SVG Europe Sit-Down: Sixty’s Henriette Sæther discusses the future of sports production in the multi-screen environment
‘Creating the future of television’ is the stated mission of Norwegian company Sixty, which works with broadcasters, operators and content owners worldwide to help them stand out in the competitive multi-platform era. More than ten years after the company was established, its current portfolio includes multi-screen TV, apps, broadcast graphics and web services.
Not surprisingly given its eternal status at the cutting edge of broadcast production, sports are an integral part of the Sixty business. In this interview, chief commercial officer Henriette Sæther reflects on the latest developments surrounding its Ease Live interactive graphics solution, the prospects of a “unified ecosystem” for content distribution, and a recent sporting highlight or two…
What do you think is Sixty’s greatest USP in terms of what it is offering to the broadcast industry?
We have been pioneers in the field of user experience design and front-end implementation in a multiscreen environment for over ten years. Our team has been involved with several disciplines both on the creative and on the technical side of projects. We have combined our experience with television design, on-air graphics design, virtual studios, openers, channel branding, with UX Design and development on front-end applications for set-top boxes, phones, tablets and web.
We offer a unique expertise in designing for television, on any screen, and within any technology. Our innovative products are designed to empower broadcasters, operators and content owners to stand out in the rapidly changing, competitive world of multi-platform TV.
In what ways is Sixty helping broadcasters to explore the new world of interactive TV?
Because of our unique pool of experts coming from different fields, we have been able to create solutions that overcome any technical limitations Ease Live is the best expression so far of our multidisciplinary expertise. This product enables broadcasters to distribute their on-air graphics, already existing for their linear broadcast, to any connected device, allowing the audience to easily access to them. Therefore the on-air graphics become interactive, and any kind of data such as statistics, highlights, maps, tracking data, sponsorships, advertisements, ecommerce, voting, betting, etc, can be fed in.
Ease Live generates endless opportunities to the user experience. By integrating Ease Live into any existing broadcast workflow, linear and online television merge thanks to the implementation of data and of the existing broadcast graphics. Ease Live can be used across business areas, and enhance any live content.
To what extent is sports an important contributor to the Sixty business at this time?
We have been working with major broadcasters creating their sports branding, openers, on-air graphics, virtual studios and more for over a decade. Our television design team has recently achieved the integration with Vizrt’s Viz Artist and Viz Trio and Ross Video’s Xpression. In both cases, Ease Live integration takes existing live Sports streaming workflows into account. Users do not have to add more staff, hardware or other resources to implement the plug-in. Instead, creative processes are simplified to speed graphics to viewers while minimising resource requirements within existing distribution flows.
Sports has been our key business area for a long time. We have created full branding for sports channels, and designed on-air packages for sports leagues and events such as the Olympics and different world championships. Sport is our passion, and Ease Live came to life thanks to that passion of ours.
What are the most significant challenges sports broadcasters, in particular, face in terms of integrating interactive/OTT services into their workflows – and how they can be overcome?
We perceive two main challenges. Firstly, Ease Live represents a new modern way of working within the broadcast industry. When discussing Ease Live with market leaders across the world, we realise that our solution requires a new way of working for broadcasters and their operational teams. Ease Live creates new teamwork opportunities by having different teams to cooperate. The digital department, the production department, and the market department need to work closely together when using Ease Live because our solution does not handle linear and online broadcast as two different entities, but it merges them into one workflow.
Secondly, our solution provokes some new thoughts about copyright regulation.
Ease Live enables endless opportunities for the broadcasters. The latter can add interactive elements to the existing live events. This feature challenges many holders of rights agreements, especially when it comes to the broad range of monetisation opportunities.
For example: if a league defines an advertisement to be 60 seconds long on screen during the match, how would you interpret the fact that any user is free to click on an extra ad and therefore extend the maximum allowed of the advertising time? Can this freedom also be perceived as interfering with the paid content and the marketing agreement of the broadcaster? How would you differentiate the advertisement on the football court from the on-screen advertisements? We believe that our way of unifying the content on the screen with an interactive experience on the device will challenge the way we look at monetisation opportunities for live events in the future, and that the leagues and content owners will need to be open to these changes.
If you had to nominate a recent project that highlights the main aspects of SIXTY’s offering, what would it be – and why?
Ease Live is being used on a couple of interesting projects which we cannot mention at present. Ease Live defines a completely new way of unifying linear and online television.
Taking account of some of the current developments around interactivity, 4K and so on, how different do you think the average home sports viewing experience will be five years from now?
We believe the big screen will [continue to] matter in the future, and that there should be a unified ecosystem for content distribution to all screens and from screen to screen to fulfil the experience. Furthermore, more gamification will be added to sports broadcast, and we might see greater synergies between real leagues and fantasy leagues in the future.
What should people look out for from Sixty this year in terms of new solutions?
We launched Ease Live for iOS tablets at Sportel 2015. At NAB we will show Ease Live running on STB and Android. We’re working with partners to add more tracking data, enabling the end users to interact with data themselves. We are also going to enhance the advertisement and sponsorship capabilities of our product. Sixty has major deployments in the Nordics and is expanding its outreach in Europe and North America . We look forward to attending both NAB and IBC.
Finally, please nominate a recent sports highlight of your own…
In Norway, women’s handball is huge. It has become a tradition prior to Christmas to follow the handball championships with great passion. Norway has a strong team which has won many gold medals. It has become a tradition for most families to gather with friends and watch the final of women’s handball. It’s a nice start to the holiday season. We are proud to say that our Norwegian team again showed its superiority by winning the World Championships last year.