Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on sports and fans. Every level of competition has felt the effects of the pandemic. In March, all eyes were on the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. As the torch-lighting ceremony approached, the governing body postponed the games for the first time in its history. Other events followed. Soccer in the USA, Europe, and Asia saw seasons postponed. Hockey, baseball, golf, tennis, and track and field all followed.
At Verizon Media, we saw the impact the pandemic was having on our customers first-hand. Our Live Event Operations team has worked with clients to deliver more than 110,000 live events to millions of global viewers, but our upcoming schedule was instantly blank. So, what now for over-the-top (OTT) live events since much of the 2020 sporting calendar has been delayed?
Like many of our customers, we shifted our strategy to fill in the gaps. We supported our parent company Verizon, which used its ‘Pay it Forward Live’ weekly entertainment series to help raise money for small businesses across the country impacted by the virus. The Verizon Media Delivery product and Live Event Operations team live streamed the weekly performances of such big-name acts as Alicia Keys, Billie Eilish and Finneas, Dave Matthews, and Usher. These free live shows drew viewers across Verizon’s Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube channels along with Yahoo! The live performances were also available on Fios Channel 501, Fox Now, and Fox.com.
The ‘Pay it Forward’ series was a perfect demonstration of how our global Delivery product, combined with our Live Event Operations team, delivered millions of minutes of flawless entertainment experiences to those stuck at home.
While we have shifted our live event strategy in the short term, we expect sports to return. The National Football League (NFL) is looking forward to opening training camps on time in July. European soccer leagues restarted their season in May. With all that’s happened, it’s hard to remember that just a few months ago, Super Bowl LIV 2020 excited football fans in new ways. This year, leveraging fast 4G and ultra-high speed 5G communication networks, and powerful mobile devices, Verizon and the NFL launched new features in the NFL OnePass app.
Built exclusively for fans using Verizon 5G phones is a new multi-camera angle streaming feature. The app enables fans to be in the broadcast control room, virtually. Fans can select their preferred camera angles and switch between them to get the best view of the play. At the touch of a button, fans can even rewind and view instant replays. Verizon’s RYOT Studio and Visual-Intelligence designed an augmented reality (AR) app that provided near real-time overlays of big plays, stats, and other key moments from the game. However, these great immersive features were only available to some of the 62,000 fans in the Hard Rock Stadium, Miami. What of the 100 million viewers at home?
Verizon’s vision for the next-generation sports fan experience is to deepen the use of our powerful 5G telecom network combined with edge and cloud computing technology to create never-before-seen experiential happenings for everyone at home or in the stadium. It’s a work in progress, but imagine watching your favourite sport in real time, with super-low latency and in crystal clear 8K high-dynamic range (HDR). You take control of your viewing experience using multi-camera controls and replays to get into the action, even switching audio/commentary tracks. And you interact with new virtual experiences built using AR/virtual reality (VR) overlays powered by computer vision. Of course, there will be advertising, but it will be personalised, relevant, and local and may be built into the AR experience.
We are not there yet, but Verizon Media and Microsoft Azure have technologies available today that help move us toward this vision. The Azure Cloud and Azure CDN from Verizon footprints are well matched and offer a powerful cloud and content delivery network (CDN) combination for AR/VR applications. Our Verizon Streaming product running in the Azure Cloud already delivers TV-quality, 4K HDR live streams across our global CDN to all connected devices. And finally, we can leverage powerful services like Azure Video Indexer to generate enhanced metadata to deliver better interactivity and experiences for viewers.
For more information about the innovations of Verizon Media Streaming on Azure, please visit vm.mp/azure.
Darren Lepke is head of video product management at Verizon Media
This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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