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Bulletin length: 3,174 words – it’s a 9-minute read
Broadcast Disruptor of the week: Eclat’s Mitchell Hong
Beijing broadcast focus: the virtual stage is set
The sports documentary boom intensifies
Shorts and gaming high on Susan Wojcicki’s agenda
The business of streaming news intensifies
Roblox’s year in numbers
ORF’s Michael Kögler on revolutionising live ski broadcasts
LEADERS BROADCAST DISRUPTOR OF THE WEEK
Who? Mitchell Hong What? Founder and CEO, Eclat Media Group Why? A surprise move, first reported last week by SportBusiness, in Japan, where Eclat Media Group has acquired the next cycle of Premier League rights, leaving incumbent DAZN – for the moment at least – without one of its key rights assets. It’s the latest bold move from the South Korean media company founded by Hong 12 years ago. Quietly but efficiently it has been expanding in recent months across South East Asia, striking a series of carriage deals with platforms in territories like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia for its SPOTV subscription sports channels. Rights including MotoGP and tennis Grand Slams have already been secured, with Eclat taking advantage of the gap in the market created by the closure of Fox Sports Asia. Japan, where DAZN has, in recent years, gained a significant sports rights foothold, seems to be its next expansion market. DAZN reportedly may still sub-license some or all of the Premier League rights from Eclat, but the acquisition feels significant with Hong and his team emerging as a significant new player across an enormous and diverse region.
THE BIG PICTURE
Good morning from us, and welcome to your fortnightly briefing on everything that’s need-to-know in sports broadcasting, content creation, distribution and monetisation. It’s the Broadcast Disruptors Bulletin and you’re welcome to it (and don’t forget to encourage a colleague or two to sign up).
Keep your correspondence and news coming to [email protected] and [email protected]. Thanks, in particular, for all the warm words about the Broadcast Disruptors audio edition – if you haven’t listened to our 2022 predictions yet, head here, and there’s another episode coming up next week on the Leaders Sport Business podcast feed.
The curling and ice hockey preliminaries are already underway, but Beijing 2022 officially starts tomorrow with the lighting of the Olympic flame – for the second time in 13 years – at the Bird’s Nest Stadium in China’s capital. Strange Games once again for strange times and, as with Tokyo just a few months ago, strict limitations on spectators mean, once again, there is a significant onus on Olympic Broadcasting Services to deliver a captivating production for the world.
The many Covid-related restrictions and the general unease about travelling to China have forced the hand of many of the major rights-holding broadcasters, making this an even more remotely-produced Games than Tokyo 2020. The majority of NBC’s commentary and presenting team will work from the United States, while Discovery, covering the Games across Europe, and UK broadcaster the BBC are taking the opportunity to utilise the latest in virtual production technology to bring the Games to life thousands of miles from Beijing.
Discovery’s much-vaunted Cube, a staple of its major events coverage, has been reimagined over a 12-month period to ‘create an entire virtual world, beyond any studio seen before’. Viewers will see a ‘vast cinematic winter resort, offering limitless immersive presentation and analysis positions on multiple levels’. For the first time, presenters in the studio will be able to see all the virtual elements as they appear. Working with BK Design Projects, FRAY Studio and Girraphic, within the Cube there are now thousands of different combinations available to the company’s production team to enhance its storytelling around the live action.
The BBC’s free-to-air coverage of the Games, which will come from its Salford sports headquarters, will also utilise a virtual set, building on the hugely impressive virtual backdrop for its coverage of the summer Games last year. The seamless studio environment has been created with Vizrt. Out of crisis comes opportunity, and for these Games a new set of specialist suppliers are about to get their golden moment.
EYES ON THIS – Watch how these three things develop to understand the future
Shorts thoughts: Strikingly, the word ‘sports’ does not get a single mention in YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s public letter outlining the platform’s 2022 priorities – gaming got its own section – but there is still plenty in there that feels relevant. In particular, Wojcicki outlined the latest developments in YouTube’s creator economy: there are now 10 separate ways for creators to make money on the platform, while in 2021 channel memberships and paid digital goods were purchased or renewed more than 110 million times. Podcasting was noted as another key opportunity for future growth, alongside its short-form feature (YouTube has hit five trillion all-time views via Shorts), music, gaming, shopping and learning. On gaming, YouTube is positioning itself – in an increasingly crowded marketplace – as a single destination for gamers looking to tell stories across multiple formats, from livestreams to Shorts. It is now actively working on enhancing its live discoverability and chat functions, as well as making it easier to create gaming-related Shorts.
