Changing The Game: How Next-Generation TV Technologies Will Transform Live Sports Broadcasting

14 March 2016

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” — Nelson Mandela

Across the globe, the goalposts are shifting. Broadcasters increasingly find themselves on the bleeding edge of competitive and technological change. They compete against pay-TV providers and over-the-top (OTT) providers, while still laboring under the requirement to uphold broadcast standards. Live sports, however, remain a bright spot for broadcasters.

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“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” — Nelson Mandela

Across the globe, the goalposts are shifting. Broadcasters increasingly find themselves on the bleeding edge of competitive and technological change. They compete against pay-TV providers and over-the-top (OTT) providers, while still laboring under the requirement to uphold broadcast standards. Live sports, however, remain a bright spot for broadcasters.

As TV viewing shifts to broadband and non-TV video platforms, video viewing will shift away from legacy pay-TV environments such as the living room television, and toward app-enabled secondary screens such as tablets, which will in essence serve as second TVs. According to a recent forecast from TDG Research, by 2020 nearly half of all video viewing will be happening outside of a legacy pay-TV service or a television set via an “app” dedicated to a specific video service.

In this executive report, we will explore the strategic and operational impact of new, game-changing television technologies like 4K, High Frame Rate (HFR), High Dynamic Range (HDR) and wider color gamuts (WCG) and discuss ways that broadcasters can leverage them to deliver more immersive, enjoyable sports programming to consumers.

Strategic Impact Analysis

As the ranks of pay-TV cord-cutters swell, research suggests that live sports could help halt the decline. In a survey of consumers who have cut the pay-TV cord within the last two years, 39 percent say sports channels are a reason to return, according to new survey by Frank N. Magid Associates.

“We’re starting to see the market transition from high definition – which everyone considers the standard now – to 4K UHD, HDR, HFR and WCG,” says Josh Limor, senior director, ecosystem and technology development, Technicolor. “It has been a pretty big buzz, [but] it still has its growing pains; it’s still trying to find its way in the marketplace.”

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The promise of these technologies, once the industry figures out how best to deploy them, is to create a compelling reason to stay with the broadcast.

The better the experience you can deliver to the consumer, the longer that consumer will watch – and that has a direct, positive impact on broadcasters’ bottom line. That is a key reason why interest in upgrading to 4K, HDR and high frame rate technologies is ramping up.

Nevertheless, there is a downside associated with an improper or suboptimal deployment of these technologies.

“The reality is, if you have customers who get a high dynamic range TV, you have to be able to support that experience, otherwise the customer will think there’s something wrong with the TV or something’s wrong with the content they’re receiving,” Limor explains.

Then there is the challenge of seeding the market with content in the first place.

Until recently, there has been a veritable dearth of 4K content in general –and live sports content in particular. The tide, however, is turning. Here are a couple of notable recent examples:

  • The National Basketball Association (NBA) teamed up in January with BT Sport and Rogers Communications for the NBA’s first live 4K broadcast. The game between the Orlando Magic and the Toronto Raptors took place at the O2 in London during NBA Global Games London 2016.
  • On the hockey front, TSN debuted a 4K/UHD broadcast of the Toronto Raptors – the first of potentially more than 20 4K broadcasts featuring the Raptors, Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators. TSN hopes to add more broadcasts in the coming months and, potentially, CFL football this summer, Sports Video reports

Practical Considerations

As with all great works, however, when it comes to delivering immersive live sports experiences to viewers, the devil is in the details. Broadcasting live sports in 4K UHD or HDR poses unique challenges for broadcasters that must be overcome in order to reap the rewards derived from delivering more powerful experiences to sports fans.

“Creating more immersive experiences in live sports broadcasting requires different capabilities compared to other content types such as movies or TV series,” says Mark Turner, vice president business development and relationships, Technicolor.  For example, the action of players on the field can benefit from HFR because that technology will deliver greater definition to the viewer.

“The desire for sports is definitely to go higher in frame rate to see that temporal resolution in the game,” he says. “Whereas with movies, you want it to feel like a movie – you don’t want it to feel like a home video. As such, we’ll see a different temporal resolution for these different types of content.”

Perhaps one of the most significant challenges facing the industry is how to practically transition from the existing high definition world of sports broadcasting to the brave new world of 4K, HDR, HFR and WCG – while protecting existing investments.

“Something we need to be mindful of is everyone just spent a ton of money up-converting their stadiums to be able to do HD,” Limor explains. “Now some of them are bringing their stadiums into 4K and they’re being told ‘Good news: throw all of that away, buy all new equipment and change out to high dynamic range’. It’s not really a practical way to get there.”

Paying attention to how you transition into these next-generation technologies will be the key to success. That could include mapping out a plan to take a stadium with 40 cameras and convert two of them to high dynamic range. That way, the stadium and broadcasters can provide the HDR experience for the few early adopters while continuing to support the needs of the many.

“This kind of a transition problem becomes as important as the content,” Limor says.   “We need to figure out how to get standard dynamic range content into an HDR world, and how do we get high dynamic range content into a standard dynamic range world. The trick is to balance out the experience for your standard dynamic range customer as well as for your high dynamic range customer, to ensure that they are each getting what they’re looking for.”

How Technicolor Supports Delivery of Next-Generation Sports Experiences

Because Technicolor works across the value chain, it has a birds-eye view of the challenges associated with leveraging these next-generation television technologies into more robust sports viewing experiences. Technicolor also is uniquely positioned to discern how these challenges can ripple through the entire live sports broadcasting ecosystem.

Before the 2015 NAB Convention in Las Vegas, Technicolor and Sinclair Broadcast Group announced the successful demonstration of the world’s first UHD with HDR live broadcast based on proposed ATSC 3.0 technologies.

The series of broadcasts — integrated into Sinclair’s experimental OFDM transmission system and transmitted under real-world conditions outside of a laboratory — delivered high quality HDR content broadcast at HD and 4K/UHD resolutions in a single-layer with backwards compatible standard dynamic range. Both HDR and legacy devices — including fixed position TVs and mobile devices — were all able to receive and display the broadcast signal.

At IBC 2015, Technicolor teamed with Elemental Technologies to demonstrate the world’s first broadcast delivery system of 4K Ultra HD HDR video.  The live demonstration, which was optimized for broadcasters and pay-tv networks, showed how distributors can upscale high frame rate, SDR events, such as sports, into impactful HDR. The two companies also demonstrated compatibility between Technicolor’s single layer backward compatible HDR delivery system and the 4K/HEVC-ready Elemental Live video encoder to illustrate a cost-effective solution for encoding and delivery.

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