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Launched in 2013, BT Sport broadcasts in the UK and Republic of Ireland with around five million subscribers. BT Sport offers five linear TV channels BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2, BT Sport 3, BT Sport ESPN, BT Sport 4K UHD, six interactive BT Sport Extra channels and is available on BT TV, Sky, Virgin and Talk Talk. BT Sport is also available online and via the App on mobile and large screen devices and operates pay per view channel, BT Sport Box Office.
BT Sport has a track record of innovation, operating from one of industry’s most sophisticated sports TV studios, and delivering world-firsts around Virtual Reality, Dolby Atmos, 4K UHD and remote production. Its achievements have been recognized with awards from IBC, Promax, Music Week and more. As well as the sole UK rights holder for all of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, BT Sport offers live sport programming including the English Premier League, Emirates FA Cup, boxing, FA WSL, Gallagher Premiership Rugby, Heineken Champions Cup and MotoGP.
BT Sport’s goal is to bring fans closer to sports, engaging them through enhanced experiences and giving them a genuine feeling of presence. Providing more value for their users helps attract new subscribers and retain current ones.
With a clear innovation strategy, BT Sport is an early adopter of new technologies like 5G, HDR, 8K broadcast, augmented reality, and spatial audio. And, relevant to this use case: BT Sport has delivered VR360 to it users in the form of additional camera positions that can be selected by users in the BT Sport app. BT Sport started making these available in the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League season. From the very start, BT has looked to increase the quality and resolution beyond the traditional 4K 360.
BT Sport initially provided VR360 feeds to its users in “legacy” 4K format. While a resolution of 4K sounds impressive, it’s the low bar when applied to VR360. This is because the user sees only a very small part of the image: some 15%. Streaming in 8K would allow the video to be much crisper. It would also enable pinch-and-zoom, a feature that is much appreciated by users.
While the benefits of going to 8K were clear, natively streaming in 8K provides two major challenges: the bandwidth requirements are prohibitive and there are only very few devices that can decode 8K. “Viewport-adaptive” solutions overcome these challenges, as they only need to stream the part of the video that the user sees. Tiledmedia worked with BT Applied Research and BT Sport in a series of 8K tests and trials, in which BT compared various 8K streaming solutions.
Tiledmedia’s ClearVR solution came out on top: it offered the most scalable solution with the fastest response to user interaction. Moreover, it was the solution that was easiest to integrate with the existing distribution chain.
BT Sport then distributed, over the public Internet, the world’s first end-to-end VR360 production in 8K VR360 during the FA Cup final in 2019. Speaking to SVG Europe, Jamie Hindhaugh, chief operating officer at BT Sport, said: “I am very proud of what we have done with 360 [so far]. But this is a massive step change. And that was echoed by everyone that engaged with it.”
This successful Proof of Concept marked the start of the integration of ClearVR into the BT Sport application, and of the 8K production workflow into its “business as usual” operations. For Tiledmedia, it was the start of an even closer collaboration with BT Sport, and with Deltatre. In a short period and under COVID lockdown, the teams worked on upgrading the VR production to 8K, integrating the `ClearVR Cloud transcoding, and incorporating the ClearVR SDK in Deltatre’s DIVA player as used in the BT Sport app.
Starting in November 2020 with the launch of Apple’s iPhone 12, BT Sport Ultimate subscribers now have access to 8K VR 360 viewpoints in the BT Sport App. Football fans can choose from 3 camera positions and a “Director Cut” that follows play across these three viewpoints. The cameras are placed in attractive positions: at the centre line (the traditional “camera 1” position on broadcast), and near both goals. Users move their mobile device in “magic window mode” or swipe around. While doing either, they can pinch to zoom into the action, with a significant, 4x zoom factor.
With support from Tiledmedia, BT Sport is the world’s first to provide its subscribers with live 360VR content in 8K VR360 quality from the world’s leading football league: the English Premier League. Fans only require a phone or a tablet with a decent internet connection, WiFi or 4G – and it’s even better with the 5G network that BT’s mobile operator EE is now rolling out.
Below is a screen recording of the actual user experience.