The triangular revolution in TV, sport and digital

Television, the world of sport and ICT are spurring each other on to do better

Digitisation is a phenomenon that spreads rapidly and leaves a lot of collateral change in its wake. There were several examples of this at the recent Leaders Meet Innovation event in London, an annual conference that brings together what would once have been an unlikely alliance of broadcasters, ICTers and sporting institutions.

The event is sponsored by Cisco, SAP and the NBA which, I suppose, says it all. Cisco owns enterprise networking, SAP owns business applications and NBA owns American basketball. But why on earth would the last of these, the uber-cool sporting jock, be seen with the first pair of geeks? (Even if they are very rich geeks.)

The answer is really a tribute to the NBA which has traced a line between communications, software and sport, and concluded that they all need each other. That is surely good logic: US basketball enthrals America and many other parts of the world but there is still land to be conquered. If you could visit the business development offices of the NBA they would surely be stuffed with whiteboards showing some variant of the need to broaden and deepen the appeal of the game all over the world. Pipes and software are the core enablers of this, the pathfinders that can support faster and more comprehensive player data, higher screen resolutions, upselling and cross-selling of fan paraphernalia, broadcast subscriptions to any screen, social media relationships and more, on to VR, AR and whatever else the future has in store for us to derive yet more pleasure from the games and the teams and players who are our modern sporting idols.

Over a telepresence videoconferencing link, NBA player Emeka Okafor gave some excellent examples of the huge changes that have emerged from the nexus of sport and digitisation in recent years.

Game preparation. Players can study themselves, teammates, opposition players and teams. “There are stats for whatever … if you what to see [if] LeBron [James] shoots from the right of the area every Tuesday in November, you can… I like to watch a lot of films: if I want to work on my jump short I find clips at the click of a finger rather than having to get a tape and manually rewind. It eliminates a lot of the drudgery. I can get a game from 30 years ago and extract knowledge from that. I can [use tech to] show me my strengths and show me my weaknesses.”

Fitness tracking. Players, coaches, medics and permitted others can see a full range of indicators. “You can have biometric cameras that measure all aspects of the game: you can see the speed players are running, duration, body mechanics, how they can push harder or if they’re pushing too hard.”

Media. In the past even a top player would have to wait for a TV show to start to see highlights, post-game interviews and news that might just report a line or two. Now it’s always on and you can go as deep as you like. As for social media, that has utterly changed the relationship between fans and players – and effectively cut out journalists. “Now fans have direct access to players and players have direct access to fans. I don’t need to worry about things being misquoted or misprinted. I can put out things I want and know they will be received in a certain way.”

The future. “There’s a big VR move going on. It would be pretty cool if you could fit a camera on a player so you would bring the fan into the game like they were right there.”

Technology is transforming sport but it’s also transforming the media too. Sport broadcasters used to be fat and lazy, capitalising on a cosy cartel that allowed minimal competition for broadcasting and a consequent unwillingness to invest or try new things. But today sport is, to use a soccer term, the centre-forward of broadcast technology.

Jamie Hindhaugh, COO of BT TV and BT Sport, told how the British telco, once a byword for sluggishness (“a lumbering dinosaur” in his own words) was able to emerge in 2012 from having zero infrastructure to having one of the biggest and most sophisticated studios in the space of just nine months. Adding channels and having second- (and even third-) screen capabilities was rapid, leaving BT the capacity to innovate with nice touches such as Premier League soccer pitch-side analysis.

BT helped pioneer the use of 4k (some say UHD these days) in 2014 (“Everyone’s been talking about it for years but nobody has been doing anything about it”) and from 31 January it will add Dolby Atmos sound for Premier League coverage. Hindhaugh reckons high-quality audio improves the effect of visuals by 60 per cent. It’s all good for viewers… and good for BT flogging its Infinity broadband.

The confluence of sport and tech is a luminous example of what happens when technology is applied to an ancient format and stands to enliven and enrich it. BT’s Hindhaugh even sounded confident that BT could pull of the imaginable: making Admiral’s Cup yachting appear entertaining…


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Riyad Mahrez and how tech is transforming transfers