May 14, 2020

OZ Sports uses Augmented Reality to put football fans at the heart of closed-door broadcasts

Throughout history, there have been pivotal moments of disruption that have completely redefined the norm. Coronavirus is accelerating change, almost subconsciously, that will completely change the face of business, industry, our entire daily life, including sport.

When football returns post-lockdown, it will be in unprecedented circumstances. For the millions of match-starved fans around the world, there won’t be a quick fix to live match withdrawal symptoms once Coronavirus restrictions are lifted. Yet, there are opportunities for federations, leagues and broadcasters to transform and revolutionise the home viewing experience. 

Venues might be physically deserted, but through cutting edge augmented reality and visual effects - the likes of which have been embraced in the world of esports and streaming - fans will still be able to be at the heart of the action. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Introducing the new game: welcome to OZ ARENA. 

OZ Sports and RVX, whose most recent work has been seen in various Hollywood blockbuster movies and TV series, are rolling out new technology and services for rights-holders of leagues to make the experience more engaging for the fans.

With the new solution, which also integrates into the wider OZ Connected Stadium, spectators can be dynamically added to live broadcasts with the use of advanced augmented reality technology. Fans can pick their avatar, club’s shirt, have their face painted, and even appear in the stadium in their favourite seat. Fans can also get their voice heard, by participating as either audio-only or with immersive visual participation in the live broadcast.

OZ ARENA tech can either completely replace the stadium entirely or augment spectators into existing empty stadiums. The process is added to each camera feed in the workflow opening up support for multi-camera processing.

OZ ARENA has advanced audio support, where fans can use an app to add live audio to the broadcast. The servers aggregate all fan audio, using low-latency time synchronisation and AI algorithms, to manage volume levels, enabling fans to yell as loudly as they like remotely, without overpowering the audio stream. These solutions enable broadcasts to maintain full integrity and sound effects during fan-free games.

“Due to Coronavirus, we will see more games to be played behind closed doors with bans on large-scale public events. It is our job to keep the experience still as exciting as during the non-pandemic world. We do that by learning from esports, bringing new exciting elements into the real-world broadcasts. Our augmentation filters can be customised based on the branding strategy and the creative plan of the league,” said Gudjon Gudjonsson, CEO of OZ Sports.

“The idea is to protect the integrity and experience of the game, by turning the attention away from the empty stadium, and instead replacing it with appealing surroundings to make the game more interesting, and as close to reality as possible. These are times to explore and experiment, to make sports even more appealing and to bring it closer to the latest developments in esports” continued Gudjonsson.

“We have brought together world-class 3D visual artists, developers and technologists, with a range of honours and awards - including numerous Emmys, VES and D&AD Awards,” said Dadi Einarsson, CEO of RVX. He continues: “The team for this solution has previously delivered visual effects for blockbusters films, TV, video games and VR projects including Everest, Gravity, The OA, 2 Guns and Sherlock Holmes. Our experience with AAA quality visuals coupled with cutting edge AI and AR solutions put us in the perfect spot."

The AI and machine learning team include PhDs and specialists on both player and ball tracking that have developed a low-latency perception framework for a detailed semantic understanding of sports games. This framework is a combination of state-of-the-art object detectors, trackers and classifiers which are trained to perform in sports environments. OZ Sports technology can uncover the true state-space of the sport and infer meaningful sport-specific abstractions from the game from velocity vectors in a 3-dimensional space.

The OZ ARENA solution can be applied to live production as a per-match service. It supports both audio-only and the full immersive audio-visual solution. The OZ ARENA system is an integrated part of the OZ Connected Stadium, and can also be installed at broadcaster’s facility, OB truck, or at the stadium.