NBA Ups Virtual-Ad-Insertion Game in China With Vizrt’s Viz Arena
As international distribution of live sports content has risen exponentially in recent years, so has the potential revenue from market-specific sponsorships through virtual ad insertion. During the 2015 NBA Playoffs and Finals, the league deployed Vizrt’s Viz Arena system to virtually insert advertisement logos into the feed carried by CCTV in China. The live-sports-enhancement system, which virtually inserted Chinese Brewery Harbin Beer’s logo onto the court in the CCTV feed, was operated out of the NBA’s broadcast center in Secaucus, NJ, and had virtually no impact on the remote production at the games or CCTV’s operations in China.
“We can completely do everything isolated from what is happening onsite,” says NBA Broadcast Operations Manager Jeanette Baione. “Most of the [production] teams aren’t even aware that we are doing anything additional to the broadcast. We don’t have to involve them at all.”
Seeking New Sponsorship Opportunities in China
Previously, the NBA received a clean feed from the RSN producing the game and inserted generic NBATV graphics for the feed sent to CCTV. The NBA added in-game-sponsorship enhancements to the feed but was looking for additional Chinese sponsorship opportunities.
“The NBA China office was trying to look at other opportunities to sell sponsorships within the game,” explains NBA Senior Director of Broadcast Operations Francesca Martinelli. “Virtual signage was a very easy way to do that, because we were able to put it on the court. We had maxed out in-game enhancements — you could go up to eight sponsorships with that — so we were looking at other opportunities, and virtual signage was the best option.”
The league began evaluating virtual-graphics technologies last summer and began testing Viz Arena in the fall before launching it in time for the start of the playoffs in April.
The Beauty of Downstream Workflow
All virtual-logo–placement operations were conducted using Vizrt’s image-based tracking and were played out centrally from the NBA’s Secaucus facility. Vizrt provided the primary and backup systems for virtual-graphics artwork in Secaucus, but no hardware was installed at the stadium; all operations were conducted remotely, thanks to Viz Arena’s downstream production workflow.
“With the NBA’s huge amount of games they produce, only downstream ad insertion is feasible,” says Stephan Würmlin Stadler, EVP, sports, Vizrt. “Viz Arena’s highly accurate image-based camera tracking combined with its easy pregame setup helps a lot when you have to produce two games in a row. Moreover, our 3D rendering engine helps to let the sponsors shine while conveying a clear brand message.”
The CCTV-specific virtual graphics were available on each game’s center-court main camera. The Vizrt system provides an automatic image-cut–detection algorithm, which removes the virtual graphics automatically when the feed cuts to another camera. The system then detects when the center-court game camera is cut back to and automatically inserts the graphics into the feed for that angle. This ensures consistency for the virtual signage on the court and an unobstructed workflow for the operator.
“The beauty of the Vizrt system is that we don’t need a live feed or independent pan left to right where we need to speak to people onsite,” says Baione. “We can just calibrate as the game is going on.”
In terms of setup, the operator in Secaucus used the period between tipoff and the game’s first timeout to calibrate the system before going live with the virtual graphic.
“Between tip and that [timeout], we would calibrate. At the beginning, prior to going live with the graphics, the calibration consisted of making little end points onto the court so that, when the main play-by-play camera would pan left to right, that would calibrate the court and our endpoints on the court. So, if we made a graphic, we could hide it or unhide it before we went live with it.”
Looking Ahead to 2015-16
The Viz Arena system will be used for the entire 2015-16 regular season on CCTV, and the league is looking to expand. Harbin Beer served as the sole virtual-logo sponsor during last season’s playoffs, but Baione and company are working with Vizrt to rotate the virtual signage each quarter to include multiple sponsors.
“We definitely plan on using [Viz Arena] next year, and, over the summer, Janette has been working with them to look at other opportunities,” says Martinelli. “We are very pleased with Viz. They are very professional and willing to help. They have actually adjusted things to work the way the NBA handles games and make their system more flexible to accommodate our incoming feeds.”
Although China is one of the NBA’s largest and most important markets, Martinelli acknowledges that the Viz Arena system could make an appearance in other international feeds should the opportunity arise.
“Other regions have looked at this and are looking for opportunities to sell it,” she says. “In that case, we would, of course, definitely expand upon this.”