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Case Study interviews with Aurora Media Worldwide and COPA90

Broadcast Sports Tech Innovation Forum

The world of sports media production and distribution is becoming ever-more influenced by audiences’ move to massive online video consumption. With the explosion of new viewing platforms comes an ever-increasing demand on production companies and content companies to continuously produce outstanding quality of sports content, at scale. This volume of content presents new challenges for companies in sports media who have to deal with management, storage, processing and delivery of huge data sets.

Two companies that are renowned for their innovative approach to just such challenges are Aurora Media Worldwide (part of All3Media Group) and the world’s largest independent football production brand, COPA90. Both are long-standing clients of base and large-scale users of our multi-cloud platform.

At the Broadcast Sports Tech Innovation Forum 2019, hosted at BT Sports Studios in London, we were delighted to interview David O’Carroll and Barry Flanigan to discover more about how they are each leveraging ground-breaking cloud technology to scale-up their businesses and monetise their sports content.

COPA90 Case Study

COPA90 is a global media business focused on football. From humble beginnings as a YouTube channel back in 2012, the company now has a network which reaches millions of fans around the world. COPA90 create content from multiple platforms, both producing their own original content, but also commercially – working with most of the big brand sponsors that are involved in football. COPA90’s clients include global brands such as Visa and Pepsi.

“We describe the brand as being how football feels” says Barry. “What we mean by that, is that you go to traditional media to find out what’s happened in the game of football. The teams, the line-ups, the stats etc. But you come to COPA90 to understand how you feel about it. It’s that emotional connection with the game. So the world, the fan culture that matters so much to a young audience in particular. That’s what we really focus on, increasing that type of content that resonates with a young audience.”

Dealing with a global fan base of content contributors and delivering such a huge output of video content on a daily basis, including coverage of major World Cup events has driven COPA90 to adopt a cloud-first strategy to its media technology:

“It was primarily driven by a hygiene factor where we had a very fragmented approach to storing our assets. We had an archive going back to 2012. Over 200 terabytes of content, and it was spread over portable hard drives and Google drives and different laptops, etc. First and fore-most, we moved to the cloud to have a much more robust and scalable way to manage our assets. The more exciting elements really allowed us to scale our production workflows and our content workflows to cope with the demands, particularly of major events like the World Cup in Russia… and also the Women’s World Cup in France. We had so much content flooding into the production HQ on the ground in Russia and in France, our production teams in London, production teams in New York. We just simply couldn’t have achieved that volume of publishing without the cloud workflows that we put in place.”

As a fast-growing start-up company, COPA90 did not have a large amount of legacy physical IT infrastructure holding it back. This is something we are seeing become more and more common, especially with online video companies and new sports media properties that have been started in recent years. Culturally there is a big shift away from hardware and towards modern, scalable online working.

“We didn’t really have a legacy infrastructure that we were trying to move off. I think that gave us an opportunity to really put the right structures in place from the start and know that we are in the cloud now, that we have got these workflows in place. It allows us to think about some exciting opportunities moving forward.”

A major driver for taking a cloud-based approach for COPA90 is the fact that the majority of their content is distributed and published online. It makes logical sense to move production workloads closer to the final distribution end-points of the content.

“We create content that’s designed to travel out to where young fan are, rather than force fans to always come into our environment. So what that means is that we distribute across every social platform. We always have to stay on top in new emerging platforms. For example, we started publishing on Tik Tok a few months ago, but we also distribute across publishers’ syndication and broadcast syndication networks. We’ve got about 200 or so broadcaster partners around the world that license and distribute our content. So by being in the cloud, by having the workflows that we’ve got in place, allows us to deal with that large variety of different distribution end-points.”

As COPA90 also produces premium branded content for a number of major global clients, the demands on the in-house creative teams to deliver faster, higher-quality video content are another reason why the move to cloud workflows has brought tangible business benefits.

“It enables us to deal with some of the workflow pressures that our brand partners put on us. They have quite demanding quality and production workflow requirements. By being in the cloud we’re much more able to deal with that and to cope with both brand campaigns that we’re running as well as our own editorial content.”

