Net Insight's Sye Claims to Solve OTT Latency and Sync
The gap between OTT- and linear TV-delivered live sports is narrowing, and arguably the data-driven richness and personalization of the live stream has already eclipsed TV.
Yet OTT continues to fall down in one respect—latency. This is typically 30 seconds but can mount to several minutes, causing spoiler frustration for online viewers who find the goal Tweeted or heralded by TV audiences long before they can enjoy it on their tablet. When sports like Formula 1 or track and field count victories by 1/100th of a second, "long" takes on a new meaning.
As pointed out by Streaming Media's Dan Rayburn, we need live synced streaming because it enables a better experience and more user engagement. Rayburn points to the breakthrough by Swedish software developers Net Insight which earlier this year debuted Sye, a technology that claims to frame-accurately marry the OTT stream to the TV network-delivered broadcast.
According to Per Lindgren, Net Insight's co-founder and SVP of strategy & business development, "This means that when the F1 cars are lined up at the start line and they all go into the first curve, I can view this moment on the big screen and see the exact moment the driver steers into the curve in sync on a second screen from their helmet-cam. This makes for more of a 'game like' experience, as if using an iPad as a virtual steering wheel."
Net Insight teamed with Tata Communications for a trial at the Singapore GP last December and has since brought the tech to market under the Sye name. It is still in beta and the firm is in "several commercial tests with end customers" but the only one it can reveal now is Tata.
Tata connects F1 circuits and offices all over the world to its Global Video Connect Network fibre network enabling, among other things, remote operations for the live broadcast production and content distribution for Formula1.com.
The Sye software runs over Tata's network, effectively converting it into a virtual CDN to deliver synchronized broadcast and streamed content to all end points.
"We're not trying to be real time, but to harmonize with existing satellite distribution," Lindgren explains. "The aim with satellite is to deliver within 8 to 12 seconds and with the delay resulting from video contribution and other upstream processes being typically around five seconds, we still have 3 to 7 seconds to play with for synchronisation."
While Sye could add value to any live event from sport to voting on a reality show, reading between the lines it seems likely that Sye will be a feature of the Formula One race calender from next season.
The sport's commercial and media arm, FOM, would be responsible for introducing the technology but it would be rights holders—like pan-European payTV operator Sky—which would benefit.
"There's a significant gap between live linear and OTT which can be 2 minutes up to 10 minutes," says Thomas Williams, CEO of digital consultancy and UX designer at London-based Ostmodern. "OTT live experiences have always played second to linear TV broadcast. As a result, the editorialising of content for live sport been focussed on delivering the best broadcast experience through the TV. It is archaic, but still common to see Tweets served up as text on the screen. A fundamental hurdle to overcome is to get the OTT experience synced with the broadcast experience so that OTT is no longer a poor relation to linear."
Williams calls Sye a "massive breakthrough." He says, "Millennial audiences turned off from traditional sports can now fully engage on a (mobile) platform they are used to using. They can have that communication in the moment which is the real value of live sports, rather than be defeated by the time lag."
In addition, he says it means sports editorial teams no longer have to think about how a single feed is going to be piped out to TV as a lean-back experience. "Now they can look at all content sources (all the camera angles and other in-game data) and begin to present sport in way which considers the TV and the so-called second screen in sync with one another. It becomes one platform."
He reiterates the Net Insight example: "You can watch a view from the pit lane or driver POV or view data on your handheld and see the wider race progression on the larger screen—in sync. This is the kind of experience people expect and it leads into other areas like gaming."
Williams continues: "Where you have a broadcast sport with lots of international competitors and multiple cameras, yet only one main feed, the rights holder and the broadcaster is missing an opportunity. There may be competitors from Australia, Brazil, or Japan, but each broadcaster has to carry the same produced feed. Audiences might be interested in following the action of their compatriots and with a synced second screen this now becomes possible. You can have companion feeds with rights value for different nationality broadcasters."
Another factor that Sye is claimed to nullify is the lag between switching camera angles. This a core function of an OVP sports offer but buffering can kill the moment.
"Any sport with multiple simultaneous narratives—from golf to the Olympics—is hard to cover through broadcast but calls out for the opportunity for viewers to dip into the action whenever it is happening," says Williams.
Net Insight's solution is the best known but not the only one. Also tackling the issue is London start-up Minglvision. It claims to have developed the 'first truly personalised multi-angle/multi-game broadcasting player and infrastructure' and to cut red button switching times to zero.
Interestingly, this has also been trialled during several Formula 1 races, with results that lead Artem Kiselev, CEO & founder to claim it increases average ratings and advertisement open rates [a measure of engagement] by 40 per cent.
The company explains that when a significant event happens on a camera a viewer is not watching, a notification will pop-up showing the real-time video of a goal being scored or F1 car overtaking.
Integration involves a broadcaster or production company relaying camera angles to Minglvision's video ingest points and inserting unique codes into their OTT application. Ogilvy Labs and Spanish telco Telefonica assisted in the technology development with a set-top box version of the app due this autumn. Visitors to IBC next month can find out more about exactly how Minglvision's system works.
Net Insight has taken its approach further, conducting 360° tests (not with F1) using Sye, and sees interesting applications for those in live sports coverage. While stressing that it is "in no commercial discussions around 360 cameras," Lindgren suggests that the 6-7 cameras on a VR rig could complement or replace the current single camera onboard positions on race cars. Instead users could switch between each of the individual angles from the VR rig they wanted to watch, or view a panoramic stitched 360° picture.
As sports rights holders, like the NBA and NHL, begin to take live games to social media, the monolithic TV model looks to be in the first stages of fragmentation.
"No one really wants to watch a full game on their phone—the experience is better on the big screen—but the missing tech is the ability to take that stream from your phone and play it on a 42-inch TV," says Antony Marcou, CEO at digital marketing agency Sports Revolution. "We are being briefed that this ability is coming within nine months to a year. What's important is that the consumer is in control, not the big TV media companies."
Marcou says he is fielding dozens of calls from federations interested in going direct to consumers, bypassing the broadcaster, but thinks that smaller federations of niche sports will be the first to test the waters.
"We are at ground zero on this. We are having these discussions with these rights holder about their business model. They are scared to [endanger] their broadcast partners, or they've outsourced the rights to an agency like IMG or Pitch. But if technology allows you to cut out the middle man you might as well do that."
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