If you haven’t already, sign up for free to receive the bulletin straight to your inbox every second Thursday.
Bulletin length: 1,896 words – it’s an 8-minute read
Broadcast Disruptor of the Week: Transition Ninja and Jackson Wigger
Apple and MLS prepare for blast-off
NBA to put you in the stadium – and in the game
The NHL’s ambitious animation plan
WBD rebrands UK service as TNT Sports’
What the media giants have spent on content
How the Bundesliga puts viewers at the heart of its VAR strategy
LEADERS BROADCAST DISRUPTOR OF THE WEEK
Who? Transition Ninja and Jackson Wigger What? Digital creators for the Alive Coverage agency Why? The duo were responsible for this stunning edit of the Super Bowl for the NFL, all shot and edited within 24 hours of the game – and the latest example of sports content that draws inspiration from gaming in terms of how content is shot and spliced together.
THE BIG PICTURE
Hello from us and welcome to the Broadcast Disruptors Bulletin – a fortnightly briefing on the big themes and fine detail of the sports broadcasting and content creation space. You’re very welcome.
A final call to join us in Abu Dhabi next week for the Leaders Sport Business Summit at Yas Marina Circuit. That’s Wednesday 1st and Thursday 2nd March – agenda and all the other key details here – but we’ll have feet on the ground a day earlier, Tuesday 28th February, for our latest Broadcast Disruptors Think Tank. It’s a private session focusing on what makes sports fans in the MENA region tick; it’s invite-only, but if you’re in town and would like to be considered, do drop us a line.
The new Major League Soccer season begins on Saturday, and so does Apple’s new global partnership with the league.
Announced last June as a ten-year, US$2.5 billion partnership, it’s no understatement to say this is the most eagerly anticipated sports media rights launch for some time.
It’s a deal not restricted by geography, it’s a full production and technical integration, with the development and launch of MLS Season Pass, and the idea is to put Major League Soccer into your pocket in as many ways as possible – live games, but also through Apple’s music, maps, podcast and news services. MLS clubs have been given specific content requirements in order to populate their ‘club room’ within Season Pass. On the live game production front, perhaps understandably the league and Apple have opted for continuity by electing to continue production relationships with NEP and IMG Media.
All aspects of production and presentation, the seamless (or otherwise) nature of the viewing experience more generally, any tech snafus, viewership numbers and MLS Season Pass subscriber growth will all be scrutinised and speculated upon over the next few days. As your LinkedIn timeline is clogged with hot takes and initial reactions, it is worth bearing in mind that this is the start of a decade-long game.
Nevertheless, as any rights holder at any media company that has ever tried to stream something at-scale knows all too well (and Apple is included here, given its dabble into live games with Major League Baseball), first impressions count and initial perceptions can stick.
One sage industry observer observed to us in a quiet moment at Leaders Week London last year, where the Apple-MLS relationship was a hot topic on and off-stage, that this geographically unlimited, all-in kind of deal is “how we all really want sports rights to be done”.
EYES ON THIS – Watch how these things develop to understand the future
Perfect blend: It seems barely a week goes by without some sort of announcement from the NBA about a new production or distribution initiative, designed to enhance the viewing experience of its live games – or at least broaden the options for the NBA fan. And it’s easy to get a little bewildered by the many partnerships, initiatives and trials the league is undertaking. Two more in the last week: first, Commissioner Adam Silver, as has become something of a tradition (this from 2020) used the NBA All-Star weekend to demonstrate the latest bit of kit the league is working on – the ability for a digital rendering of a fan to be dropped into live game broadcasts to replace a player (think Joe Bloggs as LeBron James – or perhaps watch Silver’s demonstration instead). It’s undeniably impressive, although details about the how and the when were light. The use of this type of technology does raise a question about labelling: you call it immersive fan experience, others might describe it as potentially nefarious deepfake.
Second: the league has struck a deal with Cosm, which is creating immersive venues initially in Los Angeles and Dallas allowing fans to experience so-called ‘shared reality’. The NBA will make live games available in 8k on what have been described as ‘large-scale LED-dome systems’ which blend the physical and virtual worlds – essentially another way of making remote fans feel like they’re in the arena. “The promise of Cosm is to give you the best seat in the house, no matter where that house is,” said Jeb Terry, Cosm’s President and CEO. “It’s the best of at-home and in-arena experience as one.”
Getting animated: The rise of the so-called ‘alternative broadcasts’ has been a running them for some time in this Bulletin. The NFL’s Nickelodeon takeover games, gunge and all, and the NBA’s various productions, notably a tie-up with Marvel, have led the way in terms of specific offerings for kids. But it’s the NHL which appears to be planning the most ambitious production yet. In partnership with ESPN and Disney, the league will next month present a live, fully animated game broadcast set in the world of Disney animation ‘Big City Greens’. The broadcast will be created with live, real time volumetric animation of players and teams – animated players will feature alongside ‘Big City Greens’ characters – and using NHL Edge puck and player positioning data. NHL innovation partners Verizon, Beyond Sports, which renders players in 3D, and Silver Spoon Animation, which has also worked on the NFL’s Nickelodeon part-animated broadcasts are working on the project.
