Distribution & Delivery Global Viewpoint – October 2017

5G Brings New Content And Experiences To Sports Fans

The explosion of smart devices, applications and increased consumer interest in personalized viewing features is driving increased investment in 5G networking. Consumers want access to unique, immersive entertainment experiences from any device at any place and time, all with superior QoE.

Disney, parent company of ESPN, recently announced its own OTT solution, signaling a strategic shift to create direct consumer relationships. While the company will continue to work with MSOs and others, it is clear that ESPN and Disney believe consumers will pay a premium for unique, sports content. One key technology to make this possible is 5G networking. The spectrum offers companies the opportunity to connect with mobile consumers around a variety of entertainment experiences with new content. 

In an article by Caroline Chan, General Manager of 5G Infrastructure Division within Intel’s Network Platform Group, she writes about the value of 5G technology to deliver new viewer experiences, especially at sporting events.

Chan, and others, believe that stadium fans at sporting events will spend significant time watching replays and other media on their smart phones. Examples include connecting to real-time content, selecting replays captured by multiple cameras, packaged interactive highlights and replays, all to be viewed on a variety of devices.

Sports fans could also follow the home teams on the road via 5G, being able to view clips, replays and even interacting with fellow fans. Of course, there is the opportunity for targeted commercials as the demographics of each and every smartphone user is known. Finally, no one expects the option of new subscription revenue to be overlooked.

The rollout of 5G will make all of these and other applications possible. That is because such features require more bandwidth than available with current delivery platforms. With hundreds of thousands of devices being used by just as many fans, providers need multiple high-speed delivery paths.

One current example under trial is Intel's partnership with China Unicom Shanghai, Nokia and Tencent to deliver a multi-access edge computing solution at Shanghai Mercedes Benz Arena. China Unicom customers visiting the arena can access multiple viewing angles of the event, powered by Nokia's Edge Video Orchestration (EVO) Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) solution. With MEC, China Unicom customers enjoy an improved real-time viewing experience because of the shorter latency in the arena.

Packaged live sports

With technologies such as those provided by Intel Sports, brands, teams, leagues, content and service providers can enable fans to deeply engage with immersive media and breathtaking experiences that lead to new services and monetization opportunities. 

You can believe that as Disney begins the new venture to directly stream ESPN games and other content to viewers, everyone involved will be looking for ways to leverage that content and demographics into new revenue. 5G and streaming technologies present an opportunity for sports teams, content providers, MSOs and others to do the same. How much would a consumer value a premium, interactive experience for an NFL, FIFA or other event, and how much is it worth to them?

As any sport fan knows, teams and their organizations go to great lengths to capitalize and recapture revenue from game broadcasts, entertainment, apparel, virtually any exposure. Being able to watch multiple camera replays could be just such the ticket to more team/league revenue.

Networks migrate to 5G

Chan notes that her company, Intel, is working with communication service providers, MSOs, content companies, broadcasters and technology partners around the world to prepare for 5G and the network transformation required to support it. Intel is currently involved in 5G trials with AT&T in the U.S., smart stadiums in China and other venues.

Previous attempts at stadium fan enhancements have relied on Wi-Fi. Those solutions required special network equipment to be installed at fan seating levels. Here, congestion remains an issue because of the limited available bandwidth.

5G networks, on the other hand, can be designed with the intelligence, flexibility and speed required to support the new immersive consumer experiences both inside stadiums and while following the fans wherever they want to engage with their favorite teams or brands.

Another evolving technology in the drive to bring new content to fans is compression. New capture and encoding technologies like HEVC can minimize the required bandwidth for the creation, transmission and consumption of video. Intel is currently working with partners to develop support for 10-bit HEVC coding using Intel Xeon processors.

Caroline Chan concludes saying, “Early adopters will learn from these tests and be prepared to win in the 5G world. The technology is available, and there are real opportunities to monetize these services beyond operational savings. The time is now for communication service providers and other network operators to put the infrastructure in place.”

Editor Note: Caroline Chan’s Intel blog about 5G, Sports, Heroes & 5G: Delighting Consumers, Monetizing Mobile Entertainment Experiences can be found at this link.

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