The television experience has changed over the past few years, thanks in part to online video. More and more viewers are no longer satisfied with being pushed a static feed of video content (ala, the television) but, instead, are looking for more interaction and immersion. Viewing online can super-charge a video by enabling multiple camera angles, social networking, and second screens.
And the 2016 Super Bowl will be no exception to that.
Looking to give fans a much richer experience, the NFL, CBS, and a host of technology affiliates are pulling out all the stops. Here’s what you should be able to expect from Sunday’s “big game:”
- Live streaming—CBS has already announced that it will live-stream the game free. Of course, that’s not a very big surprise as NBC did the same last year. But there are two interesting things about this year’s event. First, is that it won’t be available on your mobile phone unless you are a Verizon subscriber with the NFL mobile app. It will only be streamed through connected devices like the Xbox, AppleTV, Android TV, Roku, or a tablet (via cbssports.com). Second, is that the advertisements will be the same (with the exception of local spots) across all channels. CBS isn’t selling online ads different from broadcast ads. That’s a big deal.
- Multiple camera angles—The really cool thing about online video delivery is that you are free to do anything you want with the feeds. The traditional television experience is locked into a single view (unless the broadcaster splits it up for you). But with online you can create a player experience with multiple feeds, enabling you to watch whichever they want. Want to see the goal line? Just switch to that camera. We saw this kind of multi-camera angle in the SuperBowl’s of 2012 and 2013. But contractual issues between Fox, NBC, and Microsoft prevented that in 2014 and 2015. With this return, viewers watching on a Windows10-based device (like an Xbox) will get a host of additional camera feeds and interactive elements.
- Augmented Reality 1.0—if you are using a Windows-based device to watch the live stream of the game (Xbox, Windows Surface) expect something different. It won’t be just about the game. You’ll be getting rich data feeds integrated with the viewing experience to provide additional stats and information you won’t find in the broadcast feed. I can imagine that many of these datapoints will provide a level of interactivity enabling you to drill into the data even as the game continues to happen around it.
- On the sidelines—we’ve already seen a massive proliferation of Microsoft Surface tablets on NFL sidelines. Don’t expect that to change during the Super Bowl. In fact, according to Yusuf Mehdi, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group, “in the past two years, Surfaces have supported nearly 100,000 minutes of sideline action…” What I imagine, though, is that those tablets will be able to tap into the same multiple camera angles that end viewers will have access to via their connected Windows devices.
Equally important to those front-end technologies, though, is what’s happening behind the scenes. There’s a lot of backend being put in place to make the live streaming and multiple camera angles even a possibility. Most notably is a new, IP Infrastructure. Behind enabling the sharing of 4K feeds with these connected devices is a robust IP infrastructure at the stadium itself. Without this underlying technology, it would be far harder to stream all that video to those connected devices. According to Joe Cirincione, VP, sales, sports and entertainment, “It would have been impossible to share this many signals between the truck bays and the control room over traditional SDI infrastructure. ”
Of course, all this technology brings a host of challenges. In 2015, the live stream (provided by NBC) had significant latency issues with online plays sometimes happening up to 2 minutes after the broadcast events. But in late 2015, Yahoo! and the NFL proved they could provide a real-time, synchronous broadcast with the global live streaming of the Carolina Panthers/Buffalo Bills game from London. But that game was no Super Bowl. Parity between broadcast and online is critical for this transition from broadcast television to IP-based delivery. Viewers want “broadcast quality.” They expect the online stream to look and feel like it would on the TV. With an expected audience on Sunday of 1.3m online viewers, CBS has its work cut out for it and there’s no doubt that there will be a hiccup or two in the online feed.
We can’t take a forward look at Sunday’s game without wondering what the future of the Super Bowl (and live event streaming in general) might look like in the future. If Microsoft has anything to say about it, the Super Bowl will be an augmented reality (AR) event thanks to the Hololens.
(screenshot of YouTube video released by Microsoft)
Beyond the glitzy front-end experience promised by Microsoft, though, is a massive transformation already underfoot to IP-based video delivery. Levi Stadium, where the 2016 Super Bowl will happen, is state-of-the-art. Twenty years down the road, it’s not hard to imagine that most major stadiums around the world will have similar IP infrastructures enabling very low latency retransmission of camera feeds to online sources.
Super Bowl 2016 isn’t a watershed event, by any means. But it does give us a pretty good picture of what we can expect going forward—a synchronous video experience across devices with low-latency online video (keeping my fingers crossed on that one) and interactive features to make the experience more immersive.
Can anyone say, “game on?”
 Limelight Networks, amongst other CDNs, helped to deliver this event.