Inside the Lab: Avid Senior Manager Sports Solutions Amir Hochfeld on creating ‘islands of technology’ in sports venues
SVG Europe ventures to Amir Hochfeld, Senior Manager Sports Solutions at Avid, that one of the greatest challenges confronting broadcast manufacturers is to maintain the cycle of new product development while keeping up with the expectations of a customer base whose requirements are evolving at a rate that is arguably without recent precedent. “It’s the question we are asking every day,” he agrees, “and, specifically, How can we help our customers deliver all the different types of content that they want to produce, to all the different platforms they service?”
Although these issues are obviously acute in the ‘traditional’ broadcast centre and OB environment, they are also increasingly pivotal to federations and clubs looking to generate content that is closely tied to the venue, match-day or fan experience. Hochfeld confirms that more and more stadia and arena are looking to install permanent broadcast-ready set-ups, but the extent of these solutions is inevitably informed by the availability of resources and audience expectations.
Fortunately, says Hochfeld, Avid is able to offer solutions pitched at a number of different levels. “There are really three main levels. The first is venue content management in venues for live games; the second is media servers for replays and highlights; and the third is back office technology to manage content for non-live [applications].”
Although it is still a mixed outlook, Hochfeld says that “in general venues are now facing the challenge [with a greater willingness to invest]. Of course, they have to deal with cost issues and so on, but there is a clear impetus to “provide more and more content to engage vans and create a better experience inside the stadium. And that means the need to achieve, for example, broadcast [standard] graphics, [exclusive] video material of various kinds, and effective asset management.”
In many cases, venue operators are approaching the challenge “with much less in the way of budget than broadcasters.” The onus, therefore, is on “creating cost-effective islands of technology within these non-broadcast environments,” but which fundamentally have broadcast-quality capabilities. They also need to be conducive to operational patterns that may, for example, revolve around one primary system operator at any one time
Comprehensive implementation of Avid’s MediaCentral platform – whose modular design provides a full suite of apps, services and connectors with a view to “creating and delivering more content in shorter timeframes” – enables venues to adopt a very flexible approach to their creation and handling of content. “So they can process and edit the content as they see fit – push it out to different platforms, and also back to in-house systems [such as large screens and VIP suites],” says Hochfeld.
Different sports, different opportunities
As might be expected, Hochfeld confirms that the biggest driver in Europe with regard to individual sports remains football, although increasingly there is plenty of activity around basketball, ice hockey (especially in Eastern Europe), handball and rugby. “There are some sports where there is a move towards bigger presentations, [greater range of content] and more fan engagement inside the stadiums.”
A major contributor to the content in some venues is club-specific channels, such as Chelsea TV, and although these are obviously more common in the higher leagues it is logical to expect smaller clubs and associations to explore similar outlets as the entry-to-market price-point continues to drop.
From the capabilities of “one box solutions” to the most elaborate production infrastructures, there is plenty to engage the Avid R&D teams, who currently number several hundred employees around the world. Hochfeld cites facilities based in Poland, Israel and the US, with constant communication and exchange of ideas between the teams. “The cycle of change is definitely increasing,” he says, highlighting the need for responsive R&D processes that is surely shared by all large broadcast vendors.
As the amount of content increases, so does the need for the accompanying data to be managed as effectively as possible. Along with this requirement, Hochfeld also cites “efficiency of distribution” as a top priority; indeed, it may even be more pressing in the stadium environment than the broadcast studio.
These days it is more than likely that “you will be wanting to send content to [the main stadium screens], secondary screens, VIP suites and so on.” Flexibility is the name of the game, therefore, and it is bound to be “an essential element of the discussion” for many years to come, says Hochfeld.
In tandem with the ongoing development of the MediaCentral platform, Avid will remain engaged with customers as they work out how to monetise these new content streams most effectively. There is great opportunity, says Hochfeld, for ‘smart stadiums’ to “grow new sources of revenue” if they apply meticulous planning to the delivery of replays, interviews, commercial messages and other bespoke content.
Ultimately, it’s all about delivering “the right content at the right time to engage fans in the right way,” says Hochfeld. No small task, but one that holds remarkable creative (and revenue-enhancing) opportunities for those prepared to make the effort.