Headline news: In a consolidating big media world, the major US networks, armed and engaged in the streaming wars, are investing in the increasingly-competitive business of news. CBS is the latest to outline its new plan, last week unveiling a revamped CBS News Streaming Network featuring some of its existing heavyweight programming and incorporating a number of its top anchors. The service originally launched in 2014 but its revamp has been prompted, in part at least, by the investments in similar free services, funded by advertising, in particular NBC with its NBC News Now service and ABC News Live. A different model – paid subscriptions – is being pursued elsewhere. Fox Nation, launched in 2018, charges consumers US$6 per month – as part of News Corp – while the pricing model for WarnerMedia-owned CNN’s new streaming service, CNN+, has not yet been revealed. CNN is, however, investing heavily in on-air and behind-the-scenes talent, and has programming plans that include cooking and travel shows, as well as traditional rolling news coverage, with a launch anticipated in the next couple of months. As part of News Corp, meanwhile, FOX Nation will shortly begin to incorporate programming from News UK’s new British channel, TalkTV, including a new nightly global broadcast hosted by Piers Morgan. As sports services are increasingly packaged and promoted as part of wider entertainment bundles, it’s also well worth keeping tabs on the headlines.
Roblox has detailed some of its key data points from 2021, painting a picture of a transformative 12 months for the online game-playing and creation platform. In all, its community grew from 32.6 million active users in 2020 to nearly 50 million last year, a group split over 180 countries. Roblox listed its most popular game genres as role-playing, action, simulator, platformer/obstacle and tycoon, but also highlighted some of the key brand and music experiences the platform hosted last year including the Gucci Garden experience, a Twenty One Pilots concert, a KSI launch party, the 2021 Fashion Awards and Nike’s showroom, NikeLand. Specific numbers were, perhaps unsurprisingly, not made public but according to Roblox Founder and CEO David Baszucki, “some of these brands and musicians saw more than a million hours of engagement and millions of dollars in virtual merchandise sales through the duration of their campaigns.”
2021 on Roblox
26,953 experiences reached 100k or more visits
107,737 experiences reached 10k or more visits
The average Roblox user visited 40 unique experiences
The top 10 grossing experiences
1 – Adopt Me!
2 – Welcome to Bloxburg
3 – Brookhaven
4 – Murder Mystery 2
5 – Royale High
6 – Blox Fruits
7 – Jailbreak
8 – Shindo Life
9 – All Star Tower Defense
10 – Grand Piece Online
Top 10 countries with most engagement time (the top 7 surpassed one billion hours)
1 – USA
2 – Brazil
3 – United Kingdom
4 – Philippines
5 – Mexico
6 – Russia
7 – Thailand
8 – Germany
9 – Canada
10 – Turkey
Approximately 2.5 billion chat messages sent
Over 25 million virtual items created by the community
Over 5.8 billion virtual items (free and paid) acquired
Number of female creators using Roblox Studio for the first time grew 353% year on year, compared to 323% for new male creators
In the Mixed Zone with…Michael Kögler, Head of Directors, ORF
Kögler was in the director’s chair overseeing the international signal, provided by Austrian broadcaster ORF, for the recent FIS World Cup skiing events at Kitzbühel, a broadcast notable for the use of dramatic, sweeping live drone shots of the racers tackling the feared Hahnenkamm during the men’s downhill. While live coverage from drones has become a staple in coverage of several sports, their use in alpine skiing broadcasts has been significantly restricted since this incident in 2016, when a camera drone fell to the ground and narrowly missed Marcel Hirscher as he was competing in a World Cup slalom race in Italy. ORF’s Kögler lobbied the FIS and Kitzbuhel Ski Club about reinstating the use of a drone ahead of the blue riband event in the World Cup calendar late in January.
What are the typical challenges of alpine skiing live production?
Alpine skiing is really specific in that there’s no stadium. You’re out there on the mountain, in a rural environment and there are challenges – if you go to the course at the moment it’s not a normal ski surface, these are ice rinks. Very steep, down from top to bottom and even for good skiers hard to manage. I really admire all the athletes; they are the most underestimated athletes in any sport. For us as a broadcaster, the challenge is to give the viewer a little bit of the experience the racers have when they’re fighting with the mountain, fighting with the ice. It’s a little bit like F1 or MotoGP, it’s hard to convey the speed on TV and it’s even harder to convey the steepness of a hill. To show steepness you have to be far away, and there are a lot of angles we are not allowed to use by the race directors for safety reasons. There isn’t the possibility of putting all the cameras where you want to. What I like to do is take the newest equipment – we normally have about 49 cameras on the hill; for us Kitzbuhel is like the Super Bowl.
What scope is there to innovate with the broadcast?
