How Social Drives The Conversation For Live Sports & Entertainment

​Since the smartphone era began in the mid-2000s, there has been an explosion of audience engagement around broadcast of entertainment and sports events. This engagement takes many forms including commenting, giving opinions, voting, consuming complementary content (e.g. short form video), playing along and entering competitions to name a few. Much of this engagement takes place on social media and broadcasters have been keen to look for ways to both reflect this activity into the broadcast itself and as well use social media as a means of distribution for supporting content such as short form clips for marketing and/or commercial purposes.

“Social media offers immediacy, engagement and personalization,” says Adam Leah, Creative Director at nxtedition. “It provides fans with a way to get the information they want rather than ‘just’ receiving the traditional broadcast feed. For broadcasters, it’s a chance to offer personalization and engagement in their live broadcasts or on OTT platforms.”

Broadcasters think of social media as a two-way conversation. For example, a production team could ask viewers a question, run a poll or simply harvest comments, moderate them and put them on air. It’s now also feasible to post the content back to social media, to create a conversation, bringing the audience in so they feel part of the story.

“With the introduction of HTML graphics into the workflow, it's now much easier to automate that process,” says Leah. “Just putting up a screenshotted comment or creating complex integrations to monolithic kit isn’t optimal. Using web APIs and HTML graphics makes the process far more secure and easier.”

Adam Leah, Creative Director, nxtedition.

Adam Leah, Creative Director, nxtedition.

“Social media is an increasingly important component of live productions,” agrees Mike Ward, Head of Marketing, Singular.live. “However, the social platforms themselves are not especially broadcast friendly; often changing their APIs and rules without much regard for broadcasters (or anyone else).”

A common workflow is to have a data aggregation specialist like Dizplai manage the social media data, either automated or with some manual input, which is then fed into a graphics platform like Singular.live which allows the content to be visualized in a graphic on-air. This visualization can take any form from simple lower thirds to a whole social wall.

nxtedition use a ‘salami slicing’ approach, where the platform’s real time automation slices the clip off the ingest record and posts it to social media.

Leah invites us to “Imagine a dance show, when we step into the judging script in the rundown, nxtedition will automatically clip the last script based on the in and out times the automation received live. Now, the viewers instantly receive the dance on social media while they watch the judging on the tv. It's about taking care of that second screen through smart automation.”

Many specialist platforms, like Grabyo and Wildmoka, offer cloud-native services where editors can edit live video in their browser to create content specifically for social media. These edits are typically shorter format, with some custom graphics and can be generated for multiple different formats.

Singular.live's Data Streams handles high volume, high frequency, low latency data.

Singular.live's Data Streams handles high volume, high frequency, low latency data.

Cloud-native platforms like Singular.live can also render different graphic formats to complement the video output, making sure that the graphics are also customized to fit the screen on which they are to be viewed.

One of the challenges with social media is the variety in formats and approaches each platform has. TikTok pushes the 9:16 format, Twitter puts limits on character count, Instagram is square, etc, etc.

“Platforms like Singular.live has full flexibility for the delivery of graphics in different dimensions, meaning they can easily be adapted to different formats and outputs,” Ward says. “As a cloud-native platform this can also be done without the need for multiple pieces of graphics hardware making it cost-effective, scalable and more sustainable.”

A prime goal of publishing to social is to break news fast if not first. The process can be sped up through consolidation and centralization.

According to Leah, “Because we have so much of the workflow inside a single solution, content is available to all users instantly. We can then repurpose it to 9:16 or 1:1 aspect ratios depending on the social platforms' de facto standard. It’s also possible to configure the system to have responsive graphics that adapt to the new AR automatically. We take care of the transcode and the upload. So for production staff who are already under pressure, it’s just a simple button push.”

Live Data Feeds

Live match or race data from sports like soccer or F1 are also being incorporated into social posts.

nxtedition use a ‘salami slicing’ approach.

nxtedition use a ‘salami slicing’ approach.

“You can implement a second live stream, then split that into different languages for commentary and graphics and then localize to a platform of your choice,” explains Leah. “If there is an API from the source, the HTML graphics can also render real time data over the feeds. I think we will almost get to an object-based broadcasting scenario if the social platforms begin to open APIs for audio and graphic insertion. Facebook is adding HTML graphics on video, but only internally at the moment, so we are not quite there yet.”

Singular.live has a data handling workflow called Data Streams that is purpose-built to handle high volume, high frequency, low latency data effectively. Ward explains, “This allows anyone to take live data from, for example, an F1 race car and visualize that either in a graphic over a video or as a full screen graphic output. In this way, it is possible to create assets like a race status page that would show data for all cars in a race updating automatically, live. The content created can be broadcast live on social posts or sent out as snapshots during a race as and when desired.”

Looking Forward

Social media integration will grow exponentially, and new trends will emerge. Leah points to younger generations wanting short versions of content, so broadcasters have to find a way to facilitate that. Then there is the metaverse, not solely VR but AR glasses, for example, being sent live sports feeds and metadata in real time that are localized by location awareness. Nxtedition and others expect a lot of new developments around that area.

Viaplay's Winter Sports engagement included tweets and instagram posts.

Viaplay's Winter Sports engagement included tweets and instagram posts.

Broadcasters Need To Engage Users

Over the last few years, broadcasters and other D2C sports and entertainment companies have realized that not all this engagement needs to happen on social media and there are extremely good creative and commercial reasons why they should own at least part of this two-way conversation on their own platforms.

Peter Cassidy, Director of Broadcast & OTT, Monterosa explains that its platform allows broadcasters to launch this type of engagement at scale on their owned and operated apps and websites.

Interactive ‘TikTok’ style video clips are published inside the ProSieben broadcast app in Germany where users can play along with a quiz related to their favorite show or provide their opinions.

At Viaplay’s Winter Sports interactive hub viewers can see the latest expert commentary, clips and give their opinion via polls. This hub also includes the best of social in one place - pulling in the highest value tweets and instagram posts.

All of Nickelodeon’s audience engagement around the Kid’s Choice Awards, the NFL Wildcard game and the weekly Slimetime show happens on their own platforms. The experiences include voting, trivia, short form clips, gifs and other secondary content - all served up in a Nick-branded experience.

Interactive ‘TikTok’ style video clips are published inside the ProSieben broadcast app.

Interactive ‘TikTok’ style video clips are published inside the ProSieben broadcast app.

Another example is ITV’s Love Island and I’m A Celebrity: as well as providing a way to vote on the UK’s biggest TV shows, the apps are rich in short form video, curated social and partner sections covering fashion and other merchandise - and used by millions of viewers during and in between every episode.

All of these are delivered using the Monterosa / Interaction Cloud. “Relying completely on social media reach is risky as user tastes fragment and algorithms change - ultimately these users will always belong to a third-party platform,” says Cassidy. “Giving users more reasons to come to the broadcaster’s platforms generates higher traffic and stickiness, converts visitors into registered users or subscribers and also opens up commercial opportunities around sponsor activation and merchandising. Critically it also gives broadcasters a unique way to get to know their viewers better through the collection of first-part data.”

Controlling this engagement on their own platforms, allows broadcasters to give their audiences a much more tailored and brand-sensitive experience to their audiences.

Social media is great for marketing, expanded reach and grabbing attention at the top of the funnel - own platforms are where the core end user relationship and the highest value interactions take place - so broadcasters and other content publishers are increasingly aware that they need a balance between both.

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