INTERVIEW: From the start, BT Sport has used tech to differentiate itself. COO Jamie Hindhaugh talks about its strategy and the first VR Champions League Final
More than 6.5 million people watched the 2017 Champions League Final on BT Sport, up from 6 million in 2016 when BT broadcasted the final on YouTube for the first time, 2.1 million of which watched on digital platforms like the BT Sport app (BT made the game available for free without a subscription, including on Freeview).
And now BT hopes to be able to broadcast more sport in VR going forward.
The immediate future is object-based broadcasting. This separates various camera angles and audio feeds so they can be reconstructed for a certain audience.
Personalised broadcasts like this were trialled for the 2016 FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Crystal Palace. Depending on whether the audience was a fan for either side, or a neutral, different feeds of the crowd, match and coach would be displayed, alongside stats and a different commentary feed.
It is hoped there will be a broadcast trial in 2018 and pubs in particular are a target.
“Basically, taking the app and applying that to the set top box,” explains Hindhaugh.
Reputation for innovation
Hindhaugh enjoys working at BT Sport, where he had a blank slate to start with and where he is encouraged to innovate. This contrasts with the BBC, where innovation was driven mainly by the R&D teams and filtered through to those who worked in broadcasting.
He also believes BT’s technology and network capabilities have been essential. For example, it was one thing being able to create a 4K picture, it was another thing entirely to be able to distribute it. The fact BT was able to create a 4K set top box so quickly was essential.
Sports compete with each other and with other forms of entertainment for people’s time and money. And in an era where traditional media is being challenged by on demand platforms like Netflix and social media, organising bodies are looking at innovation and reach – not just money – from broadcast partners.
This line of thought can help explain the USPGA’s decision to shun Sky and go with the BBC and social media partners for the recent USPGA Championship in Golf.
Hindhaugh believes having a reputation for innovation will put it in good stead further down the line. For example, it has given MotoGP a degree of coverage it has simply never had in the UK.
He takes particular pride in that despite being one of the most junior broadcast partners with UEFA in terms of duration, it has taken the lead in some areas, like VR.
“When you’re small and new, you’ve got a point to prove,” he says. “I’m really proud. I think we lead broadcast innovation around the world, actually.”
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