Serie A matches are not only seen in Italy, but also in the rest of the world. International rights are a component of the package that Lega Serie A offers to broadcasters; and if it is normal to imagine that each country has its own commentary, there is also a need for a system that can customize advertisements based on the country in which the match is broadcast.
In some cases, the advertisements have international value (perhaps for very well-known brands); while in others, however, the logo of a Chinese or Middle Eastern company appears on the side of the playing field.
So how can we personalize the advertisements that appear during the match?
For some years, Serie A has been using a virtualization system that guarantees a dedicated flow for each geographical area, with diversified advertising on the sidelines and beyond. Everything happens remotely.
How the virtualization system works
The insertion of virtual advertisements takes place by working on the television signal of the match, explains Fulvio Ferrara, responsible for production graphics at ISG Media, a company that collaborates with Serie A, directly from the International Broadcast Center located in Lissone.
The virtual advertising insertion technology has been active since the inauguration of the IBC, i.e. since mid-2021. ISG Media uses the technology of Supponor, of which it owns 25% of the shares.
“The system is based on two fundamental concepts: tracking and masking“, says Ferrara. That is to say the tracking of images and the use of a “mask” to apply to what is broadcast live. “The first, based on the image, is able to replicate the movements of the main camera on which the assets are inserted; the second, based on Artificial Intelligence, allows you to define what moves in front of the space dedicated to advertising, such as players, referees or the ball, therefore inserting it behind it“.
This can apply not only to the LEDs on the sidelines, but also to the midfield circle before the start of the match and other elements of the playing field on which you want to insert virtual advertisements.
Tracking, explains Ferrara, allows the virtualization system to position and anchor the advertising to the defined position, while masking ensures the insertion of the advertising behind the subjects and objects moving in front of the destination area.
Calibration before each match
Positioning advertising assets must be an almost automatic operation during the live broadcast. Therefore, to place the various advertisements within the system “a virtual stage is recreated which represents the playing field on which the areas intended for virtualization are identified and marked“, Ferrara continues.
The preparation phase can take up to two hours before each match.
“The calibration process includes a connection between our operations room and the videographer and broadcast director to move the cameras to cover every angle, control the lights and so on“, explains ISG Media CEO, Simon Burgess. “This allows our systems to understand the shape of the stadium, the lighting conditions, where the LED systems are“.
For Serie A, the virtualization activity is carried out directly at the IBC in Lissone, whereby the television signal is delivered to national and international broadcasters done and finished, following the various processes, ready for broadcast.
The flows for all twenty teams are organized from Lissone and configured diversified flows for the rest of Europe, Asia, America and the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa).
“This ensures that all versions of the same match’s signals, domestic and international, coming out of the IBC are delivered with the same latency“, says Ferrara.
This happens because ISG Media works directly in the IBC of Lissone; but in other cases it operates remotely, for example for the French Ligue 1.
“Since we are in Milan, we take the flow from Paris, from their central production resource”, explains Burgess. “Once we have their live stream of the match, we insert the virtual elements and send it back to Paris, who then distributes it worldwide“.
Today it applies to 90% of the recovery
In addition to football, virtual ads are applied to broadcasts of other sports, such as Formula 1 and hockey.
At the moment, however, there is a limitation: the virtualization task only works for the main camera. In practice, virtualization is possible for 90% of the live broadcast; but not for replays or slow motion shotsspecifies Burgess, returning to talking about football.
However, this is a temporary limit because we are already working, with a time horizon of maximum 18 months, to be able to process the flow of the transmission and not the direct recording of the video camera. “This means you can virtualize any camera because you are no longer relying on any camera“, riassume
Another aspect must then be considered. Although virtualization can be done at any stage and with any camera, connectivity is potentially a limitation: in the most difficult cases, virtualization is carried out directly on site.
“For example during the Europa League final or the Super Cup [italiana], like we did last year in Riyadh, there was a more complicated production process. It was easier for us to go there directly“Burgess recalls.
The future of virtual advertising goes in the direction of greater personalization and more intelligent use.
For example, Burgess envisions adult ads, such as for gambling, presented only to adult users, as well as the possibility of having interactive ads whose content can be saved for later with a swipe on the smartphone screen. “We can offer more real-time choice to people so we can present flash deals, other things that are more relevant, more important to consumers.“.
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