With that in mind, Deltatre launched its very own inhouse Innovation Lab in 2019. Here we talk to Pietro Marini, group head of innovation at Deltatre, about the importance of the Hub and what the company is trying to achieve with it.

When and why did you set up the Deltatre Innovation Hub? 

Deltatre’s story is characterised by innovation, and the company has been synonymous with uncovering ‘what’s next’ in sport and entertainment technology throughout its 30-plus year history.

Separate from everyday commercial activity and client relationships, those working in the Lab are free to explore new ideas and technologies. I have worked for the firm in multiple capacities during my 10 years at the company, and I now serve as its head of innovation.

All of us at Deltatre, not just those working in the Lab everyday, are committed to exploring, investigating and uncovering new technologies that will transform the way fans experience their favourite games, events and shows.

Deltatre’s group head of innovation, Pietro Marini

What’s the idea behind it?

We know that we can’t stand still. The pace of innovation is more impressive than ever, and we recognise that the way that fans interact with and consume sport is not going to be the same in five years’ time as it is now. We want to be the company that is driving that change, and one that enriches the experience for our clients and the end users.

To that end, we can learn from our journey. One of Deltatre’s first projects was working on timings for Formula 1, before pioneering the online publishing of real time results for the IAAF, way back in the mid 90s.

Since then we’ve worked on some of the largest sporting events on the planet and today, we’re the partner of choice for organisations looking to augment their offerings across over the top (OTT), broadcast, live, digital and design.

We must ensure that Deltatre’s Lab isn’t just a copycat of another brand. There is space for opinions, questions and ideas from everyone in the business, no matter which function they work in.

Indeed, Deltatre’s Innovation Lab was created to foster an innovation-oriented culture across the entire group, and to provide everyone within Deltatre with the means to actively contribute to the company’s innovation process.

However, we’re acutely aware that the Lab must contribute to client projects and elevate what those clients can offer their customers. So, everything that we do in the Lab is to enrich Deltatre’s value proposition that differentiates our products and services from our competitors. We know that in some cases, a company may have an innovation lab which serves more as a marketing tool. We want our work to be rooted in reality, and with a genuine focus on solving client challenges.

Deltatre’s Innovation Hub, “was created to foster an innovation-oriented culture across the entire group, and to provide everyone within Deltatre with the means to actively contribute to the company’s innovation process”

What happened to and within the Hub over lockdown? 

As a global business we’re used to working remotely, and presenting ideas and strategies that way, so in that sense, we were well prepared for the changing work conditions. So, we’ve pressed on with our projects and work, assisting internal teams and clients where needed.

Of course, the past few months has allowed the team to reflect on the work we’re doing, whether that is to plot a different course, reprioritise certain projects and so on.

Certainly, it has been a time of impressive innovation from across our industry, generally speaking. We’ve certainly seen a significant acceleration on our clients’ side in terms of innovations.

What came out of it during this period? Anything that particularly relates to or helps the way sports broadcasting is working today?

As live sport has returned, we have had to be nimble and adapt to new ways of working, and there is no better example of this than our remote production capabilities.

It has been challenging, but thanks to a combination of existing technologies and the industry’s ability to innovate quickly, the work by directors, editors, and graphics operators can still be executed in a way that is familiar and ensures that quality is not compromised. It has meant we could continue to support events around the world without a drop in quality.

As mentioned, it’s not just the Lab itself that is centred on innovation; all of what we do has that central motivation in mind.

One major business achievement in terms of innovation and augmenting our product offering was the launch of mtribes. We were delighted to bring this to market in early spring.

mtribes brings together UX control, user targeting and audience insights under one centralised console for non-developers. This is so important, especially at the current time. After all, every fan is different, so there is a need to understand, segment and engage them in a targeted way.

This launch and design process is testament to the innovative spirit of the company as a whole.

The Deltatre Innovation Hub in Turin, Italy

What is being worked on in the Hub right now, of interest to the sports broadcasting community?

For the most part, our focus is on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). This is of course in addition to improving our current products and services offering.

AI and ML are complex areas to explore, but we’re positive that both will transform the way we enjoy sport and entertainment in the coming years.

As always, the focus is to build features that enhance our products, to maintain our positioning as global market leaders in the industry, while ensuring we are proposing innovative solutions to clients

As far as AI and ML are concerned, the three most relevant areas we are currently active on are : metadata extraction through vision; personalisation through user attributes and behaviour analysis; natural language processing needed to power automated content generation or voice-based solutions.

All these areas will translate into features which can be added to existing products and services, while others will act as standalone offerings. This of course requires alignment with our internal teams, particularly during the proof of concept phase.

Of course, one challenge that we face in the Innovation Lab, and one that is often shared among the innovation community, is knowing which ideas and projects to prioritise, which to dispense of, which are better off revisited at a later date and so on.

What are the big trends you’re working on at the Hub now? 

As mentioned, AI is one major trend and area of focus. Of course, this is nothing ‘new’ per se, but the industry is still working out how it can provide the best value to fans.

We are certain of the increased role it will play in content editing, video indexing, content recommendations and next-gen content among others.

Aside from this Deltatre is conducting several experiments concerning video analysis services, archive video restoration, natural language processing and early exploration of emerging technology trends such as volumetric video and 3D holograms.

Deltatre has instigated initiatives relating to speech recognition data gathering systems and is now focussed on voice services, to provide fans at home with the most immersive and interactive experience possible.

Where are you going with the Hub? Future projects? 

We have big plans not just for the Lab but for Deltatre more generally. We’re constantly evolving, augmenting our products and services and adding extra value to our offering.

Away from the day-to-day responsibilities, I am part of the wider innovation community, particularly in Italy, where Deltatre has its roots. I also am a passionate advocate of the innovation community in a broader sense.

Outside of this daily role at Deltatre, I have served as a mentor for ‘Techstars Smart Mobility Accelerator’. What’s more, Deltatre and myself support several start up companies within Italy and beyond, providing mentorship and expertise.

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