Aurora Media Worldwide Case Study

Aurora Media Worldwide are a media production company with sport at their very heart. They look after a broad range of clients and sports properties including Formula E and Goodwood festivals, as well as high-profile international cycling and tennis events. In addition to sports event host broadcasting, the creative talents on their team regularly produce high-quality branded content for brands and sponsors.

base has worked with Aurora Media Worldwide since around 2016. Originally providing a fairly straight-forward cloud storage and file sharing solution for Formula E, powered by IBM Aspera. However, the requirements for the rights holder were eventually to have a fully branded MAM system, enabling them to distribute content to all the global broadcast sponsor partners and teams.

Before diving into the tech, David O’Carroll talked us through a high-level introduction to Formula E, which has been gaining fantastic traction over the last 6 years since its inception.

“Formula E is single seater, open wheel racing in city centres, with electric powered race cars. It’s close racing. There’s barely a second between the top and bottom of the grid. Usually it’s combative. It’s very close. It’s wheels-to-wheel.”

With the world waking up to the impacts of climate change and global warming, Formula E has a strong and clear message, particularly focused on grabbing the attention of younger generation audiences.

“It’s a motorsport that is targeted very clearly at a younger demographic than traditional motorsport. The way that the championship is built with fan engagement that actually influences the racing, is to draw the younger viewers in. It’s a purpose driven sport. It talks about being a platform for the development of electric vehicles. It also has a sustainable message, which again, talks to those younger demographics. The viewership has really been growing year-on-year.”

Since base and Aurora Media Worldwide first started collaborating, the Formula E content distribution figures and audience numbers have more than doubled year-on-year. The explosive growth of uptake of the series has had a direct impact on data volumes and data management approach.

“The championship is now five years old. Over that time, the growth has been pretty impressive. There was a huge step change into Season 5 where more mature broadcasters came on board, and the distribution therefore has become much wider. It’s gone up again to over 400 million viewers through the season, which is staggering for a championship that is five years old.”

To deal with the growth since season 1, the team have really had to continually adapt and scale their approach to technology.

“That step change between seasons four and five meant that we had to just elevate everything we were doing on site to create a traditional world feed for the broadcasters who wanted to take something and personalize it…We were creating far more content and allowed the broadcasters to take that and personalize it using their channels, no matter what tier of broadcast or funding they had available to make their programming… Part of that was scaling up very quickly – the cloud based DMH (Digital Media Hub) that we have, so that it became the central hub of all of the content we were producing for the global TV output and the teams and partners and sponsors. Little Dot Studios used it as a repository for their digital content. And then we were able to push that out far wider. Everybody had one place to come to get content. I think that’s been a major difference.”

Both Formula E and COPA90’s case studies appear to draw parallels. They have a similar approach. They each have global partners that can simply log in anytime, search for the content they want and download it on demand. Much like COPA90, Formula E is also dealing directly with major brands and sponsors and requires a secure method for sharing content access with these key stakeholders.

“The way this deal is structured is that it’s a secure system and we can give each of the partners access to the pieces of media that they have the rights to. But it also means that everybody can see that the full raft of material that could be available.”

Moving to this cloud-based approach also brings commercial benefits and opens up new models for monetising content, that may have traditionally been hidden away on tapes or hard drives. By moving content distribution to cloud-based services, it also possible to unlock detailed analytics and usage data, to help drive business decisions.

“One of the things that we do now, very actively, is draw the metrics from the DMH (Digital Media Hub), which allows us to see who’s using what content, how frequently… We can see who’s downloading it, who’s using which bits. So that allows the Formula E commercial team to really target what’s going on so they can see what is being used, what’s popular, what’s not popular, who is using the content in the best possible way, perhaps who’s maybe not making the best possible use of it.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Formula E is always pushing the limits of technology and its use of brand-new tools and workflows. Having already experimented with AI-driven workflows in live transmission during season 5, they have more recently collaborated with base and Veritone to implement fully automated AI tagging and transcription into the 2020-21 sixth season platform.

