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The Tech secret behind Spanish soccer triumph

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Spanish football clubs are cleaning up in European soccer, but it’s not only their ball skills that give them an edge. Technology is playing a major role, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The secret of Spanish club football success is out. Or, at least, one of the secrets.

It turns out, it is no coincidence that Spanish teams have taken six of the eight berths in UEFA Champions League finals over the last four years – and won the trophy on all four occasions. That’s as many times as they had won it in the rest of the century before 2014, and as many as in the 40 years before that.

Last week, during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, LaLiga, organisers of the Spanish premier football league, lifted the lid on the technology that is giving their clubs an edge. The intention of the demonstration, presented at the stadium of Espanyol, Barcelona’s less-known LaLiga side, was to showcase the state-of-the-art broadcasting technology used by the league to reach 2.5-billion viewers a year. However, they also revealed the tools provided to trainers and clubs for fine-tuning their teams’ performances.

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“The aim is for fans not just to watch matches, but to be immersed in an exclusive audiovisual experience,” said Joris Evers, LaLiga’s Chief Communications Officer. “Additionally, LaLiga is unique in providing all its clubs with valuable tools to assist coaching staff and make our teams even better.”

At the heart of the enhanced tactical understanding of Spanish club coaches is a tool called Mediacoach, described as “a suite of cutting-edge match-analysis tools and services”. It was developed by Grupo Mediapro, LaLiga’s broadcast production partner, and provides coaching staff – of all LaLiga teams – with the data to carry out in-depth analysis of their players’ performance as well as opposition tactics.

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This may help explain how a team like Atletico Madrid, long regarded as the underdog to iconic sides Barcelona and Real Madrid, could reach two UEFA Champions League finals in the last four years, as well as winning the Europa league twice this decade. An even less fancied side, Sevilla, won the Europa league three years in a row before Manchester United interrupted their run last year.

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Why haven’t fabulously wealthy leagues like the English Premiership embraced the technology? It’s not for want of data. In the United Kingdom, Opta collects a massive dataset, live, for the Premier League, but the emphasis is on delivering content to football fans and to the betting industry. The Premiership itself is notoriously slow to adapt to  trends, and club managements and coaches are so old school, they would not be out of place in the ealry 20th century.

This is ironic, since broadcasters as well as the Premiership’s own Fantasy League have embraced the use and visual representation of such data.

However, LaLiga takes it to a new level, and constantly looks for ways to add value to the fan experience – with knock-on benefits for coaches. During the showcase at the RCD Espanyol Stadium, these technologies were demonstrated:

4K HDR

“The visual experience on offer to fans of Spanish football has taken on a different dimension thanks to the 4K HDR broadcasts that LaLiga serves up for the two headline games of every matchday,” according to LaLiga. “A total of 20 HDR cameras are used for this purpose, although substantially more are incorporated for special occasions like El Clasico (Barcelona vs Real Madrid), major derbies and key matches in the latter stages of the season, when cameras mounted on helicopters and cranes are among the additions.”

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LaLiga claims to be one of the few sports competitions in the world to be broadcast in HDR, and the results are evident: a constant rise in the number of people watching, and growing sales of HDR televisions to football fans.

Skycam

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The RCDE Stadium is a live showcase for the Skycam – an innovation first seen in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup Finals. Essentually, it is an aerial camera located about 21 metres above the pitch to provide overhead footage and a bird’s-eye view of the action.

“The lofty vantage point, coupled with the camera’s ability to spin and travel at great speed, means it offers a special perspective of the pitch,” says LaLiga. “These cameras are compact, high-definition models with a 4/3, 14x zoom wide-angle lens, whose footage is transmitted from the pitch to a mobile unit via fibre-optic cables. They can cover an area of almost 7 000 square metres. During the pre-match build-up and post-match aftermath, as well as at half-time, the three technicians operating the Skycam position it at a height of 3- 10 metres in order to treat viewers to even more detailed shots.”