The Washington Capitals-New York Rangers game will air on ESPN as normal on March 14th, with the animated version broadcast on the Disney Channel, Disney+ and DisneyXD. “Disney Channel and Disney XD fans are, on average, 30 years younger than the ESPN audience,” Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN Senior Vice President of Programming and Acquisition told Variety “Naturally, we ought to make things a little different to capture their attention.”
Corporate shake-up: Warner Bros. Discovery has landed on the TNT Sports name for its refreshed UK sports service, following the creation of its joint venture last year with BT Sport. The brand changes will come into effect ahead of the new Premier League season, in July. WBD has no shortage of brands in its portfolio so it’s little surprise it has opted for an existing name, rather than something completely new. And yet this all has the feel of something that’s probably quite neat internally, but that will require substantial ground-up marketing and promotional efforts – the TNT brand is well-known in the US and Latin America, but currently has almost zero resonance in the UK. That, of course, may also be the point. The BT Sport brand will cease to exist under the new arrangements. But while Eurosport Player has already been phased out in favour of another corporate parent brand, Discovery+, WBD isn’t erasing the Eurosport name entirely from the UK just yet.
In what is perhaps a recognition of the strange brand loyalty and affection there is for Eurosport, cultivated over three decades, WBD has yet to decide when – or if – it will be subsumed into TNT Sports. Top Sport Business story-getter Martin Ross has reported that there are no plans to remove the Eurosport brand in other markets and that a UK switch may come between the Paris 2024 and Milan-Cortina 2025 Olympics, for which Eurosport/Discovery is the primary rights-holder in the UK. But that no decision has yet been taken suggests a degree of hesitancy about removing a brand that has genuine and longstanding resonance.
Independent media, mobile and tech analyst Benedict Evans has published his annual presentation exploring macro and strategic trends in the tech industry – this year’s edition is entitled ‘The New Gatekeepers’ and features a number of slides exploring the current state of play in streaming. That includes an analysis of spending on content by the major media organisations – including YouTube via its creator payouts model – over recent years.
In the Mixed Zone with… Simon Farrant, Director of Strategic Growth – Sports Data and Officiating, Deltatre, who recently led the Leaders Performance Institute on a tour of the Bundesliga’s Video Assistant Referee (VAR) hub in Cologne. The league’s officiating technology partner is Sportec Solutions, a subsidiary of both the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) Group and Deltatre.
How does Deltatre, through Sportec Solutions, work with the Bundesliga to enhance the fans’ experience of officiating technology?
Deltatre is always looking for ways to enhance the fans’ experience. I think we all agree that, from a broadcast perspective, watching the TV, you get a decent sense of what’s happening with the VAR. The flip side of that is if you’re in the stands in the stadium or if you’re following via Twitter or the LiveScore app, or whatever it might be, you don’t really get that sense at all. There’s ways we can explore to enhance that. That said, obviously that has to come from the [German] federation.
Would that make the Bundesliga a more attractive broadcast proposition?
I think there are other elements where Sportec Solutions and the wider Deltatre Group can also play a role and I don’t think that’s entirely focused on officiating. You see some of the work that’s been done in AWS [Amazon Web Services], for instance, in the Bundesliga. The Bundesliga Match Facts are something that we at Sportec Solutions are incredibly proud of; we’ve worked very closely with the league and AWS to make sure those are as engaging, interesting and contextual as possible. The same thing applies to officiating as well; making sure that if we continue to work hard to evolve the system that will improve it for everybody whether that’s fans, leagues, stakeholders etc.
Can the Bundesliga further monetise the data the league has generated?
That’s exactly why they’ve gone down this route, because ultimately the model that they have created by investing in Sportec Solutions to the level they have done is it gives them the opportunity to monetise and commercialise ‘their’ own data. The model that Sportec Solutions, the DFL and Deltatre have created gives the DFL and the Bundesliga greater ability to use that data however they want to, whether that is to generate sponsorship revenue exactly the same way they’ve done with AWS, working with that sponsor to create content that is new, engaging, exciting, interesting for fans on broadcast or digital, or as an opportunity to provide new or better things for their clubs.
Could the potential commercialisation of officiating technology come at the expense of integrity?
I genuinely don’t think so because integrity is ultimately the starting point for any officiating service. I struggle to see a way where that would be a scenario but it’s something we’re very conscious of. We have to be. [For example] I don’t think we’re going to see betting markets on the number of VAR decisions per game any time soon.
What leagues or sports would be a good next step for opening up similar partnerships?
Budgets are usually a lot bigger in football. There are a lot of major football leagues out there that we are looking at and think it’s great to have conversations with them and explore what they’re looking to achieve and how we could potentially help them. Football is an invasion sport and, in theory, you could apply the same processes to other invasion sports. It would just take a bit of time from a development perspective but, ultimately, if someone wanted to invest in that type of solution it’s perfectly feasible.
If money were no object, what do you wish you could do tomorrow?
I’d really like to be creative about how to better inform people in the stadium as well as watching on TV and as well as people following remotely or via mobile or whatever it might be. That isn’t necessarily restricted to showing content on the big screen. In theory, you could be pushing alerts or clips to people’s mobile phones. Those are the sort of things [with unanimous stakeholder agreement] that you could explore.
Simon Farrant was speaking to the Leaders Performance Institute, who covered the story of Sportec Solutions’ role as the Bundesliga’s officiating technology provider here.
Thanks for reading this edition of the Broadcast Disruptors Bulletin. If you haven’t subscribed yet, do remember to opt-in here.