Tech Focus: How specialist cameras are transforming the sports viewing experiences for fans and broadcasters
Offering unique shots that grab viewers’ attention while being cost-effective and saving time, it’s perhaps no surprise that the use of specialised camera technology is growing across the sports broadcast sector. Here, Batcam, Camera Corps, MRMC and Spiideo share their thoughts on the reasons behind this boom and what the future might hold for these innovative technologies.
Specialist cameras can take a whole host of different forms, be it HDR stump cameras to provide fresh perspectives, coach cams, dressing room cams or even underwater cameras for aquatic events. What they all have in common, however, is that they offer viewers a fresh perspective, greater insight and more compelling content.
“The demand for specialist cameras in sports has surged in recent years due to their ability to capture content from positions previously unexplored,” explains Barry Parker, commercial director at Camera Corps. “These cameras offer live or slow-motion views from the heart of the action, enhancing the viewing experience for sports enthusiasts and opening doors to new narratives within the stadium or venue.”
Jon Hurndall, CEO at Batcam, agrees: “The continuous advancement of technology has opened up new possibilities for innovative storytelling and unique concepts. In addition, the current abundance of sports broadcasting across all platforms has driven broadcasters and rightsholders to seek ways to distinguish their shows. In this competitive landscape, specialised cameras play a crucial role in providing those ‘money’ shots and delivering something refreshingly different to captivate the audience.”
Examples of the technology in action this year include a one kilometre-long wirecam from Luna Remote Systems used to capture incredible shots of the race walk and marathon during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest (a world-first for athletics in a city centre); the roving buggy cam supplied by Quidich for the ICC Cricket World Cup; and a Batcam supplied railcam providing a viewing experience akin to the perspective used in football video games for Sky Sports viewers opting for Game Mode during a recent match between Arsenal and Man City.
While these use cases largely serve to offer more interest to viewers, specialist camera systems also offer multiple other benefits for content creators, including improved efficiencies and less reliance on operators, something that is also contributing to the democratisation of content.
Marius Merten, sports broadcast manager at MRMC, says: “Time has become very precious, and this is an issue experienced at all levels. There is a shortage of skilled labour. Not to mention the fierce competition for fans’ attention and consumption time. There are also high-cost pressures, and sustainability must be factored into any production. This is where being able to remotely create individualised content comes back in to play.”
Niklas Bergdahl, product marketing director, Spiideo, adds: “These innovative technologies reduce the need for extensive human resources, saving time and effort, which results in significant financial savings. The high-quality, consistent footage they provide is always live and available, creating a better business model, especially for lower revenue games. This democratises coverage, allowing more games to be streamed, which, in turn, increases fan engagement as more content becomes readily accessible.”
That democratisation of content is something Merten also picks up on. “AI-supported camera production significantly supports the visibility of sporting events, particularly for sports where installing an extensive production workflow is not profitable,” he says.
“The last few years have been very much characterised by how streaming and OTT platforms have impacted the market to create new business opportunities. There has never been as many mass sports productions as there are today, and many sports businesses are successfully creating new workflow models using a single AI-driven camera.”
Indeed, AI along with technologies such as cloud and 5G, have been key to the adoption of specialist cameras.
Berghdahl adds: “Cloud technology and AI have played a crucial role in promoting the adoption of specialised camera systems. The cloud has simplified installation, maintenance and scalability, as camera fleet management is centralised through web applications. It also enables immediate, device-agnostic access to video content, improves storage and sharing capabilities across different stakeholders, and allows games to be broadcast from any location. AI’s role is equally transformative, automating complex workflows and accurately tracking and labelling player and game events, ensuring that the camera is always focused on the action without human intervention.
Parker at Camera Corps agrees: “Technologies like cloud, AI and 5G will play a pivotal role in the adoption of specialist camera systems. IP and wireless control for remote operation is crucial, enabling automation to reduce on-site crew requirements, thus making production more efficient and sustainable. Data is also in high demand, supporting graphics and augmented reality overlays. AI technology is invaluable for tracking players’ and athletes’ progress, speed and coverage movement. It’s also essential for the production of lower-league games, which may not have the resources for major manned production costs.”
“There has never been as many mass sports productions as there are today, and many sports businesses are successfully creating new workflow models using a single AI-driven camera”
Merten adds: “Cloud and AI technologies can open cost-efficient entry into new business models and help increase the reach of their sport. In fact, many club sports are using such technology to help them get ahead. The cloud helps to reduce costs and centralise processes, while AI or specialist cameras enable new perspectives as well as new or different production options at relatively low costs.”
For broadcasters then, the benefits are clear, but it’s essential that any automation doesn’t come at the expense of production quality.
“Broadcasters want to use automation to reduce costs while increasing coverage,” confirms Bergdahl. “The main objective is to simplify logistics and maintenance without compromising the quality of the broadcast. Automated systems are especially attractive when they are capable of providing multiple feeds from a single camera setup. This unlocks various revenue streams, including live broadcasts, highlights, data analytics, betting feeds, and sponsorship opportunities. The ability to automate production with preset rules and triggers is essential for enhanced and efficient production.”
Looking to the future
While specialised camera technology is already being adopted by all kinds of content creators at all levels of sport, that doesn’t mean the end of innovation. In fact, “the future of specialist cameras is brimming with exciting possibilities”, according to Parker. “Intelligent robotic heads and cameras with the ability to generate data will be at the forefront of the industry. Robust RF and remote IP control will continue to evolve, ensuring reliable remote operation. More efficient workflows for high-definition replays are on the horizon, promising an even more immersive viewing experience.”
“The ability to automate production with preset rules and triggers is essential for enhanced and efficient production”
“Over the next six months, we are set to introduce an array of exciting new products to our services,” reveals Hurndall. “Among these innovations are Batmo, a specialised high-motion camera, Batcam Fly Lite, a professional-grade lightweight aerial system designed for worldwide portability, and Batcam FPV, a live indoor first person view system. Our customers have come to place their trust in our commitment to continuous innovation, which aligns perfectly with our passion for forward thinking.”
MRMC is also working on new AI-controlled cameras, with more modular and scalable solutions for broadcasters in the pipeline.
“It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a single-PTZ camera production that manages and streams the sport at low cost, or whether it’s a multi-camera system that works automatically at broadcast camera level,” says Merten. “We are also currently working with a partnership on fully automating all aspects of sports production. More on this will be released soon.”