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Backlight Streaming Masterclass

Matt Loreille – CEO of Backlight Streaming

The Fifa World Cup showcased a step change in the possibilities of digital media presentation and storytelling.

That was the theme of the masterclass delivered to ISC by Matt Loreille, Chief Marketing Officer of Backlight Streaming – a new brand created around a year ago, alongside Backlight Creative,  after the acquisition of five companies. Its mission is to connect video content with viewers of all kinds, on every device, and Loreille put the spotlight on broadcasters operating during last year’s tournament in Qatar to demonstrate the level of innovation that is now out there.

These innovations, he said, will have been developed to serve one or more of four different purposes: developing speed and reach of content, enhancing the viewer experience, stimulating engagement and improving monetisation outcomes.

Highlights and match feeds

The production of near-live clips, extracted automatically from match footage using AI solutions, has been an especially significant development. Their adoption is now widespread: Loreille was surprised to discover Backlight customers asking for automated solutions during the World Cup, despite the fact that with few matches played concurrently, traditional editing teams would have been available for most games.

Automation, however, enables the efficiency that unlocks new storytelling capabilities. Bespoke highlights packages were created to a range of tastes and needs; metadata and pre-roll advertising could be inserted without additional intervention, while broadcasters could create multiple versions by language, length, or a focus on individual players.

Distribution workflows are also shortened in this way, with automated web stories delivered straight to platforms like Google OneBox.

Growing reach through distribution

The value of producing content tailored to each platform was also evident during the World Cup.

Social platforms allow broadcasters to connect in moments of high emotion but broadcasters also showed novel ways of tailoring content for those channels.

The production of mobile-first vertical video – popular on TikTok and Instagram Stories – has moved closer to the industry standard but over the course of the World Cup, companies like Telemundo found they could generate further engagement by dividing the screen into zones – showing something closer to the conventional TV aspect ratio alongside an alternate angle of a tactical view or a close-up of the coaching staff, for example.

Meanwhile, brands found that developing content ideas that were closer to the spirit of each platform – producing advertising as entertainment – improved the performance of their campaigns.

At the same time, Backlight Streaming has been working with its partners to emphasise the quality of social-first video, applying broadcast-level expectations by ensuring, for instance, that scoreboxes are not cropped from a mobile screen.

Back on the big screen, FAST channels – free ad-supported streaming television – are set to become an important part of many companies’ strategies. Fox Sports loaded up its games on its FAST outlet, Tubi, so that fans could watch at more convenient times in the US. The channel was still running that looped match footage weeks after the tournament finished, providing ongoing advertising opportunities.

The same broadcaster, along with Telemundo, also experimented with free teaser offers for its paid OTT service. Fans were given the chance to watch up to 60 minutes of live action, allowing them to trial the product before deciding on a subscription. In the MENA region, beIN Sports made the final available for free as part of a day-long, geo-blocked livestream.

Interactivity and engagement 

As the fundamentals of mobile distribution become easier to handle, fans are coming to expect differentiated viewing experiences. The World Cup was an opportunity for media companies to push the envelope in that respect.

Multi-angle video has improved in terms of reliability and flexibility, and different companies were ready to take advantage in their own way. In Switzerland, SRG SSR split the screen to show a pitch map below the action. India’s Viacom18 introduced the JioCinema interface, a more intuitive means of controlling the action through a time wheel and other joypad-style commands.

In Colombia, Caracol used SportBuff’s technology to integrate sponsor messaging through polls and other interactive on-screen elements that added another level of play.

Several broadcasters also introduced more dynamic and enticing push notifications on mobile, tied more closely to the story of a match. These optimisations, Loreille noted, could only be effective once the entire workflow had been built to allow such flexibility.

The next generation of digital experiences are ready to emerge and in Hong Kong, Now TV provided the most telling glimpse. It rolled out features like online watch parties and a comprehensive augmented reality offering. Through their mobile screens, users could see real-time graphical overlays of in-game tactics and even perspectival images of players projected on to their surrounding environment.

The age of standard replications of the TV feed in digital streaming is nearing its end. From here, there are many exciting paths to follow.