Intel True View

Intel True View is not a new technology, but its use is evolving rapdly. It allows 360° replays that allow every piece of play to be reproduced in 3D. This gives TV viewers a unique perspective of the action from any angle.

“The 2D videos from each of the 38 cameras in place at the stadiums are processed through a series of powerful Intel servers, allowing for replays to be viewed from any position or angle,” says LaLiga. “This technology is in use on a regular basis, with the system having been installed permanently at the Camp Nou (FC Barcelona), the Santiago Bernabeu (Real Madrid), the Wanda Metropolitano (Atletico de Madrid) and the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan (Sevilla Football Club).”

In December, during this season’s first El Clasico clash between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, LaLiga also premiered a “Be The Player” feature, which puts the viewer in the middle of the action, using the same technology to capture events from the perspective of a player in a specific play. This makes it possible to see what moves a player could have made, or the level of vision displayed by a player in making a specific shot or pass.

The same softare includes a new feature, the Laser Wall, which overlays a virtual wall on the pitch to give a clearer picture of offside positions.

Live 3D graphics

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LaLiga offers viewers Live 3D graphics during broadcasts to complement live match data, representing visual support to the data, and displaying tactical and positional analysis during action replays.

The next big thing for LaLiga is virtual reality content, which in effect began with the December El Clasico match. It was filmed with a set of two 360º cameras and four 180º cameras, allowing for both 3D and 2D content. However, the current state of VR imaging, which does not yet offer photo-realistic visuals, means that the 2D experience remains more satisfying.

Next week, when Barcelona face Chelsea in the second leg of their round-of-16 UEFA Champions League clash, both teams will hope to break the 1-1 deadlock from the first leg at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium. But clearly, at Camp Nou, the visitors will be up against more than merely the best club side in the world.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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News fatigue shifts Google searches in SA

Google search trends in South Africa reveal a startling insight into news appetite, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The big searches of the year no longer track the biggest news stories of the year, suggesting a strong dose of news fatigue among South Africans.

“People ask, why are the Guptas not on the list of Google’s top searches?, says Mich Atagana, head of communications and public affairs at Google South Africa, “The Guptas are not on the list because South Africans are not actually that interested. South Africans are looking for things they don’t know. From a Gupta point of view, we’ve been exhausted by the news and we know exactly what is going on.”

Google South Africa announced the results of its 2018 Year in Search, offering a unique perspective on the year’s major moments.

“Four years ago, there were almost no South Africans on the personalities list,” says Atagana. “Over the years, South Africans have gotten more interested in South Africa, in searching on Google.”

That isn’t to say that international searches – like Meghan Markle – are not heavily searched by South Africans. But  they feature lower down on the lists.

From the World Cup to listeriosis, Zuma and Global Citizen, South Africans use search to find the things they really need to know.

These are the main trends revealed  by Google this week:

Top trending South African searches

  1. World Cup fixtures
  2. Load shedding
  3. Global Citizen
  4. Zuma
  5. Winnie Mandela
  6. HHP
  7. Listeriosis
  8. Black Panther
  9. Meghan Markle
  10. Mac Miller

Trending personalities

  1.    Jacob Zuma
  2. Cyril Ramaphosa
  3. Sbahle Mpisane
  4. Kevin Anderson
  5. Malusi Gigaba
  6. Ashwin Willemse
  7. Patrice Motsepe
  8. Cheryl Zondi
  9. Shamila Batohi
  10. Mlindo the Vocalist

Top Questions

  1. How did Avicii die?
  2. How old is Pharrell Williams?
  3. What is listeriosis?
  4. What is black data?
  5. How old is Prince Harry?
  6. How much are Global Citizen tickets?
  7. How to get pregnant?
  8. What time is the royal wedding?
  9. What happened to HHP?
  10. How old is Meghan Markle?

