Interview: Alex Pannell, Appear CCO, on the media processing and content delivery revolution

By Alex Pannell, Appear CCO.

What are the main trends affecting the way sports federations, leagues, associations, clubs and other rights owners are creating and sharing their content?

One major trend is the increased use of live streaming to reach global audiences. This approach allows sports entities to engage with fans in real-time, regardless of geographical boundaries, enhancing fan experience and loyalty. When you pair this with the growth in multi-platform distribution, including social media and bespoke apps, the ability to offer tailored content, engaging diverse audience segments and providing more interactive and immersive experiences becomes more important.

Another trend is the leveraging of advanced analytics for content personalisation and viewer engagement. For example, in Formula 1, real-time race analysis, competitor comparisons and dynamic performance insights transform spectators into active participants. Each F1 car is equipped with up to 300 sensors, collecting up to 10,000 data points per second, accumulating 4TB of data during a race. Utilising this data to deliver to fans in real-time, brings them closer to the action, enhancing their understanding and engagement with the sport.

This consumer demand for more immersive viewing experiences can also be seen in the rise of additional camera angles and super slow-motion replays. Sports like Formula E use over 200 cameras, while PGA Tour events utilise up to 120 cameras for ‘Every Shot Live’ coverage. ATP tournaments generally use 15 to 25 cameras for main court broadcasts, but the Grand Slam tournaments can employ over 100 cameras, depending on the event’s scale and significance. In terms of low- and ultra-low-latency (ULL), most rights owners strive for near real-time transmission, with delays often measured in milliseconds. This is crucial for scenarios requiring instant feedback or interactions, such as VAR, eGaming and betting.

How has the landscape of media processing and content delivery evolved over the past decade, and what key trends will shape its future?

The shift from traditional broadcasting to more flexible, digital-first approaches has revolutionised media processing and content delivery. This shift allows for more tailored and interactive viewer experiences, accommodating the growing demand for on-demand and live streaming content.

The adoption of cloud technologies and IP-based delivery, including Secure Reliable Transport (SRT), over the past ten years has enhanced scalability and reduced costs for many rights holders. Cloud-based solutions provide the flexibility to manage and distribute content efficiently, adapting to varying viewer demands and technical requirements.

In addition, the emergence of 4K, HDR and 360-degree video formats is shaping the future of content delivery. These high-definition formats require higher bandwidth and more efficient compression technologies, driving innovation in media processing solutions to ensure seamless and high-quality viewer experiences.

What are the challenges and opportunities presented by live event contribution, and how is Appear helping those in the sports production sector to overcome them?

Challenges in live event contribution include the high demand for real-time, high-quality streaming and issues related to latency and bandwidth. These challenges necessitate robust and reliable technological solutions to ensure seamless live broadcasts.

Opportunities lie in leveraging modular, scalable technology solutions to improve reliability and efficiency in live transmissions. Appear addresses these needs by providing high-capacity, sustainable solutions that adapt to dynamic live event requirements. For example, our new JPEG XS module enables the delivery of eight full HD channels per module, equating to a possible 96 JPEG XS full HD channels across a single 2RU chassis. We also provide unrivalled HEVC performance, enabling 96 full HD HEVC feeds to be contributed from a 2RU chassis.

We recently worked on a video signal alignment proof of concept (PoC) for a major US auto racing brand. This involved sending multiple alternate camera feeds to the cloud along with telemetry data. Viewers could select alternate camera views, see telemetry data and listen to aggregated team communications via an app.

A further major development in our portfolio this year resulted in us being awarded the 2024 NAB Product of the Year Award in the Connect (Hardware Infrastructure) category for our X Platform Hardware-accelerated SRT. This product harnesses the potential of the SRT protocol to redefine broadcast-quality video transport over the internet, supporting up to 22 UHD camera feeds and managing over 192 SRT connections with an impressive throughput of 18 Gbit/s in a single 1RU chassis.

With the rise of remote production, what technological advancements have been crucial in ensuring seamless collaboration and high-quality content creation across dispersed teams?

The rise of remote production has highlighted the importance of a robust telecommunications infrastructure. Traditional sports arenas typically have dedicated fibre links with high-speed bandwidth, but smaller or non-traditional locations often vary in connection quality. Advances in network technology, such as 5G, will improve the speed and reliability of remote contributions over time. In the meantime, good-quality compression platforms, like Appear’s X Platform, mitigate bandwidth issues by providing low-latency compression and decompression functions, making video easier to transport over IP. The X Platform offers standards interoperable format support, control APIs, encryption solutions, physical and content redundancy models, and robust firewall and traffic policing capabilities.

Enhanced security protocols are also crucial for protecting content and data across distributed networks. For example, SMPTE RP2129 provides recommendations for implementing secure media transport over IP networks. By adhering to this standard, broadcasters and content owners can enhance network robustness and security, safeguarding valuable content assets.

Appear’s X Platform includes built-in tools required to implement media edge trust boundaries without external devices. It enables multiple secure connections, has an internal firewall with built-in bitrate policing capability, and ensures resilient and robust media transport security.

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