Board Games

When France's 'Loi Evin' – legislation preventing alcohol advertising on TV – was causing FIFA partner Budweiser a headache in the lead-up to the 1998 World Cup, DBR was touted as the solution.

The technology, which was in beta testing at the time, offered the opportunity to ‘virtually’ place logos on TV broadcasts using static cameras, in theory enabling Budweiser’s allocation of hoardings to show a different brand in the stadium and its own logos on broadcasts outside of France.

Budweiser considered using the technology, but the beer giant ended up selling its space to digital watch brand Casio as it was found to disrupt the broadcast feed.

Nearly 20 years on, and despite significant investment by a number of different technology companies – most notably Supponor, which has worked with Spanish LaLiga football clubs and had tests with the English Premier League – DBR has yet to break into the mainstream.

This is predominantly, again, because of perceived shortcomings in the technology, in particular relating to people moving in front of the boards and the cost of having to replace existing digital billboards for the tech to work.

Solutions have also required broadcasters to adapt their production process to integrate the tech, which has proved a stumbling block.

However, sports agency giant Infront Sports & Media believes Swiss-based Vizrt’s ‘Viz Eclipse’ is ready to hit the mass market. Importantly, Infront will be offering the technology solution to its 170 rights-holder partners from next year.

Viz Eclipse’s USP is that, unlike its competitors, it does not require any physical camera or board installations on-site, and works both on static or LED boards; existing in-stadia boards are virtually overlaid with the specific advertising through image-based camera tracking and “advanced keying techniques.”

Different television signals are then provided to broadcasters in a “smooth and unobtrusive production process,” according to Vizrt.

Image-tracking is already being used, Vizrt says, in its ‘Arena’ and ‘Liberio’ products, which enhance replays and analysis through the addition of graphics, and the technology is also being used to place virtual advertising on the floor in NBA (National Basketball Association) games.

“Image processing to detect where these players and officials are, and keying them in over the boards, is the magic behind the system, and to our knowledge that makes Viz Eclipse the first non-obtrusive board advertising replacement system,” said Dr. Stephan Würmlin Stadler, Vizrt’s executive vice-president for sports, following the announcement of the partnership with Infront at the Sportel Monaco conference in October.

Surprising Development?

Infront director Matteo Perale admits the agency’s plunge into the sea of DBR is somewhat of a U-turn, as he was vocal at Sportel in 2014 that the technology would not be ready anytime soon. However, he says Infront has been working with and assessing “tens” of different DBR solutions over the last 18 months – and Vizrt stood out from the competition.

“Vizrt does not impact on the production workflow. We have several production companies – the largest being HBS (Host Broadcast Services) – and we know the complexities [of integrating DBR technology].

“This is the first time the people in my production teams have said it’s a system they will approve, even for a complex competition like the FIFA World Cup,” he says. “A FIFA World Cup game will have 40 cameras plus tens of unilateral signals, however the Viz Eclipse system takes the image and doesn’t touch a single camera. For us, that’s a game-changer.

“There are probably three or four technologies at the moment that are in different stages of evolution, and maybe another 10 that you’ve never heard of and you will never hear of because they won’t get anywhere. With Vizrt, in testing, all we had to do is give them a broadcast feed. When we asked the other technology providers why they didn’t also go in this direction, they said ‘because it’s not possible.’”

Viz Eclipse has thus far been tested with non-live footage from football matches, and has entered a live-testing phase with some Infront properties. Vizrt openly admits that until extensive tests have taken place it is not ready for widespread use, but is bullish that it will be ready for the start of the 2016-17 football season.

“Now until the start of the football season is all about testing [on live sport] – in snow, in mud, in heavy storms… we have to be sure we have something that can be used every weekend in every environment,” Stadler said.

“We also need to finalise the workflow equation; we are really trying to be as nonobtrusive as possible to the TV production process; we are asking the key players where they want us to be placed in the production chain.”

Potential Implications

The main reason DBR has been talked about so frequently over the last two decades is because of the huge potential it offers to both rightsholders looking to boost commercial revenues and brands looking to streamline and improve their marketing approach. It’s a technology that can make everyone a winner.

In addition to overcoming issues such as those Budweiser faced in 1998, DBR allows a brand to send different messages to different markets; a global car manufacturer, for instance, could have one offer on the billboards in the stadium directed at the fans in attendance at a match, while different offers, in local languages, could be shown in each different country the game is being broadcast into.

Alternatively, if a brand is only active in South-East Asia, the advertising hoardings can show its advertising across that region, but then the rights-holder can sell the advertising space for markets outside South-East Asia to a different brand.

That carving up of inventory can potentially save the brand money but also make its marketing approach more targeted, while increasing the value of the advertising for the rights-holder.

DBR technology also enables rights-holders to sell different advertising space for broadcasts across different platforms – a completely different set of inventory for television broadcasts, OTT broadcasts and news clips, for instance – and that is something Perale is particularly excited about.

"OTT allows you to do a lot because of the data devices now hold,” he says. “When you use an iPad, for example, it has an ID that shows who you are, where you are, what you’ve bought and been searching for in the last 15 minutes… there are also technologies that can tell what you are watching on TV based on the audio. You could co-ordinate that with your OTT and show it on the advertising. That personalised advertising is something the brands love.”

Perale says Infront will look to apply the technology to every rights-holder partner it works with, though its strength in football and winter sports mean that is where it should have the biggest impact.

“Football is the obvious and immediate one,” he adds. “In terms of winter sports, there are other reasons why this is a very interesting solution. You’ll see, for example, that there are no LED boards on ski slopes, but this technology will enable us to put in animated advertising.”

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