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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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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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