The balance of technology in broadcast

During a recent IBC Panel, Deputy CEO & Chief Content Officer of Host Broadcaster Services, Dan Miodownik, discussed how HBS interacts with technological advancements in order to meet the needs of sports fans at home and around the world.

Broadcasting sporting events is always going to be linked to delivering the best coverage for fans and the technology we need to achieve this. Constantly questioning how we work and what tools we work with is imperative, as it is how we progress. We always have to go out and speak to the broadcasters, the rights holders or the stakeholders and understand where they want to go and what they want to achieve.

Ultra-high definition is a good example of this. When we first went out to the market a few years ago with the question of whether it was practical, the initial response was “not before 2018, it’s too far away”. Then, the following year you follow it up and there’s a little bit more of a groundswell and last year it’s far higher up the agenda. Now you look around and everyone is talking about UHD and where and how quickly it’s come around, as well as the fact that you need to capture and archive an event in that resolution, even if it isn’t being distributed that way. We know we always have to be careful and ask how do we tap into this technology, and then look at the practical and relevant way to use it.

As an example, the starting point for any UHD coverage we offer is not to make any editorial compromise in the adaption of any new technology. HBS’ production plan is clear that the priority is the broadcaster and their viewers. Yes, we want them to have the best quality picture, but it cannot be editorially worse. There is an expectation regarding the story telling around a game, with all the angles and replays available. If the technology limits this, it is the wrong route to take for an event on the scale of the FIFA World Cup™, for example.

While UHD is a wide screen experience there have been questions as to whether those watching on smaller devices should have specific cameras providing framing their screens - by the way it still baffles me that my children will watch everything on the smallest screen possible. For football we don’t specifically cater to smaller screens as we don’t believe the user experience is any different. What we are adapting though is the social integration, which will become a much bigger part of watching sport.

Machine learning: is it the complete answer?

Technology in general is moving at a great speed and when you look at machine learning, it is coming quicker than we thought and is already being used in automated production. I think it will help a lot in terms of speeding up the options that are available to an operator, so they are not having to look at everything, it’s focusing it back down, so the decisions they can make are quicker and better. I think that some sports will lend themselves to this much more easily but I question how it would be used with more complex narratives. It does come down to what the parameters are around what the machine has learnt.

The thirst for data

Compelling data usage has a big part to play in broadcasting. There is the technical part, which is interesting in terms of the complexity of how you do it, meaning to make sure you can get the data from the athlete or vehicle and can connect that data to a live picture. Then there is the question of how much athletes and teams want to give away. Does the lead cyclist at the Tour de Suisse for example want to reveal that they are struggling? That gives something away to everybody – including other competitors.

I do have a sense that we’re moving in that direction though, even if it’s aggregated data, there is an interest in that being the next step in understanding more than what you can just see.

At the end of the day this is about content and engaging the viewer so we can use the data to create really appealing content and I think we’ll see a much bigger push on that both in terms of the entertainment and technical elements.