Blackmagic Design’s Simon Westland discusses the new generation of content creators

simon-westlandThe potential of more accessible and fully integrated production solutions to broaden the field of content creation to new user groups has been a recurring theme at SVG Europe summits over the last few years. Increasingly it’s a trend that is spreading beyond the high-level early adopters, such as various Premier League football clubs, to the lower leagues and more non-mainstream sports.

In this new interview, Simon Westland (pictured) – who is head of sales and marketing, EMEA, Blackmagic Design – outlines the scale of the demand being seen from venues, clubs and federations, as well as the possible impact of emerging technologies such as 4K, HDR and IP…

To what extent are venues, clubs, etc, now adjusting to the idea that they need to become content producers in their own right?

Many clubs and federations are already embracing the idea that they as brands can become content producers, not least because it serves to deepen engagement with fans and supporters. In fact, it also creates new commercial opportunities, which for sports that lack big money TV contracts, can be hugely successful in driving money back into the development of a sport and talent, while also broadening access and reach. We’ve seen some fantastic examples, whether it’s the world tours for sports such as squash and archery or the European Short Course Swimming Championships, through to football clubs across the Premiership, La Liga and Bundesliga.

In what ways is this trend most obviously manifesting itself?

Without a doubt, there has been a massive increase in all aspects of distribution: clubs and federations are doing more than ever to enhance the match day experience, producing additional content, whether that be interviews with players and pundits or special entertainment and live music. Fans are hungrier than every for content, and it’s down to the clubs or federations to make it as easy as possible to find and access it.

In years gone by, once a fan walked in through the ticketing gate he was yours for the entirety of the day. That is no longer the case. Smartphones and better mobile connectivity mean that fans aren’t the captive audience they once were. Clubs are seeing that and realising that in order to keep audiences engaged they’ve got to be producing great content in order to keep supporters and fans engaged with the experience throughout. AV is very much part of the ‘match day experience’ rather than a layer in itself.

To what extent is this an important market for Blackmagic Design, and can you identify some of your most popular solutions in this area?

This is definitely a growing aspect of the market and one that continues to surprise us, particularly when it comes to the extent and variety in which our solutions are being made use of. Whether that’s top flight European football teams or lower league sides building AV solutions around us, or federations and organisers across a range of sports, including sailing, horse riding and motor racing, using our products to fulfil all aspects of the production chain. Performance analysis is another aspect of sport where our products feature extensively, with clubs and federations doing everything they can to maintain the fine margins of competitive advantage. Our product range is so diverse, that we have something for everyone, regardless of budget.

From a venue perspective, what are the main hurdles for customers looking to move in this direction?

The key challenge for many in the world of sports, especially when you start talking about stadiums and arenas, has to be distance, and how you ensure signal integrity and quality over very long instances. Control rooms and PPU systems tend to rely on SDI for local video distribution, VT replay and at camera positions. However, linking these isolated positions is better done using optical fiber; converting from copper to fibre allows you to push the signals over hundreds of meters around a pitch or track, or to deliver content on to in-venue big screens.

Now, if the customer wants to manage content creation, or add revenue from online VOD or streaming services, they will have to also need to consider media storage and asset management from live camera feeds. Typically, this can be scaled up from dedicated encoders attached to production switchers for direct live streaming through to a full post-production workflow, allowing customers to craft and deliver rich media content access across a number of platforms.

We are also now starting to see the development and deployment of IP based solutions that bridge these two elements, and ease the workflow and production demands while increasing customer ROI on video technology even more. And right now all the customer wants to see is a low-cost solution for HD that’s easy to use and doesn’t handover over control of their networks to a third party. We as a manufacturer are currently looking at how we add IP end points into some of our existing products lines, using the TICO compression, in order to address that need.

Will we see other elements, such as VR and 4K with HDR, come into play over the next few years?

Right now, it comes down to the ability of clubs and federations to deliver more and more live content, and to be able to turn that around quickly is even more crucial. People want to see everything immediately, whether that’s the first interview with a new star signing, players in training or interviews with coaching staff. Today, ‘immediacy’ often trumps quality but there is a balance to be struck, and that is something clubs and federations will have to address.

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