The COVID-19 pandemic, and the unprecedented scenario of stadiums being empty of fans has impacted everything that used to be a seamless task of enjoying a sport by buying a ticket, and go cheering to favourite team. Give the situation, the launch of IPL also demanded more technological interventions.
Star Sports, the official media rights holder for the Indian Premier League, has deployed a range of tech led innovations to help replicate the in-stadia feel and experience. For example, it deployed augmented reality graphics, which provided a big, bold visual spectacle in the stadium.
Star created a series of larger than life augmented reality graphics which were superimposed inside, and outside the stadium, surrounding landscape, and famous landmarks. Using a system of tracked cameras it was possible for the broadcaster to pan, and zoom whilst the graphics remained anchored in the same physical position, giving an enhanced sense of realism, and presence in the otherwise empty space.
Star India has an in-house R&D unit which partnered with specialised technology players such as gaming engine developers Epic Games for virtual graphics and leaders in audio technology Dolby to custom-make technology solutions for Star India’s broadcasts.
Sanjog Gupta, head – sports, Star India, said, “Augmented Reality has been deployed heavily across the broadcast to create a sense of spectacle and atmosphere at the venues, taking away attention from the empty stands. Larger than life player images are being used to build the hero persona for key players. During Fan Week, thousands of fan selfies will be used to create larger than life action images of key players in the same way that pixels form pictures.”
Gupta is the newly appointed head of Star Sports India after Gautam Thakar announced he is leaving the company. Gupta has been a part of the broadcast industry for almost two decades. Over the years he has donned leadership roles across News, General Entertainment and Sports.
Read Also: Gautam Thakar quits Star India
Gupta added that with stadia being closed to fans and the need for social distancing making it impossible for a fan to watch together, they had to build into the design of the broadcast, elements that would make fans feel that they were a part of a community experience. He emphasised that remote production is here to stay long and, it has unlocked significant value, both as a means of efficiency and enhancement.
In another innovation, Disney+ Hotstar users can send selfies to the social feed known as ‘hotshots’ which are often augmented with colourful stickers and graphics expressing their support for their team. These images were converted into mosaics forming images of players, team logos.
It has also added other elements that make stadium sports in normal times exciting – lighting, pyrotechnics, giant video walls, drone shows and other such gimmicks., and recreated these in life-size augmented reality.
Another initiative this IPL is called ‘[email protected]’ which is a curated, interactive audio initiative, that gave audiences at home a voice on the Hindi feed in a world-first initiative.
Disney+ Hotstar has a social feed which allows for fans to express themselves via emojis. The data was aggregated of those reactions –category, intensity over time, quantity etc., and converted into audio.
For this, it identified the crowd reactions unique to IPL, from the yesteryears. The main crowd hum was picked from multiple matches, and stitched together.
It has also created custom chants for moments, teams and star players. It also designed a custom emoji pack for the app and the user’s emoji reaction data, updated in real-time, triggered chants for star players, teams, and crowd reactions. This gave authenticity via interactivity to the stadium audio ambience – a huge step up from ‘fake’ audio.
It has also virtual representation (both visual and audio) of home audiences persisting even after live audiences return to stadiums, across all sports. The Fan Wall is giving an opportunity to fans to connect live to the game, and watch together in a virtual group. The broadcast integrates live, and curated fan reactions, giving fans from across the world a platform to support their heroes from the comfort of their homes.
For this purpose, fans were briefed in advance, invited by email, and given a unique URL to join the fan wall. The Star Sports team retrieved fans’ camera feeds in one click, and sent them to the stadiums to large video walls or inserted into the studios, and broadcast. Reactions were curated, and inserted into replay packages ensuring the fans are everywhere.
The Virtual Reality cricket analysis has been given to the experts as the latest in-studio tool to deliver sophisticated analysis on the on-ground action. Fans at home can see deliveries in VR right after they have happened based on ball speed, and trajectory data.
The fan engagement activation evolved into an analysis tool for experts to use on air. The original game allowed players to replay balls just after they have happened live in the match. Hawkeye ball tracking data is sent from the stadium with the exact release point, speed, and trajectory of the ball delivery, all reproduced in VR using precise physics for the player to face. This is all set in an exact reproduction of the stadium, and played using a custom made haptic VR cricket bat controller.
Disney+ Hotstar Super Over is a digital interactive quiz, where questions are asked on Byju’s Cricket Live post the toss, allowing for the highest viewership, and participation possible. Viewers will login to the Disney+ Hotstar App to answer questions.
Another set is a customisable team room with changing team colours, and jerseys on display. Even the studio building exterior is used for larger than life AR graphic displays viewed via a drone camera.