Disruptive behaviour: InSync on the battle for eyeballs and the commercial viability of AR and VR

Disruptive behaviour: InSync on the battle for eyeballs and the commercial viability of AR and VR

This article originally appeared on SVG Europe.

By James Taylor, InSync Technology managing director.

The sports broadcasting universe has seen its fair share of disruptors and change agents over the past decade and more have crept in over the past year, including AR, VR and AI. Does this mean our favourite TLAs (three letter acronyms) are dead, with DTH, DVB and DTT destined for the graveyard? Did video really kill the radio, as The Buggles famously sang?

It certainly seems as if the hype bubble is centred around AI and immersive experiences, but the reality appears to be somewhat different. Caretta Research, along with Nielsen, reported that viewership of the Super Bowl on standard TV sets remains pretty flat but that streaming audiences are increasing. However, the fight for subscriptions and advertising revenue is undergoing shifts in favour of streaming services.

The screen size conundrum raises its head in many discussions and data analysis, with increased viewing on smaller screens as younger generations watch more short-form content on phones and tablets rather than big screens. I have personally witnessed and seen other evidence of dual screen engagement with a family watching a live sporting event on TV, in a stadium or arena where each of the family members is engaged in related content activity on their mobile phones and tablets. What is certainly interesting is the additional supporting content, beyond the live event, that engages viewers in behind-the-scenes activities and offers greater insights into players, teams and fans. This certainly supports short-form content and a huge rise in 9:16 screen ratio format content that makes us oldies cringe when seeing the portrait screen, as opposed to the traditional landscape 16:9 format. The technical challenges of converting or merging these formats is presenting headaches to technologists, directors and producers alike, but creative content is likely to find its way through this.

Early stages

As far as AI, VR and AR is concerned, there have been a number of experimental implementations of these technologies during this past year and the jury is still out on the commercial viability of AR and VR, while AI is causing polarising views. As a leading technology provider, we are regularly asked if our work uses AI and, by definition, we describe our activities as supervised machine learning.

Unfortunately, there are a number of people and organisations in the industry that may incorrectly describe their implementations as AI which causes confusion and errors in data collection.  AI will undoubtedly be a constant source of debate for the next few years and will hopefully be the catalyst for more positive than negative disruption.

Of the most impactful trends in the past 12 months or so has been the rise in viewership of major female sports tournaments, including the 2022 Rugby World Cup and 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Production values were increased along with the coverage, and attendance at the games was at capacity. The popularity of these events is only going to rise and the availability of content for wider audiences should continue to drive participation at grass roots level into more funding through to the senior level. This was a seismic shift and I hope that the momentum continues to promote and maintain female sports across the board.

Sports broadcasting remains a large and growing industry with more opportunities to come via different media platforms and 2024 is likely to see more of the AR and VR experimental technologies being tested to see what works technically before the commercial realities can be gauged in the following years. 2024 will be a big year for sports in Europe with the Paris Olympics and the Euro soccer finals in Germany.

According to Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS), the Paris Olympics is expected to generate over 11,000 hours of event coverage by OBS which could culminate in over 400,000 hours of total broadcast coverage around the globe. With rising short-form viewing adding more content and possibilities of interaction with viewers, along with the rise in streaming channels, there are concerns about the funding of content and the fight for sponsorship, advertising and subscription revenues. TV platforms, whether traditional linear or OTT, will have to manage their packaging and distribution to make it easy for viewers to find and watch relevant content. Consumers will drop subscriptions that don’t meet their taste and budget.

Making it simple

Broadcasters and content owners face the challenge of competition across many platforms and there are calls from consumers for a simpler way to consume this content, maybe with fewer subscriptions. Similarly, there are calls across the broadcast industry for a more common platform for cloud workflows and service providers to integrate in and around and I see this as a key development for the industry in the coming few years. Simplicity of architecture and more predictable costs that allow broadcasters and content rights owners to plan and deliver high-quality content will be focus areas for sure.

So, will streaming kill traditional TV viewing? I believe that while audiences will change and preferences on watching long- and short-form content will evolve over time, there is little evidence to suggest the demand for live sports content on big screens will die anytime soon. However, there will certainly be an opportunity to enrich the traditional broadcast with other engaging material on smaller screens before, after and during the live event. Costs will certainly be a driver for many and the cost of distribution can be high, so DTH satellite which is already seeing a shift to IP delivery, is likely to see further fallout and the battle for radio frequency with 5G and then 6G could strain the DTT availabilit