Discovery-owned Eurosport used tennis charity event Andy Murray Live as a production sandbox to test its planned disruptions in the live 360 video, camera placement and data spaces, features that it intends to bring to its coverage of tennis and the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
The pay TV provider is aggressively channeling new forms of content through its social and digital channels that include an app and the £29.99 a year Eurosport Player to create a buzz and herald its status as the provider of the Olympics, the four tennis Grand Slams and more, in Europe.
The exhibition charity match on Andy Murray’s home turf, the Glasgow SSE Hydro, gave Eurosport space away from the restrictive rules of organised sports to push the boundaries on how such an event can be shot and shared. The Drum got behind the scenes to see the production team fine-tuning their efforts ahead of the Winter Olympics where it will be looked upon to prove why it deserves to hold the rights to the Games in most European territories for the coming years.
Speaking to The Drum, Pedro Garcia-Ayesta, director of global tennis production at Eurosport, said: “We are here to cover the event but also to do new different stuff and project ourselves into the future. We have to do the things no one else is doing.”
There was a 360-degree camera placed on Roger Federer’s courtside seat and another on the net post (something that would not be possible under current rules in a professional match).
In the Eurosport app, viewers across Europe tuned in to watch the game in VR on their mobiles, putting themselves on the court during the antics of tennis entertainer Mansour Bahrami and for Roger Federer’s first time in a kilt, Andy Murray efforts wearing a ‘Hey Jimmy’ hat and a surprise appearance of the gallus characters of Scottish sitcom Still Game. It was unconventional but it was an echo of what tennis could be.
Garcia-Ayesta said: “360 video offers a different image we don’t see normally. We don’t get too many chance to test these features, not because we don’t want to but the sports are not as ready as they should be to allow these changes. We realised as a media group that we need to evolve and go farther.
“We are still a bit far off, there are steps that need to be taken… but it is the future, is it the future of live TV? I am not sure, but is it the future of having something to do while you are consuming our live sport? Probably yes.”
The entire match is available on Eurosport's Facebook page in 360 video, from the Federer chair position. At the time of publishing it has received 138,000 views on this channel, clocking in higher than some linear sports broadcasts. The comments section is also filled with crucial feedback on how it can develop its efforts.
The Eurosport team also placed micro cameras anywhere on the court they could feasibly manage. There was one on a ball boy. There was another at the base of the net which offered stunning close-ups of the net play – but this angle would not be permitted for the broadcast of a professional game. A cameraman was also sent into the locker rooms as the players prepared for the game, prompting much ado from a section of the crowd as Federer slipped into his tracksuit top.
Heart-rate monitors were also tested pre-game, with Garcia-Ayesta stating: “We are hoping to gather biometric data from the players.”
This would have been overlaid onto the screen to show how the athletes were faring physically during the match. The request was ultimately denied by the players' camps, however. It’s worth stating that Murray is in a lengthy rehabilitation and his fitness was still a major point of concern in the pre-match conference. Biometric data would have unearthed Murray’s readiness for his competitive return in 2018. Few athletic teams will want to share this information, and what’s more, sports leagues often own this data, another hurdle in using it to enrich broadcasts.
The heart-rate monitor had however previously been tested in Eurosport's coverage of cycling events and featured in a graphic overlay showing how the athlete was performing during the course of the event.
This information would have built upon some 400 data points that the company would be measuring in real time. “We realise that people are consuming across two screens, we want to go closer to the action through the numbers and give the people this additional content,” he said.
The Olympics are vital to Eurosport’s existence, and it has aligned 50% of its coverage into sports that will feature at the Games to support and build an audience for its offering beyond the obligatory two-year windows.
With events like Andy Murray Live, Garcia-Ayesta said: “We need to convince them this is the way to do it, the way to go. This is the only way to do the things.”