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World Cup gets interactive with 21st century technology


The promise of watching the football World Cup with 21st century technology hints at a world where all media are tied together in a complete package that can excite, inform and entertain modern audiences using interactive technologies. We’re not there yet. But we’re getting there with the help of cutting-edge research.

Thanks to an ambitious and highly focused research project, all the existing media channels, internet, TV, phone, could be linked together to offer a wide variety of services for journalists, VIPs, broadcasters, advertisers and, of course, the fans.

The LEMATCH project gathers many leading players in broadcasting, sport and interactive technology, like NBC and Yahoo. The project researched and developed a prototype sports production platform for producing and delivering adaptive interactive cross media content with a focus on live and real-time content.

Called CSP, the platform uses three key technologies: an object tracking module, an interactive and statistical module, and an enhanced graphics and virtual advertising module.

The object tracking module uses specialised cameras to follow the movement of the ball and individual players. The statistical module can then use this information to render all sorts of real-time data, like how far individual players have run in the game, who had the fastest sprint, the total aggregate of distance run for the team, how hard the ball is kicked or how fast it moves.

What’s more, it can combine this data with historical statistics from the last six months or the entire career of the individual or the team. These statistics can be used to create games or even betting around the player who runs the fastest or furthest.

"What kind of content you develop around the system is limited only by your imagination," says Thomas Look, coordinator of the LEMATCH project.

Advances in the area have already been made. FIFA, the international football federation, has invested heavily in chip-in-ball systems. The chip provides continuous movement tracking. So far, they haven’t worked very well, because the chip keeps on failing."What’s more, that system would mean players would need to carry transmitters, a technology that, so far, doesn’t look too practical," says Look.

The LEMATCH system, however, uses technology from partner ORAD, one of the leaders in the field. It doesn’t rely on embedded technology that can so easily fail, but uses advanced object tracking hardware and software to provide the same functionality.

The main initial application areas are basketball and football, though the project plans to extend it towards individual sports like snowboarding. "We want a mixture of sports, to test the equipment in a variety of settings, like indoor and outdoor, team and individual sports," says Look.

The team initially developed CSP around five broadcasting formats to demonstrate the flexibility of the system and cover all the potential uses. Broadcasting formats are the familiar ’type’ of programme: Live, in-studio recording and others.

But LEMATCH significantly extends the available formats across all types of media – TV, internet and phone. The live format is joined by TV broadcasting with an internet strand, potentially with betting or sponsored games to enhance the experience. Another format features a show simultaneously broadcast on air and online. Another format mixes new media for interactive broadcasting and customised advertising.

The project has already tested the platform in the German Basketball League, an Estonian snowboarding competition and friendly football games. "The technology works, and we will be improving it and testing it further until the end of the year," says Look. "We hope to have a commercial product at that stage."

There are many potentially lucrative markets for the technology. Broadcasters could deploy it among their mobile broadcasting units, or a stadium could install it as a permanent facility and value-added service for the broadcasters. It could even be used by individual teams or consultant companies to analyse the playing style, strengths and weaknesses of an individual team, either to improve a team’s performance, or to analyse an opponent’s weakness.

So far, the interest has been very high. "Broadcasters, stadiums and consultancies have all expressed an interest in our work, and it will probably be marketed in different forms for different situations," says Look.

Get ready for 2010, when the World Cup becomes all interactive, across all media.

Tara Morris | alfa
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