SVG Sit-Down: Vitec’s D’Addio Says IP Opens Up In-Venue Video Opportunities
Pro and college sports teams are making all kinds of innovative changes to their new and renovated stadiums, using technology to better serve the fan. Those programs turn to a company like Vitec, which offers video technologies that allow stadium operators to target fans in the stadium and diversify content received throughout the bowl and luxury suites.
SVG caught up with Mark D’Addio, VP, business development and emerging markets, in Vitecs Sunnyvale, CA, offices to discuss what the company is up to in sports venues and what to expect at next month’s NAB Show.
You guys are involved in a lot of things across the board, but let’s focus, specifically, on just the sports side. What are some of the latest developments that the company is looking at with respect to in-venue IPTV systems and that kind of in-venue entertainment?
There’s a couple areas we’re looking at. We have had some success over the last couple years with [the stadiums of] the Green Bay Packers and the Buffalo Bills. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from them as well as other companies and other prospects. We’re having lots of discussions about mobile streaming in a venue. Could be a suite, it could be around the stadium — we have different ways to stream video wirelessly, typically using a wireless access point that could be all around the stadium.
One important aspect of streaming we found is latency, so we’re developing an app that is very low latency from encoding the stream to viewing the stream on the tablet, which can be either iOS or Android. Other areas that we’re looking at are more digital-signage–based, having the marriage of the encoded stream on the display with graphical elements — maybe an L bar or a full-screen graphic — for advertising purposes or just for a better experience for the fans: marrying the video and the graphics with game stats or scores around the league, these types of things.
This kind of new wave of in-venue entertainment is still relatively young, and teams are figuring out what they want to do with it. Some teams have very advanced venues; some are still trying to catch up. In the cases that you have worked with, what capabilities are the teams looking for? How are they approaching this new era of entertaining fans in the stadium?
It depends on who we’re talking to. When we’re talking to some of the pro teams, sometimes we’re talking to the guy that’s managing the system. He has a different view because he wants to be able to manage in a very simple way, and our middleware solution allows him to do that. But, [for] the fan experience, I think it comes down to a flexible system that can integrate with the fan experience in a suite, versus a common area, versus maybe even a menu, integrating it with the point-of-sale for menu system and having dynamic menu boards. So this type of thing, being all IP, is pretty powerful that they can have control over everything in a dynamic sort of way. As stadiums are moving from RF to IP, it really opens up a lot of possibilities for them.
So replacing coax is a big trend you are seeing?
Yeah. You don’t see a lot of colleges building new stadiums, as you [see] with pros; colleges want to renovate their stadium. In those cases, they’re looking at new cabling, new ways of renovating the stadium. That’s when we have a really good opportunity to bring them to the next level, to add all this functionality and more interaction with the fan. Because a lot of fans are used to watching the game from home, you want to give them an experience that [enables them to] really enjoy and appreciate what’s going on at the stadium.
The Buffalo Bills have been big proponents of what you guys have been able to do at Ralph Wilson Stadium. How is that system implemented, and what are they using it for at home games?
It’s really all about video distribution around the stadium: to the common areas, to menus — in this case, they’re encoding the menus — and into the suites. What was really important for them was low latency for the streaming. They’re using our blade-based encoders, which have a lot of broadcast features, functionality. Not only is that low latency, but it also has no single point of failure; it has redundant power supply, which they really appreciate.
It really fits well with their broadcast center, and they’re streaming it around the stadium using the new set-top boxes to view the streams. It’s a very simple way of managing the set-top boxes around the stadium using a simple Web-based app. Typically using it on an iPad or on a computer, they can have a quick view of all the set-top boxes around the stadium, and they can control what streams are going to what set-top boxes and can create groups, which they’ve done: different groups, different concourses, different types of suites, or individual suites. So they have control over the video, which is something that they couldn’t do that easily with an RF system.
The NAB Show is just around the corner. What can attendees look forward to seeing from Vitec in Vegas?
Overall, one of our big announcements will be HEVC — also known as H.265 — which is the next compression standard for video [and] will give a lot more efficiency for the streams: you’ll have the same sort of quality as H.264 but about 30% less bandwidth. That’s the advantage of H.265, or HEVC. We’ll be introducing [an] HEVC encoder [that] is portable and cost-effective. I can’t tell you a whole lot more about it, but that’s one of our big announcements overall, and that is very attractive for many different applications, not just sports applications. More efficiency is always a good thing. It’s very similar to the shift from MPEG-2 to H.264. So this is the next step.
As far as a sports-specific thing we’ll be showing, we have some new technology or new developments for fan experience I already talked about, which would be digital-signage–based stuff and mobile streaming.