Utilizing AI to Create Greater Engagement in Sports – And Drive New Business Models for Content Producers
June 7, 2022

With a New Year season of sporting events well under way, Vislink and Mobile Viewpoint take a look at how content producers are engaging fans in sports productions.

Major sporting event continue to attract large audiences, Premier League Soccer, for example is watched by 4.7 billion people worldwide each year[1], As a single event the Super Bowl regularly attracts in excess of 95 million viewers. For these tent-pole events the production teams deploy large teams and significant resources to cover these events – and clearly the effort is paying off.

Top-tier productions seek to engage their audiences through high quality production values involving multiple camera positions – including wireless cameras close to the field of play. High quality video and audio delivery brings the action to life. Quality video production combined with expert commentary, analysis and debate keep audiences engaged in the drama of the event.

Content rights holders and individual teams look to exploit the audience engagement beyond the match itself – the numbers of sports teams with their own TV channel or on-line video presence is increasing. Social media platforms are now a core platform with over 50% of British sports fans consuming sports on social media[2]. And recent research suggests that a 30% increase in video content on social media posts increases viewer engagement by over 100%.

The question for many production companies and sports rights holders is can they leverage these viewing figures to capitalize on more events? Afterall, a recent survey of British soccer fans showed that even with the massive pull of top-tier sporting series, many avid fans still spend less than one hour a week watching Soccer content[3]. Is it possible for the sports production industry to do something new and lift their business to benefit from more fan engagement and for longer?

Economics of course is the key factor. Whilst the top league events are given the full treatment with multi-camera shoots and discussion programming, sporting events that are largely untapped are the lower leagues where it is not financially viable to produce content in the same way, to the same quality values. Thus, it becomes challenging to invest to achieve an increase in content consumption and realise increased revenues from an increase in viewers.

But technological advancements may be about to change that financial equation. Artificial Intelligence technology has now matured to a level where systems are actively being deployed to produce sports content automatically.

Machine Learning has been employed to train AI platforms with many thousands of hours of content to a level where they can now find and track the sporting action- at pace. Such systems have moved beyond simple ball tracking algorithms to a level where they can also identify key active players and referee. And ignore players and balls that move out of the active area of play. Look-ahead technology can be employed to track objects that momentarily go out of view so as not to leave the camera stranded or focused on the wrong are of the field.

Just as with the fully manned tier 1 events, video and audio quality matters. Latest AI sports production system now use high quality super resolution wide-field cameras in conjunction with additional cameras that focus on the goal areas – giving the ability to zoom in close to those action areas and switch to a different visual perspective to maintain audience engagement. High quality microphone arrays can be deployed to capture the on-field audio rather than overwhelm the viewer solely with white noise from the spectators in the stands.

All camera views can be recorded, and key moments of action can be automatically triggered for action replays and export to social media platforms to extend viewer engagement long beyond the game itself.

Televising the live action of the game-pay still does not deliver the full suite of programming that tier 1 events enjoy. The discussion, the expert opinion element cannot be fulfilled solely by on-pitch action. And as we all know, what a sports fan really enjoys is the banter and argument about key moments and decisions arising from a game.

Again, similar production economics have become a block. Sports fans don’t enjoy the same levels of engagement from lower tier events because the costs to produce studio-based discussion programming have formed too high a barrier to overcome.

But the production cost barrier for studio production may now also be falling. Similar AI technology now exists that can find and track studio guests on-set. These AI systems can position and automatically switch motorized PTZ camera views to the person talking, they can avoid shots when the presenter turns away from the camera and dynamically react to cover a 2-way conversation. The result being that it is now possible for engaging studio discussion programming to be produced without need for camera operators or studio directors.

Through a combination of AI sports systems that can automatically produce dynamic and pacy on-field programming and enrich that game-play with studio discussion programming, AI technology is now providing a complete sports-event production that delivers viewers the type of experience they have come to expect.

To complete the recipe for audience engagement just supply the opinions. And there are many sports fans with those!

Mobile Viewpoint’s IQ Sports Producer solution delivers a high-quality AI-driven sports game production solution which can be complemented with the Mobile Viewpoint vPilot AI automated studio production system. Together they deliver a complete in-game, social media export and studio production programming suite.

[1] Sporting Index Premier League Viewing Figures (sportingindex.com)

[2] Report: Majority of UK sports fans want to watch sport exclusively online (svgeurope.org)

[3] • Live sport watching frequency in the UK 2021 | Statista