SVG Europe Sit-Down: Reality Check Systems’ Mike Ward on evolving strategies and OTT expectations

Reality Check Systems’ Mike Ward

Reality Check Systems (RCS) ignites on-air viewing experiences for some of the most-watched sporting, eSports and entertainment events on television, second screen and OTT services. With offices in Burbank, CA and London, RCS has partnered with the world’s leading sports leagues, federations, networks and social media giants since 1997 to fuel audience engagement through a customised fusion of dynamic graphics, real-time data, and social media. To give shape to each client’s unique vision, RCS develops sophisticated graphics and production systems that can be seamlessly deployed in a wide array of professional environments. Managing director EMEA Mike Ward provided SVG Europe with a comprehensive insight into the technology behind the success…

Your blog states ‘For Premier League clubs, a savvy digital strategy is almost as important as a standout team roster.’ Can you tell us how RCS achieves that strategy?

As more clubs look for ways to engage their fans at home – and, increasingly, abroad – digital technology offers them significant opportunities. In addition to giving their fans more relevant and interesting content, this can also open up additional revenue streams. For example, we ran a pilot with Grabyo for Southampton FC before their big match against Man Utd. The club created a 60-minute pre-match show that streamed live to Facebook and had over 30,000 views despite very little publicity.

The show enabled fans all over the world to see club legends interviewed and talking about the game and then discussing the line ups when they were announced. Using our digital graphics platform, Singular.Live, in conjunction with Grabyo, Southampton FC was able to present broadcast quality full screen line-up graphics with player headshots immediately after they were announced. The presenter discussed this with a club legend and it was all streamed to Facebook Live using Grabyo without the need for traditional broadcast infrastructure. In other words, very little cost for great content that resonated with the fan base.

What is the next major development for OTT services?

The next major development is adoption. The technology is already in place for fantastic OTT services like our client DAZN, for example. Adoption of technology by OTT platform owners to allow them to refine and expand their offering. Adoption by customers whether they are cutting the cord of their cable/satellite subscriptions or adding it as an additional service. Also the adoption of OTT as a viable platform for content distribution by Leagues and Federations. Many of our clients are looking at what others are doing, analysing them and waiting for the right moment to make their own move. At this stage, technology is not the obstacle. Improving networks and 5G will only accelerate the expansion of OTT services.

Are there different demands for graphics for social media streaming compared to ‘traditional’ TV viewing?

Until now graphics for social media streaming have been very limited, principally by the technology on offer. Traditional graphics workflows and hardware are simply not a viable option for most people streaming to social media due to both cost and expertise. However, now with Singular.Live anyone streaming to social media can very quickly and easily have fully animating broadcast quality graphics on their stream. They can also have the graphics for free with a Singular watermark on the output or pay $20 an hour on the stream. Singular.Live meets all the demands of our streaming clients in so far as it delivers high quality graphics without any requirement for investment in hardware, software or licences. They can access pre-made graphics compositions that are included with the platform. Or they can make their own.

How does your relationship with Singular.Live benefit your clients?

All our broadcast clients are actively looking to do more on digital whether this is streaming additional content, building out separate offerings for their customers or creating new content entirely. Much of what they know from traditional live production and distribution is often not necessarily the best option – and keeping up with new technology is challenging. As we all know, anyone working in broadcast and production is already very busy keeping up to date with the huge transformations going on in our industry. Many of them rely on RCS to help them stay on top of the opportunities that these changes offer. Singular.Live represents one example where RCS has seen a gap in the available solutions for digital production. Our partnership with Singular.Live has allowed us to learn a huge amount about digital production whilst at the same time developing a solution for the production of graphics for streaming.

Tell us more about RCS LaunchPad…

LaunchPad is a product that has been on air for five years and has been constantly evolved and developed with our clients. LaunchPad was created to provide a better touchscreen football analysis tool than what was then available on the market. It is used by clients across the world including beIN Sports (in five territories and five languages). Powered by Opta data that updates live, LaunchPad has integrated with multiple third-party devices including Libero and Piero, as well as EVS, Grass Valley and Abacus among others. LaunchPad is used by the BBC for their football programming, but has also recently been used by them for their Commonwealth Games coverage where they focused on the social media application and custom headlines graphic templates. This meant users could create their own bespoke graphics in the dedicated web portal, which are then instantly available in the touchscreen.

Using our cloud-based Foundation data service, Opta data is delivered over the internet, meaning clients need only have a Viz engine, touchscreen, power and internet access with our LaunchPad system to be up and running with the latest data.

Are there any future plans you can share with us?

We have recently converted a large part of our Burbank office into a fully functional streaming studio. We expect to be creating a lot more of our own content, as well as some client content out of that facility, while also learning a lot more about the multiple technologies available for digital streaming and production. A large part of this will be focused on Singular.Live and there will be many developments coming with that over the next 12 months. In addition, we expect to be extremely busy with many of our long-term clients and more recent additions in eSports (like Riot and Blizzard) as well as OTT clients like DAZN and our increasing partnerships with content creators on YouTube and twitch.

Do you have a European sports related case study you can share?

With so many new projects over the last year including BBC and Eurosport taking LaunchPad as well as the launch of the new Norwegian Football graphics package, multiple projects for OTT platform DAZN and ongoing work for WTA as well as the new season of Eredivisie production, it is hard to focus on one case study.

However, as a good example of something new that pulls together our new partners and technologies, our work with Ball Street for a new YouTube project we have worked on is an interesting case study.

At the start of last season, August 2017 , we partnered with a new client to help create a new live YouTube show called The Kick Off, sponsored by Coral Ladbrokes. The weekly show is streamed live during key Premier League Matches and is hosted by YouTubers True Geordie and Laurence McKenna. With their collaborators and guests, they use our LaunchPad system to analyse matches live as they happen. The show runs for several hours following the action while it happens. It now also incorporates graphics powered by Singular.Live, including a ticker that is integrated with Opta data to show live scores and scorers, as well as using the Grabyo platform for live clip generation and distribution.

The show has been a huge success with over half a million views each week. Coral is delighted with the success and have smashed their targets, already signing up for next year. For us, it has been a great example of a very new form of presentation using the best of what we have from traditional broadcast, integrating it into a completely digital production using new tools like Grabyo and Singular. We’re excited to push things further next season.

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