Second-screen systems

Interactivity across the broadcast spectrum is the new name of the game as broadcasters seek to expand — or, perhaps more accurately, keep — viewers who spend increasingly more time on their connected devices. As laptops, smartphones and tablets become more ubiquitous in the market, viewers are using them not only to facilitate on-the-go lifestyles, but also to engage with social media, as well as other online forms of media and entertainment.

A 2011 Nielsen survey showed that 45 percent of U.S. tablet owners and 41 percent of smartphone owners used devices while watching TV on a daily basis. In sports, the numbers were higher, with an estimated 70 percent of tablet owners watching TV while consulting their Web-connected device. A 2011 Ericsson report found that more than 40 percent of people use social media while watching TV on a weekly basis, and almost one in three chat online. In-depth interviews showed that families combined TV viewing with the use of Twitter, Facebook, texting, voice calls and forum discussions about what they watched.

The silver lining is the new technology that enables broadcasters to take advantage, rather than risk the effects, of social media engagement — providing viewers with more reasons to engage with the content they’re consuming. New second-screen systems provide viewers with access to original content not seen anywhere else, using otherwise wasted content that often sits on servers. Together, this premium content and increased viewer engagement provides new revenue opportunities.

New, customized content

Technology used by broadcasters and content owners to work alongside, rather than opposed to, forces that threaten to pull away viewers is surprisingly easy. Designed as a suite that can be added on to live multicamera production infrastructure, the technology enables broadcasters and rights owners to output original content — archives, highlights or third-party content — to multiple screens.

Figure 1. New second-screen systems can interface with multicamera production systems to make content that might otherwise go unwatched available to second-screen devices, providing another potential revenue source for broadcasters.

New infrastructure isn’t needed. The technology is integrated into a seamless file-based workflow either at a broadcast center or on-site production venue. (See Figure 1.) With this capability, broadcasters can provide more ways for viewers to engage with the content they’re viewing, including interacting through votes and evaluations, or receiving content customized to their preferences.

Sports — your way

For every sporting event covered, broadcasters are capturing hours of premium content that currently goes unused. For example, in a soccer game with up to 18 cameras, for every 90 minutes of viewed content, another 26.5 hours of content ends up on the cutting room floor — in other words, 90 percent.

Clips or highlights created during live productions and stored on servers can be made available instantly to Web app subscribers. The process begins with the processing and transfer of synchronized live multicamera media recorded on production servers. All metadata associated with event footage are used as keywords, enabling easy content retrieval. Third-party stats are integrated into the database and associated to video clips and highlights, which are made available to the user in near real time. A second-screen timeline of events being produced is created, into which external elements such as ads, stats or surveys can be inserted. Content providers can also add value to media by creating context from live events through multi-angle replays at various speeds, on-the-fly edits, and graphics and statistics insertion.

The aim of the workflow is to enrich the viewer’s experience during live sports broadcasts. To do this, the process must be quick and include the following steps in two minutes: clip the action at the venue; transfer the clip (including multiple angles and metadata) from the venue server to a central database; API ingest for third-party items (graphics, statistics) and Web application; on-the-fly video transcoding into required format; and distribute the timeline, content and metadata to connected devices.

The above-stated constraints, minimizing extra resources at the venue and the timely delivery of the content, lead us to move the transcoding service located in the data center. The external transcoding service needs to provide multiple bit rates for each video. This is needed so that the player client can dynamically adjust the chosen video stream as a function of the available bandwidth. Video formats vary as a function of the video capabilities of the smart devices.

A publishing layer communicates with one or multiple standard CDN services to deliver the content to viewers. This distribution policy isolates distribution scalability issues from the central facility scaling. The use of HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) to distribute the content is perfectly compatible with major CDN services.

A new wave of applications

Live sports content owners are among the first to implement large-scale second-screen systems. The technology was recently used by Canal+ Sports, the sports channel of a France-based pay TV broadcaster, to launch its branded second-screen soccer app.

Canal+ Sports recognized that the way fans consume media is rapidly evolving, due both to new smart devices and the spread of fast broadband connectivity. To grow market share, it used a broadcast and media production systems provider to provide the technology for an app providing up-to-the-minute statistics, multicam video clips of all highlights and bonus material such as super-slow-motion action replays in full length. The app also features filmed reactions from commentators and special guests from their live sports programming, as well as the ability to interact via social networks. Available on iOS for iPad users and Android for Samsung Galaxy tablets, the app was easy to create and deploy with the second-screen automated hardware and software system.

While the sports industry may be early adopters, consider the possibilities for reality shows and live variety programming, from interview formats to cooking shows, even dramatic series. Unused content can be made immediately available, both to meet customized tastes and spur social media interaction. The result is more engagement, more viewers and ultimately more revenue.

Johann Schreurs is market solution manager, Remote Interface, EVS.