Redefining the fan experience at home and in the stadium

By Andreas Unterweger, R&D manager, NativeWaves, and Professor of Media Technology, Salzburg University of Applied Sciences.

Dan is desperate. As a big sports fan he has had a miserable year and feels as though he has been robbed. In 2019, he could attend every important live event in person, and if that wasn’t possible, he could at least watch them on TV at home, limited by whatever camera view the broadcaster decided to show.

But in 2020, Dan – like so many others – has had to stay at home. Many of his favourite sporting events have been cancelled, and with those that did go ahead Dan’s only viewing option was his TV screen and a few hastily-put-together apps that were supposed to substitute for his usual experience.

While Dan can clearly see that some efforts have been made, he feels that they have not been good enough to come close to what he had in 2019. Stadiums with cardboard fans and races in front of empty stands are an inferior experience, even when there is an app that allows him to switch between two or three camera views. Next year, in 2021, there is nothing on the horizon that makes him think it could be better. Dan is truly desperate.

Doris is delighted. As a product manager at one of her country’s biggest broadcasters, she is proud to have worked on delivering ever-improving experiences to the viewers. In 2019, she finalised the transition to 4K resolution for all programmes. She knows some viewers might not have noticed, but those who have are very happy. In 2020, with so many live events cancelled, her team needed to improvise and provide viewers with a more immersive experience. They put together an app that wasn’t perfect, but it gave viewers the ability to switch between several available camera views on their second screen. The technology required to do this reliably was provided by a service partner and it worked so well that many excited customers sent thank-you messages to Doris. In 2021, she and her team will work on two of the biggest projects of her career – fully immersive live data integration into their app and on-site streaming in the stadium. Doris is convinced that technology has advanced just enough to enable these projects now. She is planning to announce them to the viewers in a big marketing campaign at the beginning of 2021 to get them excited. Doris is truly delighted.

What is this live data integration and on-site streaming that Doris is so excited about? Why and how will they create fully immersive viewing experiences in 2021 and what can these experiences do for fans like Dan?

Frame accurate synchronisation

For most major live events, not only are multiple camera views and audio tracks available (for example, commentators in different languages), but also additional live data that is generated during the event. This includes simple data such as the point tally, more complex data such as who is in possession of the ball in a soccer game at a given time, and background information and statistics. Data providers can supply Doris and her team with the raw data so that they can process it and make it available to customers like Dan.

Live data has, of course, been available for years, but until recently frame-accurate synchronisation – the crucial element needed to create a truly immersive experience – has been missing. For the experience to work it is important that any additional data is perfectly synchronised to the current camera view and audio track.

Doris knows that, in 2020, it is possible to synchronise camera views and audio tracks, but until recently she couldn’t find a service provider who was also capable of rendering and synchronising live data from different sources so that it could be displayed to augment the viewing experience. Fans like Dan will not accept watching someone as the race leader on screen when they were in fact overtaken two seconds earlier. Synchronicity is key and now that it can be achieved reliably in production settings with solutions from companies such as NativeWaves, there will be applications that can make use of the plethora of data that has barely been used before. Completely new data visualisations will be created and the fan experience at home will become much more immersive, thanks to synchronisation.

On-site streaming

In the stadiums and concert halls, a different kind technological breakthrough – on-site streaming – is waiting to reach the masses and immerse them into live events in ways that have never been experienced before. While ultra-low-latency streaming has been possible for decades, a collection of technologies is about to mature and become sufficiently widespread for fans like Dan to profit from them on their own smartphones and tablets.

First, 5th generation (5G) mobile networks and Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax) networks will improve scaling of live transmissions on site. Both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 can reduce transmission latency compared to previous standards to facilitate ultra-low-latency streaming. Similarly, their improved multi-user multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) capabilities provide significantly more bandwidth to each user in high-density settings such as stadiums, reducing the number of cell towers or hotspots that an infrastructure provider needs to set up.

Ready to go

Most mid-range-priced smartphones already have either Wi-Fi 6 or 5G hardware, and low-end ones are expected to have either or even both by next year. Secondly, Low-Latency HTTP Live Streaming (LHLS) has been finalised and is about be supported by players on all major smartphone platforms and web browsers. The availability of a widely supported low-latency streaming format built on well-known and thoroughly tested technologies will further improve on-site streaming, especially when combined with the live synchronisation capabilities that 2020 brought.

All the upcoming changes – 5G/Wi-Fi 6 availability and LHLS streaming with live synchronisation – will finally bring on-site-streaming experiences to fans like Dan as soon as the rollouts of the new technologies are finalised in stadiums and concert halls.

So, after all, there is hope for Dan. With a little bit of patience, new technological solutions and broadcasters sharing Doris’ vision, his viewing experience in 2021 will be unlike any he has ever had before. Thanks to innovative broadcasters working in tandem with service providers like NativeWaves, on-site streaming and synchronised live data will finally be ready for the average viewer. This will redefine the fan experience, both at home and in the stadium. And, given the miserable year fans like Dan have had, it can’t come a moment too soon!

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