Sky Germany plans more VR output for start of new Bundesliga football season
Germany’s Bundesliga kicks off its 52nd season on 22 August with a match between the reigning champions FC Bayern München and the 2009 winners VfL Wolfsburg. “Alongside the Bundesliga, we cover Bundesliga 2, DFB Pokal, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, Premier League and the Austrian league,” said Alessandro Reitano, director Sports Production at Sky Deutschland. “In all, we will show more than 1,300 matches from the best competitions in German and European football in the 2014/2015 season.”
Reitano explains that for Bundesliga matches Sky Deutschland utilises up to seven unilateral cameras on top of the output from Sportcast – a subsidiary of DFL, and the host broadcaster for Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. As Champions League host broadcaster, Sky Deutschland deploys up to 30 cameras – depending on the match requirements. All of Sky’s cameras are ISO’d for replays and analysis and a number of specialist units including high-speed cameras, aerial cameras and rail systems are used.
Although for the Bundesliga matches Sky relies a great deal on the coverage provided by Sportcast, Reitano does have some specific plans for the new season when it comes to engaging with its viewers.
“Next season we are planning a strong differentiation in our unilateral coverage, with graphics systems like Pointed Graphics and Vizrt Libero. The latter will tie in with our use of the NCAM augmented reality system that we have in place. Furthermore, we will run additional Ultra HD tests and will continue using Super Zoom.”
For the Topspiel der Woche (top match of the week), Sky in close cooperation with Sportcast and DFL for the Bundesliga season will use Pointed Graphics with tracking data in the live picture, as well as picture-in-picture sequences to provide analysis during the match. The NCAM is used for high-quality virtual graphics that results in new presentation possibilities before and after the match. This enables players or coaches who are ‘built’ as 3D models can be virtually shown next to the presenter.
The 4K-SuperZoom camera will be used for extreme close-ups with 3840 x 2160 pixels. This will enable the creation of a singular small picture detail, which can be used for controversial decisions and similar situations.
Viz Libero is Vizrt’s 3D analysis tool which combines replays and advanced virtual graphics for sports broadcasts. “Our post-game Viz Libero is a one-box-solution,” said Stephan Würmlin-Stadler, executive VP Sports at Vizrt. “Viz Libero can handle various camera inputs at the same time, such as the main camera and offside cameras on the left and right, and can be installed either in the OB Van or in the studio. Sports channels will often have multiple seats of Viz Libero, as they are generating a great number of analysis clips for their broadcasts.”
He said the system gives viewers unprecedented insight into controversial or tactically interesting incidents that take place on the pitch. “A new plugin interface for data providers, which was used at the World Cup in Brazil, allows companies like Deltatre, Stats, or Opta to feed the Libero system with the live player tracking position and statistical data to show in the broadcaster’s analysis. Furthermore, different types of heat maps can be displayed and the event logger from the data provider can be used to directly ingest the desired analysis clip to the Viz Libero system.”
Reitano mentioned additional testing of Ultra High Definition during the upcoming season. “We carried out the first Ultra HD test of the football match between FC Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in December 2012, where we laid the foundation for the development of UHD. This test was followed by many further productions with the goal of gradually approaching a full end-to-end Ultra HD live production capability. On 26 April 2014, Sky Deutschland broadcast the world’s first football match – FC Bayern Munich and SV Werder Bremen — live over satellite in Ultra HD with 50 frames per seconds encoded with the new HEVC standard. Later, we transmitted the DFB Pokal Final on 17 May.”
A great deal was learned about UHD coverage – especially camera placements – during those two historic broadcasts. And Sky Deutschland will build on that experience in the months ahead. “In addition, we are currently showing one match of the Bundesliga per month in 3D.”
Bearing in mind the recent World Cup in Brazil, does Reitano feel there are any lessons to be learned from watching that coverage? “In my opinion, there were too many replays and too many high speeds. Therefore, the viewer had to miss some live action on the field at some point.”
But does he think the extensive World Cup coverage has influenced viewers’ perceptions/expectations? “No, I don’t think so. At Sky, we are already constantly delivering a high quality product with lots of innovations and are continuously improving our services and our offering, bringing new perspectives for our viewership.”