Football behind-closed-doors: Icelandic firm offers to add virtual supporters and crowd-sourced sounds to live broadcasts
The Icelandic sports technology company OZ Sports has teamed up with a visual effects firm to launch a new service that allows virtual fans and crowd noise to be added to a live sports broadcast.
OZ Arena is an augmented reality offering that makes use of AI and Machine Learning to replace empty stands and a lack of atmosphere at matches – a problem that football federations, leagues and broadcasters are going to face as they re-start their seasons behind-closed-doors following the coronavirus pandemic.
Compatible with a multi-camera set-up, it can completely replace a stadium (in a virtual sense) or augment spectators into existing empty stadiums.
The technology can be deployed as a standalone solution, installed at a broadcaster’s facility, OB truck, or in the stadium, or as part of the OZ Connected Stadium which is the company’s offering for capturing, enhancing and distributing content.
OZ Sports is working with RVX, also based in Iceland, a studio that creates visual effects work for film and TV. Its credits include Everest, Gravity, The OA, 2 Guns and Sherlock Holmes.
“The idea is to protect the integrity and experience of the game, by turning the attention away from the empty stadium, and instead replacing it with appealing surroundings to make the game more interesting, and as close to reality as possible.”
To generate a match atmosphere, OZ Arena takes supporter noise and reactions from a dedicated mobile phone app and adds it to the live broadcast.
For this, servers aggregate all the fan audio, using low-latency time synchronisation and AI algorithms to manage volume levels, enabling fans to yell as loudly as they like remotely without overpowering the audio stream.
Gudjon Gudjonsson, the chief executive of OZ Sports, said: “Due to Coronavirus, we will see more games played behind closed doors with bans on large-scale public events. It is our job to keep the experience still as exciting as during the non-pandemic world. We do that by learning from esports, bringing new exciting elements into the real-world broadcasts. Our augmentation filters can be customised based on the branding strategy and the creative plan of the league.
“The idea is to protect the integrity and experience of the game, by turning the attention away from the empty stadium, and instead replacing it with appealing surroundings to make the game more interesting, and as close to reality as possible. These are times to explore and experiment, to make sports even more appealing and to bring it closer to the latest developments in esports.”
An AI and machine learning team – that includes specialists on both player and ball tracking – has developed a low-latency perception framework that provides a detailed semantic understanding of sports games. It combines object detectors, trackers and classifiers which are trained to perform in a sporting environment.
OZ Arena is available as a per-match service and can be audio-only or a fully immersive audio-visual package. The demo below shows the service in action.