Live from the World Cup: FIFA TV, Sony Reflect on World Cup Technical Innovations
Football fans will remember the 2014 FIFA World Cup as a tournament full of competitive action, stunning upsets, disheartening defeats, and, ultimately, a German championship. But it will also be remembered for technology innovation and HD coverage that started with a minimum of 34 cameras for each match (and 300 cameras total, including ENG crews) and, ultimately, resulted in 20 different feeds that delivered more than 5,000 hours of content that included coverage of 64 matches and hundreds of feature stories, press conferences, interviews, and more.
“I think we had a lot of challenges but the broadcast of the first match became a big thing for both FIFA TV and HBS because it went well,” says Niclas Ericson, FIFA TV, director. “And then when one venue after the other held their first matches it was a boost to continue to deliver great productions of extremely good football that featured goals. HBS delivered an outstanding production that met our expectations and delivered for our [rights holders].”
Technical improvements to the HD workflows are only the beginning of the technical achievements at this year’s World Cup as FIFA TV, HBS, Sony, and NHK advanced the industry through a combination of 4K and 8K productions as well as a comprehensive second-screen application based around video content and even a 360 degree camera experiment with German-based innovator Fraunhoffer Heinrich Hertz Institute in Berlin that was held on the day of the final.
Out of all the achievements with respect to future technologies it is probably the work done on the second-screen that will have the longest lasting impact. Giving rights holders the ability to easily stream live matches, stats, and comprehensive, multi-angle highlights via white label apps made the World Cup an interesting case study into the impact second-screen viewing would have on TV viewing.
“They go with each other and compliment each other,” says Stefan-Eric Wildemann, FIFA TV, manager, sales and distribution. “And it was interesting to see the relationship between the first and second screen start to become meaningful.”
He points to the 5.3 million unique viewers that ESPN and Univision had in the U.S. as a sign of the growing usage as well as the 24 million people who used the white label app in only 60 territories around the world (the U.S. was not one of them).
As for the 4K efforts, Mark Grinyer of Sony says the key takeaway for Sony is that the 4K productions were proper commercial productions.
“The technical operations were different than the Confederations Cup production that was a test as here the production was fairly rock solid. The premise was to do a proper production and offer it to rights holders so that they could take it as a trial and whatever they wanted to do with it.”
Grinyer says that feedback to the 4K efforts was good and there is still learning to be done about lensing and the best camera angles.
“Last year we were really at about 50% in terms of where we wanted to be and this year we are at around 85% when it comes to doing a full production,” he adds.
The 4K productions benefitted from being held in different sized stadiums as each created new challenges for 4K in terms of camera placement and lensing. A stadium like Maracana in Rio, for example, has much greater distances between the pitch and camera positions, creating a challenge for the production as lensing issues still prevent the use of large zoom lenses that can get close up images.
“We were able to find out what works and doesn’t work in certain situations as well as get input from the directors and production crews,” he adds. “And we also had some new technology like the ability to record 4K as a single fie and create the first 4K archive of FIFA World Cup matches.”
Rights holders took the 4K productions and experimented with delivery to viewers via IP, digital terrestrial, and even satellite. And a cinema broadcast of the final made use of HEVC encoding at 60 Mbps to deliver 4K to actual paying customers.
“And the work Globosat did here in Brazil with set-top box tests proved they can deliver it with HEVC,” adds Grinyer.
Two big takeaways for Grinyer was that the industry is on the advent of having set-top boxes with HEVC encoding to carry content to consumers and also the proven benefits of delivering a 60 frames-per-second signal.
“This is a great stepping stone to take 4K forward and continue to overcome technical steps,” adds Grinyer. “And broadcasters in Korea and Japan are showing a lot of intent to continue steps forward.”
Ericson says the successful efforts at this year’s World Cup with respect to UltraHD and the second screen will be something FIFA TV can build on in 2018 when the World Cup will be held in Russia.
“Most of the rights have been placed so we can focus more on what we are going to deliver,” he says. “And there are a lot of expectations for what we should deliver for the Women’s World Cup in Canada next year.”
While 4K and even 8K may be fairly steady targets to aim for with respect to future productions Wildemann says it is difficult judge how the second-screen market will develop as it depends much on what happens with respect to devices and capabilities.
Regardless of what those developments are, look for 2018 to offer additional innovation.
“FIFA TV is taking a leading role in these projects and that is something we want to continue with,” says Ericson.