Top ‘near me’ searches

  1. Jobs near me
  2. Nandos near me
  3. Dischem near me
  4. McDonalds near me
  5. Guest house near me
  6. Postnet near me
  7. Steers near me
  8. Spar near me
  9. Debonairs near me
  10. Spur near me

Top women

  1. Winnie Mandela
  2. Meghan Markle
  3. Sbahle Mpisane
  4. Aretha Franklin
  5. Khloe Kardashian
  6. Sophie Ndaba
  7. Cheryl Zondi
  8. Demi Lovato
  9. Lerato Sengadi
  10. Siam Lee

The Year In Search 2018 minisite can be found here.

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Smartphones dip in 2018

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to decline by 3% in 2018 before returning to low single-digit growth in 2019 and through 2022.

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While the on-going U.S.-China trade war has the industry on edge, IDC still believes that continued developments from emerging markets, mixed with potential around 5G and new product form factors, will bring the smartphone market back to positive growth.

Smartphone shipments are expected to drop to 1.42 billion units in 2018, down from 1.47 billion in 2017. However, IDC expects year-over-year shipment growth of 2.6% in 2019. Over the long-term, smartphone shipments are forecast to reach 1.57 billion units in 2022. From a geographic perspective, the China market, which represented 30% of total smartphone shipments in 2017, is finally showing signs of recovery. While the world’s largest market is still forecast to be down 8.8% in 2018 (worse than the 2017 downturn), IDC anticipates a flat 2019, then back to positive territory through 2022. The U.S. is also forecast to return to positive growth in 2019 (up 2.1% year over year) after experiencing a decline in 2018.

The slow revival of China was one of the reasons for low growth in Q3 2018 and this slowdown will persist into Q1 2019 as the market is expected to drop by 3% in Q4 2018. Furthermore, the recently lifted U.S. ban on ZTE had an impact on shipments in Q3 2018 and created a sizable gap that is yet to be filled heading into 2019.

“With many of the large global companies focusing on high-end product launches, hoping to draw in consumers looking to upgrade based on specifications and premium devices, we can expect head-to-head competition within this segment during the holiday quarter and into 2019 to be exceptionally high,” said Sangeetika Srivastava, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers.

Though 2018 has fallen below expectations so far, the worldwide smartphone market is set to pick up on the shift toward larger screens and ultra-high-end devices. All the big players have further built out their portfolios with bigger screens and higher-end smartphones, including Apple’s new launch in September. In Q3 2018, the 6-inch to less than 7-inch screen size band became the most prominent band for the first time with more than four times year-over-year growth. IDC believes that larger-screen smartphones (5.5 inches and above) will lead the charge with volumes of 947.1 million in 2018, accounting for 66.7% of all smartphones, up from 623.3 million units and 42.5% share in 2017. By 2022, shipments of these larger-screen smartphones will move up to 1.38 billion units or 87.7% of overall shipment volume.

“What we consider a so-called normal size smartphone has shifted dramatically in a few short years and while we are stretching the limits with bezel-less devices, the next big switch to flexible screens will test our imaginations even further,” said Melissa Chau, associate research director with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “While this category of device is still nascent and won’t see major adoption in the year ahead, it’s exciting to see changes to the standard monoblock we are all so used to carrying.”

Platform Highlights

Android: Android’s smartphone share will remain stable at 85% throughout the forecast. Volumes are expected to grow at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.7% with shipments approaching 1.36 billion in 2022. Android is still the choice of the masses with no shift expected. Android average selling prices (ASPs) are estimated to grow by 9.6% in 2018 to US$258, up from US$235 in 2017. IDC expects this upward trajectory to continue through the forecast, but at a softened rate from 2019 and beyond. Not only are market players pushing upgraded specs and materials to offset decreasing replacement rates, but they are also serving the evolving consumer needs for better performance.

iOS: iOS smartphones are forecast to drop by 2.5% in 2018 to 210.4 million. The launch of expensive and bigger screen iOS smartphones in Q3 2018 helped Apple to raise its ASP, simultaneously making it somewhat difficult to increase shipments in the current market slump. IDC is forecasting iPhone shipments to grow at a five-year CAGR of 0.1%, reaching volumes of 217.3 million in 2022. Despite the challenges, there is no ambiguity that Apple will continue to lead the global premium market segment.

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