Dream a little stream: The future of sports viewing is immersive

Games broadcast on linear TV don’t allow for specialization. Streaming provides the opportunity for viewers to choose what they want to see.

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With the help of Amazon Web Services, Prime Video’s “Thursday Night Football” can show viewers how long the quarterback is holding the ball and which receivers are open.

With the help of Amazon Web Services, Prime Video’s “Thursday Night Football” can show viewers how long the quarterback is holding the ball and which receivers are open.


I have seen the future of sports viewing, and it is immersive.

It will be delivered through a direct-to-consumer streaming service. It will be geared toward fans who are accustomed to busy screens and sensory overload. And it will be a one-stop shop for everything a viewer could want, from placing a bet to ordering a jersey.

“When I talk about direct-to-consumer in sports, that industry has done a fairly good job of turning the internet into cable, but that is not the point,” said Julie Souza, head of sports global professional services at Amazon Web Services. “You’ve got a platform that has so much interactivity and engagement, personalization capability, and it’s not being tapped.”

Why is AWS interested in tapping into that platform? Because it can play a significant role in enhancing it. AWS already works with teams, leagues and broadcasters worldwide. Think of Amazon Prime Video’s “Thursday Night Football.” Fans can watch with graphic and statistical overlays on the alternate stream “Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats” or listen to different commentators, but AWS could take that broadcast, and others, to another level.

“Bringing AWS artificial-intelligence and machine-learning expertise to content viewing helps us service content that’s going to be more relevant for people, personalized recommendations, things like that,” said Souza, who has held similar roles leading business development at ESPN, Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports Network.

Games broadcast on linear TV don’t allow for such specialization. It’s a one-to-many pipe with production that appeals to the masses. Streaming provides the opportunity for viewers to choose what they want to see.

Think about what might interest you during a game. If you’re into sports betting, the broadcast could prompt you to make a prop bet. If you play fantasy sports, the broadcast could follow your players. You could choose your audio feed and camera angle, buy tickets to a game and order a pizza for halftime.

AWS has made demos of “shoppable” video, which viewers can click to make a purchase. If you’re watching soccer and a goal is scored, that player’s jersey could pop up for a viewer to buy. Video-solutions provider Accedo, one of more than 100,000 AWS partners, is behind that technology.

Some of this already is available. AWS powers the Clippers’ CourtVision, which augments live video with play diagrams, shows real-time shot probability and tracks stats. There’s even a Mascot Mode geared toward kids with animations and special effects, such as the ball turning into Thor’s hammer on a dunk. Sports-tracking provider Second Spectrum built it and operates it on AWS infrastructure.

“When we were growing up, the raw data of sport was a box score,” Souza said. “Now the raw data is X, Y, Z coordinates, degrees of latitude and longitude, because we’re tracking either through cameras or sensors. Nobody can look at it at face value. That’s where machine learning and artificial intelligence come into play, to take that data and turn it into insights that are valuable to the sports ecosystem.”

All that data is housed in the cloud, which is efficient and malleable. AWS is working with content creators to move their production to the cloud, thus reducing the crew and equipment needed at sites.

“The secret sauce is the optimization,” Souza said. “If you’ve got a rack of servers in your data center, you’re limited to that. Whereas with AWS, we’ve got people who say, these workloads need to be running now, these I don’t care when they run. There’s that optimization of resources. I’m not saying it’s easy; it’s a complicated thing. But that’s what we do.”

Fans are more concerned with what they see, and by the sound of it, they could see a lot more during broadcasts in the not-too-distant future.

“We can use cloud-enabled technologies, AI, ML, to bring those sorts of experiences and capabilities to the broadcasters, distributors, streamers and ultimately the fans,” Souza said. “I love the thought of being able to produce your own live-game viewing experience with whatever interactivity you want. I think that’s the future of streaming sports.”

Remote patrol

Live sports will return to WGN TV next weekend, but perhaps not in the way you’d expect. “Chicago’s Very Own” will carry all 14 LIV Golf events this year, beginning with the season opener in Mexico.

The Saudi-backed league has an agreement with Nexstar’s The CW Network to air its events, but they conflict with weekend programming commitments on the Chicago affiliate, CW26 (WCIU), which include IHSA basketball. That moves LIV to Nexstar’s WGN, which will air coverage from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday for every event.

The CW app will carry the first round of events on Fridays and simulcast the weekend rounds. LIV returns its announcing team of Arlo White and analysts David Feherty and Jerry Foltz in the booth.

The Blackhawks have two exclusive, national appearances coming up. Their home game at 5 p.m. Sunday against the Maple Leafs will air on ESPN+ and Hulu. Mike Monaco, Kevin Weekes and Emily Kaplan have the call. The game at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in Dallas will air on TNT. Former Hawks goalie Darren Pang will be in studio, and Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk and Keith Jones will call the action.

Former Sun-Timesman Gordon Wittenmyer and ESPN 1000’s David Kaplan are launching the “Cubs REKAP Podcast.” The first show is expected to drop next week. It will be available on YouTube and wherever you get your podcasts.

Good news for Fire fans: MLS Season Pass will be available at bars and restaurants that are part of the DirecTV for Business network.

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