We try and improve our broadcast every year and add something. I’ve been in charge of the international signal for eight years now and in that time I have rearranged or added 49 camera positions – new angles to reflect changes in the course, normal cameras for the live cut, hyper-motion super slo-mo cameras, moving by ten or 20 metres. It’s always a fight, you’re always struggling to make these shots available to the viewer but we’ve managed to improve it every year. The drone this year was really a milestone in the coverage of skiing, to my mind. It gives so much more drama and speed. We were using cable cameras coming into the finish for the last ten years, giving a nice overview of the thousands of spectators right after the racers cross the finish line, and last year we had a straight line in the same area where we used the drone this time, going beside the trees. That had a big impact on the broadcast. It’s the only ‘boring’ part of the course, unless you have cameras like this that can show the speed and the skill of the turns. It was a huge success; I’ve never received so much feedback so quickly after the races started on Friday with the first shots of the drone. I’m really proud of the whole team who managed to do it. Everybody pushed for it, and the weather helped us a bit at the end.
We had the drone, but it’s also important to have the sound – which was incredible. They’ve done it for three years, with a sound designer who is pushing hard to hear the skis. Another goal – and I’m also fighting with the FIS for this – that they integrate mics into the bibs, small microphones so you can hear the breeze and soundbites from the athletes on a slalom or downhill or wherever. Sound is so important: if you watch a horror movie and there’s no good sound profile, it’s not horrifying.
How straightforward was the process of getting approval to use the drone?
I’m always talking to race directors and the FIS every year about broadcast improvements, and I’m always fighting for things like using a former racer, with a live camera, to follow the racers in one of the technical events; that’s still in the pipeline, but after this experience with the drone maybe they now trust us even more than they normally do. It’s always a long process. With the drone, it was two years. I always had a plan to use another cable camera, and this, like the camera into the finish, costs an enormous amount of money. The drone is a third of this amount. The drone gives you the possibility of different angles; if you have a camera on a cable, it’s just a straight line. With a drone, as you saw, it can go behind the racers, it can go between the trees. If we’d wanted, it could have been even closer to the racers but we knew how much pressure there was on us: if we’d failed, the drone would have been banned from alpine skiing broadcasts for the next ten years. It’s used in a lot of sports now – and a lot of FIS sports like ski jumping and cross-country – because it’s a nice tool to have, but in alpine there were these restrictions because of the Marcel Hirscher incident. We were given the trust to do it and to handle it carefully.
The key factor was not to give any problems to the athletes. We also had to convince the Kitzbuhel Ski Club, with all the restrictions on flying. That was the reason we chose the part of the course we did, because there are no spectators there even if the race is fully crowded. It’s just woodland and apple trees. In December I travelled to Kitzbuhel and with the chief of the race, we did a test, flew in the drones – the drone camera was an Eye camera, so it fit perfectly into a normal camera set up and you couldn’t see any difference. We tested it and it was already impressive – everyone was impressed. We sent that over to the FIS and we had a lot of support from the General-Secretary, and we at ORF were granted an exclusive exemption to use it. We knew we had more or less the burden for the whole industry, for all producers. After the weekend, everyone was very impressed and excited – even the racers. We really took it conservatively. It weighed just 600 grams. They built the drone and used small batteries, so after two racers they would change. It came out so brilliantly my idea for next year is to use three drones, one at the start, and then add another immediately after where we used one this year into the finish area. That might be a little tricky because we all hope to have more spectators next year, and we’re missing those emotion shots. If we can add two more drones, there will be another step in the production next year.
Do you expect drones to feature in more alpine skiing broadcasts, at other venues?
To my mind, some will do it – it’s also a money question; how much you want to invest in the broadcast and production. Not all productions are as sophisticated. But the cable camera costs three times as much as a drone, and because there were fewer spectators we didn’t need that shot into the finish where we would fly over the crowd. So we took the opportunity. It will always be a discussion for other broadcasters willing to invest, because it does still cost money – but it adds so much to the broadcast. If I were the FIS, I would try and produce my stuff like they do in F1 or MotoGP on my own so there’s a standard – which they don’t have, which is the reason some of the races are really ugly; there’s no storytelling, there’s no quality behind it. It’s clear not everyone can have 12 hyper-motion cameras as we do on the hill for this special occasion, but you should have at least four or five – and some of them just have two. In a normal ski race, because it’s so quick, you need super slo-motion to really see how the muscles react and whether a racer is passing a gate the right way or not.
Nowadays, each sport is presented in a perfect way in some countries: this is the problem for skiing; the Swiss and us, I would say, are doing a really good job with alpine because it’s our sport and we invest a lot. If you want to be on air and have your circuit presented well all over the world, you have to do a perfect job. It’s like darts – when they started to do perfect coverage of darts, everyone went crazy for it; if you don’t see where the dart is hitting the board, I would never watch it. It’s the same for skiing. But this way [with drones] you can have the feeling, as with a video game, you’re following the racer and almost choose the angles. That’s the main goal for skiing. You can set up a soccer game broadcast in any stadium in the world, because it’s always the same – it just depends on how many cameras you have, but it’s clear where to put them. For some sports you still have to be creative and find ways to find the right shot, for the right angle to give viewers at home a bit of a feeling of the sport.
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