Automated production: Vislink on delivering the content sports fans crave

By Daniel Carpini, Vislink marketing specialist.

It could be argued that the broadcast organisations behind live sports productions have become victims of their own success. Live sports viewers are now accustomed to high quality productions featuring multi-camera capture of onsite action, a dizzying array of angled shots and replays, nonstop expert commentary, sideline reporting and insightful (and sometimes controversial) pundit discussions.

In the face of this seemingly insatiable appetite for live sports consumption, content owners are seeking new ways to further engage existing viewers and to attract new ones. This has led to a concerted effort to identify new types of content to serve, new channels to distribute it through, and new production techniques to enhance monetisation opportunities.

Challenging the traditional

For many years, linear TV platforms have been the unchallenged source for live sports content. Many traditional live TV shows have targeted Tier 1 content, for example, high profile sports or primetime programming. Traditionally, live content production has often required a large team.

The image of outside broadcast truck fleets stationed to provide comprehensive coverage of major events is one that endures for many long-time industry participants. The associated costs required to make such productions happen have been quite considerable.

Over the last few years, there has been increased an interest in consuming sub-tier one sports content, particularly of local and regional athletics. This has presented an interesting opportunity for broadcasters and other content rights holders. More than ever before, new sporting rights are becoming available for lower tier content, with a fan base eager to consume such content.

The challenge for content owners looking to monetise new events and generate new revenue streams is how to produce this content in line with today’s budget realities, while delivering the tier one production values that viewers have become accustomed to.

One novel approach that is attracting growing interest among broadcast organisations and other content rights holders is in the area of automated production techniques. Leveraging a combination of machine learning and other artificial intelligence (AI) inspired technologies used in combination with the latest professional panoramic cameras allows the creation of video capture and production systems that can deliver high grade sporting productions.

The most advanced of these AI engines have the ability to identify players, differentiate between separate teams, track balls, pucks and other objects and their trajectories, even if temporarily obscured behind players, sticks and other objects. Incorporating automatically controlled pan-tilt-zoom cameras that utilise high quality optics and can get close to the action can help contribute even further to an immersive viewing experience.

Creative opportunities

Automated production systems have also opened up creative opportunities for hybrid AI-automated/human-operated deployment options. One example is retaining a human camera operator’s services, but relocating the camera to not cover the match, but rather to capture and deliver additional content from the sidelines of the event. This allows the opportunity to include interviews with players and the team coach or to cut-in reactions from players on the bench.

New content formats are also being devised with the goal of lengthening the viewing experience beyond live events, with companion shows and other video products. One of the more popular types is short-form content that be repurposed for distribution across multiple web, social media and other streaming platforms. This includes everything from highlights packages planned for scheduled TV consumption to quick clips destined for social media channels. According to a recent survey [Statistica 2021], the viewing of such sports clips is now even more popular than watching full live matches among regular content viewers.

To produce clipped content in volume, at speed, with a low-cost overhead, innovative automation tools are available which harness the power of AI to identify key moments within a sporting event, including everything from start, pauses, end to goals, fouls and penalties. Individual highlights can be generated, cut and interspersed together with appropriate graphics to create a complete highlights package and exported into the consumer delivery process. The result is an automated clipping workflow that delivers on customer engagement at low cost.

Automated production technologies are at the forefront of a transformation in the way content is captured, distributed, and monetised. Thanks to new technologies that incorporate high production values, multi-platform streaming capabilities and engagement-building features, new revenue streams can be realised by covering a wider range of events at a minimal increase in staffing and infrastructure costs. These capabilities have the potential to deliver streamlined workflows, increased engagement, and higher returns on live event coverage than previously possible.

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