Live From NCAA Men’s Final Four: CBS Sports Debuts Live Camera Worn by Players at NABC College All-Star Game

It’s the first live implementation of body-camera technology developed by MindFly

One of the chief aspirations for live sports broadcasts is to get viewers as close to the action as possible. How much closer can one get than having the actual vantage point of a player in action?

CBS Sports took a swing at delivering a live view of a player via a body-camera system during Friday night’s NABC College All-Star Game on Friday night, an event hosted as part of NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four festivities.

University of Akron basketball player Enrique Freeman is outfitted with MindFly’s body-camera system prior to CBS Sports Network’s live broadcast of the NABC College All-Star Game in Glendale, AZ, on Friday.

Developed by MindFly, the AI BodyCam solution has been deployed various times across Europe but only as a postproduction tool and only during prematch warmups and other non-game activities. This deployment marks the first time the company was able to trial out a version delivering a feed that could be taken live by a game director.

“We know that this has been done on skills challenges; referees have worn it,” said Jason Cohen, SVP, remote technical operations, CBS Sports, prior to the game, “but a player’s point of view when he is bringing the ball up the court, when he’s taking free throws, when he’s dunking the basketball, I think, could be a holy grail of camera point of view. What we’re most excited about is experimenting with it not only as a replay tool, which is the obvious safe way to give yourself a unique perspective. We’re going to go to it live. We’re going to cut to this camera as a live camera and challenge [it] with things like video quality, latency, and image stabilization.”

With a huge operational effort onsite in Glendale, AZ, for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four and the National Championship Game, CBS Sports took the opportunity to first use the system on the College All-Star Game when two players — Eastern Kentucky University’s Isaiah Cozart and University of Akron’s Enrique Freeman — agreed to wear the camera during the game.

“I think this is going to be an unbelievable camera angle that has never been tried and done before,” said Cohen. “It’s going to open a lot of doors down the road for different sports around the country to try this vantage point.”

Most critical to the success of the system were image quality (it delivers 1080p) and image stabilization, along with a safe, lightweight, unobtrusive vest that players can wear without its interfering with their play.

“We spent more than a year making sure it was super-comfortable, super-wearable, and light and had a small footprint and great stabilization,” said Bhaskar Mani, chief strategy officer, MindFly. “I think that’s the key difference between this and anything that has come before.”

Eastern Kentucky University basketball player Isaiah Cozart was one of two players to wear MindFly’s body-camera system during CBS Sports Network’s live broadcast of the NABC College All-Star Game.

Cohen and his team met with MindFly execs a couple of years ago and began a relationship that led to this activation: “We had good conversations about where this could go, but we challenged MindFly. As great as the concept in having a player–point-of-view camera inside the chest harness, what’s most important about this system, quite frankly, is going to be — besides video quality and stabilization — that it has a live component.

“To their credit,” he continued, “they respectfully took the feedback and came back this year. From there, we thought about a best application where it might be able to fit into one of our properties.”

In a similar deployment two years ago, a player wore the MindFly system during a Euroleague basketball game. Those shots, however, were used only after the fact on the league’s social channels. Additionally, MindFly has deployed its system a few times in European football, including for the English Premier League and Italy’s top-flight Serie A. The company has also worked with Major League Soccer here in the U.S.

In this newest version of MindFly’s BodyCam system, image stabilization is assisted through artificial intelligence. “Our AI-based processing that we are performing on the video itself to achieve the stabilization is unique because we are capturing a larger field of view,” explained Yehuda Elmaliach, co-founder /CTO, Mindfly. “The ability to crop to the right place in real time, not for postproduction editing but for live is a major achievement. This is where we are focusing our efforts in terms of live AI-based processing.”

As the technology continues to evolve, CBS Sports is seeking new places to deploy it. “Bringing the viewers and the fans closer to the action has always been a goal,” noted Cohen. “How do you make the experience more intimate, [enabling] fans to go somewhere they’ve never been able to go before? Whether that’s cameras embedded in pylons or on referees’ hats or so on, the driving motivation has been the same: get us closer and closer to the action.

“I think what we’re going to see, which we’re equally as excited about,” he continued, “is not just what we can do with it in this particular game but what doors it unlocks for other events.”

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