NHL Tech Showcase: The Future of On-Ice Storytelling With the Cloud, Tracking 2.0, AI and ML, and More

The latest storytelling and analytical innovations on the ice took center stage last week at the third-annual NHL Tech Showcase last week at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. Held during the Kraken’s face off against the Anaheim Ducks, the event showcased how the league, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and several NHL technology partners and third-party developers are creating new way to present the game to fans by leveraging the cloud, AI, NHL EDGE puck and player tracking data, and more.

Key technology vendors participating in the Tech Showcase included AWS, SMT, Sony’s Hawk-Eye Innovation and Beyond Sports, C360, Evertz, Imagen, MLSE Digital Labs, Play Anywhere, SAP, Sportradar, Verizon, and WSC Sports, among others.

Cloud-Based Content Ecosystem: AWS, NHL Light the Cloud-Production Lamp

Cloud production took top billing at the Showcase, as NHL and AWS demonstrated a new end-to-end, cloud-based-production ecosystem. From inside Climate Pledge Arena, the NHL produced a complete cloud-based broadcast, delivered with end-to-end latency of less than one second, incorporating all available camera angles from the live game in-arena, real-time feeds from all other concurrent live NHL games, and file-based assets such as a five-second game clip from an alternate angle or archived material.

Camera/audio feeds from Climate Pledge Arena were fed into a large 14-RU rack of portable JPEG XS encoders on-site and fed to an AWS EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) instance via redundant AWS Direct Connect red/blue paths and AWS Elemental MediaConnect transport service. The broadcast was produced in a VPC (virtual production control) environment that was composed of a cloud-based Sienna NDI engine, VizRT Vectar switcher, Ross Xpression graphics, Sienna NDK router, and multiple Evertz Dreamcatcher replay systems.

The SMT Player and Puck Tracking data and StatsPerform scoring data feed were fed into Ross Xpression for graphics creation. In addition, file-based assets and other archived clips were available to the production team via Imagen’s cloud-based MAM platform. WSC automated highlights, feeds from C360 immersive cameras, and a camera streamed wirelessly via Verizon 5G cellular uplink were also made available to the AWS cloud production instance.

The final program feed was then transported via Elemental MediaLive to either Elemental MediaConnect (for distribution to rightsholders/MVPDs) or Elemental MediaPackage (for low-latency HLS streaming)

Aside from the camera operators at the arena, the entire crew was remote: the TD and graphics operator were in Madison, WI, while the three replay operators were in Toronto, Vancouver, and Seattle (off-site), respectively.

NHL EDGE Tracking 2.0: Building on The ‘Big City Greens Classic’

Last month’s ‘NHL Big City Greens Classic’ production by the NHL, ESPN, and Disney Channel broke new ground in how NHL EDGE puck and player tracking data can be used to present the game to fans. The first-of-its-kind alternative presentation used NHL Edge puck- and player-tracking data from SMT and Sony’s Beyond Sports AI-based data-visualization platform to re-create the action on the ice in real time while featuring Disney Channel’s Big City Greens characters skating alongside animated versions of the NHL players.

The Showcase at Climate Pledge Arena featured a presentation of a real-time, 3D game re-creation using Hawk-Eye’s skeletal and stick tracking technology that collects data on 29 points on the player and five points on the stick. This date, which the league has dubbed NHL Edge Tracking 2.0, was then applied to humanoid characters to create more lifelike avatars of each player within the fully virtual alternate game broadcast, which was played on a fictitious outdoor rink with animated characters.

NHL Edge Game Productions: Telling the Story With Deeper Analytics

The NHL and SMT also collaborated to produce a live broadcast with fully integrated NHL EDGE Puck and Player Tracking data that can be distributed as alternate content to NHL media partners and other stakeholders.  With a focus on a deeper level of analytical storytelling, the production included player overlays and statistics like top speeds, total distance, and face-probability.

The NHL also highlighted how it can utilize SMT Optics technology to deliver better marketing activations and more value to sponsors and partners in the form of new in-arena graphics leveraging NHL EDGE advanced stats and overlays for traditional media broadcasts.

NHL EDGE IQ: Leveraging AI and ML to Go Inside the Action

The NHL and AWS also showed how they are collaborating to produce advanced statistics by leveraging AWS’s AI and ML capabilities. This includes the introduction of  Opportunity Analysis, a new advanced stat powered by AWS machine learning that evaluates offensive opportunities up until the release of a shot to measure the likelihood of a shot becoming a goal. Also new is AWS Face-off Probability model, which uses AWS machine learning to calculate the real-time probability of where a face-off will occur, who will be taking the face-off and each Player’s probability of winning prior to puck drop, has been incorporated into broadcasts for storytelling purposes.

Among the highlights of the showcase was a physical tabletop experience built by MLSE Digital Labs that virtually displayed this advanced NHL EDGE data and allowed the user to fully interact with it.  This tabletop technology could be used in a suite within in the arena or as a mobile experience for fans.

Beyond the Broadcast: Contextual Experiences, Coaching Insights, Venue Metrics, and In-Arena Wi-Fi Analytics

The NHL and Play Anywhere are collaborating to allow fans to engage with live game broadcasts, running on AWS cloud infrastructure. A demo at the Tech Showcase included contextual experiences on the Play Anywhere immersive platform leveraging Sportradar data during the Ducks vs Kraken game, including free-to-play gaming integrations, native ecommerce offers and real-time sponsorship for specific in-game moments.

Other activations at the 2023 Tech Showcase included enhancements to the SAP-NHL coaching insights app, the introduction of SAP Venue Metrics. Extreme Networks was also on hand showing its In-Arena Wi-Fi Analytics & Insights platform.

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