The battle for sports fan engagement is heating up and data holds the key. A trio of executives from F1, Bundesliga and the NHL spoke about how they were unlocking data using Amazon Web Services.
Noting that Netflix and Disney are using AWS to pioneer new ways to launch new services, Usman Shakeel, head of Solutions Architecture for Media & Entertainment at Amazon, said, “Sports, media and entertainment must reinvent how they create content, how they optimize their supply chain for audience attention as well as making it highly scalable for consumers to consume anywhere anytime.
“We have customers with archives of tape gathering dust and looking at the cloud for a next generation of workflows.”
German soccer league Bundesliga, for instance, has moved to reach younger audiences more attuned to watching short snippets of vertical video on TikTok with a new app powered by AWS.
“We decided to take the best of TikTok — highly engaging content with great music and a great swiping experience and remove all the data tracking and privacy issues,” Andreas Heyden, EVP of Digital Innovations at Bundesliga, said at the virtual round table convened by AWS. “It is our responsibility to protect young target groups from the potential danger of social media.”
The app is GDPR compliant and includes thousands of individual ‘taste’ profiles which can be tailored to a fan’s affinity with multiple Bundesliga clubs.
F1 — Fueled By Data
Arguably no sport generates more data than Formula One but the motorsport has historically kept this data internally. That’s begun to change since Liberty Media acquired the property in 2017.
“Probably because of their experience of US sports, Liberty Media knew how important data was in sportscasting,” says Rob Smedley, Data Director at F1. “Within the teams themselves F1 is the most data driven sport on the planet but we just weren’t getting that data out at fan engagement level.”
Deciding to do something about it was one thing but it’s taken several years to sort through and join up the maze of data collection processes from areas including onboard telemetry, local weather, race timing and stats.
“There are 7.2 billion combinations of timing loop data over a two-hour race which was unrelated to the image metadata which F1 owns and operates. The systems in place had grown organically. There was no real holistic solution. So, for analysts to get to the data to build products was a job in itself.”
Smedley has led “a massive digital transformation” of F1 data archives, the way its data is stored, processed, presented and streamed in real-time. The result is what he calls F1 AWS Insights or “data widgets we use to tell the story.”
This is necessary, he explained, because the broadcast feed alone is inadequate to convey the sport’s highly complex stories.
“When you watch the live broadcast of a football game then 90 percent of what you see on camera is what’s happening on the pitch. In F1 the ratio is different. Sometimes the broadcast feed is only telling 10 percent of the story because it is only able to show a small portion of the track.”
An F1 track ranges between three and eight kilometers in length. Excepting aerials, the broadcast feed can only show a few hundred meters at a time with maybe two to three cars out of a field of 20.
In that respect F1 is similar to golf. “What you watch on the broadcast feed is only a tiny proportion of what is happening on the course but the way the PGA can package HD image data and telemetry data or statistical data is really well advanced. We take inspiration from that.”
Now Liberty Media feels better equipped to engage existing and new fans with AWS Insights. That’s important as the sport attempts to make greater inroads into North America, where fans expect data as part of the experience. There are signs it is working since the recent Grand Prix in Austin, Texas drew 360,000 spectators over the race weekend.
“Data is now essential for fans,” says Smedley. “If you take it away it gives a completely different viewing experience. Younger demos in particular have a voracious appetite for data.”
Video Entertainment Platform for NHL
Hockey fans can now get a clearer, real-time view of what’s happening on the ice through the NHL’s new UHD-enhanced video production pipeline.
“We are trying to build an entertainment video platform for the NHL,” said Dave Lehanski, EVP Business Development and Innovation at the NHL.
Considering the League hosts 190 different video channels and each NHL season (regular season and playoffs) includes upwards of 1,400 games, establishing a fixed UHD infrastructure that could provide consistent video quality across productions was a crucial consideration.
“We invested a significant amount of time and capital to build a tracking system for the players and the puck,” he explained. “The system generates up to 50 points a second and more than 1 million data points per game. It allows us to create new content and tell stories and present it in real compelling way.
“To transform the fan experience however we need to combine that data with video. The real magic happens when data and video are aggregated as one.”
The NHL is doing this using AWS Elemental Link UHD, a High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) encoding device announced earlier this year. The Link UHD connects a live ultra-high definition (UHD) video source, like a camera or other video production equipment, to AWS Elemental MediaLive for video processing in the AWS cloud.
The NHL installed half a dozen of these at each of the 32 NHL venues and uses them to ingest streams of video from 6-8 cameras into the AWS cloud for aggregation and processing with data. It can then push out different packages of data + video to media partners, coaches, officials and fans.
For example, from the data the NHL can read the speed of players in real time, and by adding a camera at ice level to follow certain players they can match the data to the video and illustrate to the fan exactly what a 15 mph or a 22 mph skater feels like and bring that story to life.
“Latency is the key to that,” says Lehanski. “How we pair the data from the ice with the video in the cloud and back is the power of the UHD infrastructure we have put in.”
Other applications include facilitation of a sports book. “What better example is there for a fan to get real-time data on a game with which to make betting decisions or to view the outcome of bets they made in real time.
He added, “In essence these new cameras with Link UHD encoders can encode multiple regional signals at every arena for every game of the season at low cost.”
Footage captured with the updated pipeline is used for a wide range of applications including Video Cast – the NHL’s web-based video player platform with logging capabilities and statistics integration that it provides to internal stakeholders, rights holders, TV networks and radio stations.
NHL also makes the content accessible through video management software for broadcasters looking to distribute these live video angles or obtain a tertiary path for a program feed. Hockey operations and player safety teams can access close-up angles of every event that happens on the ice, with plans to make recorded UHD footage available to referees, coaches, and players for post-game review and performance analysis.
NHL SVP of Technology Grant Nodine added, “As we continue to build out the pipeline, the goal is to spin out an archival-quality UHD file that’s a simple stream to store. We want to make search and retrieval of archived footage simpler, give broadcasters instant access to NHL content for syndication and licensing, and facilitate the delivery of new in-game analyses, predictions, and video highlights to enhance fan experiences.”
There are plans to incorporate more AI/ML and computer vision technologies into the pipe. “Ultimately, we want to be able to feed our UHD video to computer vision applications to derive additional insights about the game, which will ensure more data-driven video content that benefits hockey fans, referees, players and coaches.”