“In the season just past we had an AI driven graphics engine that was able to pointer a graphic on a car as it moved around the track. Now, that was done by sort of visual recognition of that car so that even if it was in the back of the grid, almost as they took off, it would follow that car around, and it made it very clear. That was the first time that that sort of AI technique had been used to do a pointer in real time over real pictures.”

For the launch of season 6 base have implemented a fully automated service with Veritone’s aiWARE operating system. airWARE acts like a ‘broker’ of multiple AI engines, across multiple clouds and allows us to aggregate the best, most accurate AI engine results – to then be mapped to the Digital Media Hub user interface for our clients. In the case of Formula E, we were tasked with removing the requirement for manual, on-location race logging. The service is now capable of automatically transcribing all race commentary and applying a searchable transcript against specific timecodes in the race. For example, a user at FOX in the USA can login to the Digital Media Hub portal via their web browser, open up the live race TX master and search for a specific driver or team mention, crash or overtake moment. The system scoots the user directly to the timecode range of the clip and saves them an enormous amount of manual labour. We have also deployed automated facial recognition for drivers, presenters and key celebrities. Crucially though, the ability to automatically provide logo recognition has the potential to open up whole new methods of sponsorship reporting and analytics. As each race is scanned through our cloud workflow, we produce frame-accurate metrics for how long specific brands have been shown on screen.

This type of AI-driven data analytics is one of the most exciting new areas the base team are currently developing alongside our network of sports clients.

David O’Carroll confirms the business drivers for rolling out AI workflows in their latest platform:

“In this particular case, it’s to create richer data for broadcasters to search against. At the moment, we manually log most of the content that goes in, certainly around the main race footage. But moving to A.I. is going to mean that someone doesn’t have to do it with a pen and paper and physically log, but it will also give us far richer insight into what these search terms can be. And they’ll be able to find the parts are looking for much quicker, hopefully leading to more use of the footage, and more great personalization of the content.”

Technology Partnership

The technology that powers these new ways of working for COPA90 and Formula E is a combination of best-in-class cloud services, integrated and managed by the team at base.

We have combined cloud storage and file transfer services from IBM Cloud, media asset management and AI services from Veritone and transcoding services by Telestream Cloud to create a seamless multi-cloud solution for the end-users. The front-end user interface and branded portal for the customers are built around Veritone’s CORE asset management platform and Digital Media Hub software. This enables us to create fully branded, white-labelled sports distribution portals for our clients – tailored to their preferred look and feel. It essentially creates a ‘shop window’ to hundreds of terabytes of media content, available anywhere in the world to authorised users with a web browser and a standard Internet connection.

To find out more about the tools under the hood, David Candler, Veritone’s Senior Director, Customer Solutions, Channel tells us more.

“We have a multi cloud solution with
base, so it means that they can pick and choose different applications and connect them all back to that central video store. There is a branded digital media hub for selling content online and sharing it with global distribution partners and then a cloud MAM in the back end, also integrated with the storage on IBM Cloud. You’ve got all of these different tools, but to the users, it’s all hidden in the background. This year we’re going to be applying some of our A.I. engines. There’s a figure out there, which is something like 80 percent of the world’s data was created in the last two years. You can’t possibly manage that manually going forward. So cognitive processing has to come into it.”

The service we have built together has an advanced back-end asset management capability, suitable for more technical users (such as Editors, Systems Admins, IT staff etc) and a more consumer-style branded front-end for non-technical users. This approach makes it easier for different team members, across an organisation to all have access to the specific features they need – from one centralised platform.

“The backend asset management platform is a full enterprise asset management platform, where production and post-production groups can actually get in there and work with the archive. But more importantly, Digital Media Hub is a single pane of glass, it’s a branded experience.”

The base multi-cloud platform has been built in such a way that we can tailor solutions for individual clients, based on their specific use cases and business needs.