Polsat and NativeWaves Bring Second Screen Technology To The Exciting World of Volleyball
- Polsat Innovates in delivering the Volleyball Men’s Nations League 2023
- Polsat and NativeWaves collaborate to trial multiview and Second-screen experience in Volleyball
- As part of the trial NativeWaves delivered 11 of the 23 camera feeds enhanced with Data and Analytics, from Six games to select Polsat executives.
- “I am very happy with the result of this trial, and I’ve received positive feedback from the volleyball world and from our fans” – Andrzej Szymański, Chief Technical Officer, Polsat TV.
Polish broadcaster Polsat is the leading Pay TV provider in Poland and the country’s second most-watched television channel with an audience share of 8.19%. The broadcaster is part of the Polsat Plus Group, which is also involved in telecommunications, network operations (IPTV and fiber), live production, and the manufacturer of set-top boxes with a subscriber base of over 20 million.
Like many successful broadcasters, Polsat recognizes the need to maintain and grow its audience share by offering a variety of high-quality content including drama, comedy, sports, news, and current affairs programming. It is also open to investigating new technologies that bring an extra dimension to the viewing experience, particularly for those at the younger end of the audience spectrum.
This strategy recently inspired the broadcaster to examine second-screen technology that allows audiences to explore a wealth of additional content such as different camera angles, audio tracks, instant replays, and social media integration via their smartphones, tablets, or mirrored on their TVs.
The technology Polsat used for its trial was NativeWaves EXP, a dedicated low latency streaming platform coupled with a highly customizable experience framework, which was launched by Austrian solutions provider NativeWaves in 2021.
NativeWaves was recommended to Polsat by Krzysztof Lubinski, Technical Director of leading Polish systems integrator DTS. During NAB 2023, Polsat technical staff were given a demo of NativeWaves EXP and chose to use it for their trial because it integrates easily into existing broadcast and OTT streaming ecosystems and can be applied to numerous types of content, programming, and live events. Broadcasters that have already tested NativeWaves EXP include ProSiebenSat.1, Sport1 and B1SmartTV’s Sportworld app on Samsung Smart TVs.
Selecting The Right Event.
For its second screen trial, Polsat chose the finals of Volleyball Men’s Nations League, an annual international competition organised by volleyball’s global governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB). The contest, which features the senior men’s national teams, was held between June 6 and July 23, with the final round taking place in Gdansk, Poland. The eight teams that made it to the final round were Argentina, Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, Slovenia, and The United States.
As the fourth most popular sport in the world¹ and the third most popular in Poland², Volleyball was the ideal choice for the trial. According to the Olympic Program Commission, the sport has an impressive estimated global participation figure of 998 million people. Indoor and outdoor versions are played all over the world, with over 220 affiliated national federations now registered to FIVB.
In Poland, volleyball attracts large audiences, both in the venues where competitions are played and on television. In 2021, the Volleyball World Championship opener broke attendance records when over 62,000 fans packed the National stadium in Warsaw for the game between Poland and Serbia³. The 2022 final also captured the imagination of Polish fans, with over 6.5 million television viewers watching their team beat Brazil in the semi-final and over 6.7 million watching the final. Both Polsat and TVP broadcast the event and each match had a total average market share of approximately 40 per cent across the two channels.⁴
The Polsat team involved in the trial was led by Andrzej Szymański, Polsat TV’s Chief Technical Officer. He was joined by Marian Kmita, Sport Director for Polsat TV and Vice President of the Polish Olympics Committee.
“Volleyball was the ideal sport for us to trial second screen technology because, as a broadcaster, we have huge experience in this area,” Szymański says. “There are numerous cameras in the arena that we can tap into, and it also helps that we have an excellent relationship with Poland’s National Volleyball Association. The experience of the fans is important, too. The magic and atmosphere in the venue during a volleyball event is incredible and we wanted to convey this, while at the same time showcasing what second screen technology can do to enhance the viewer’s experience.”
Iwona Kowalska, NativeWaves SVP Global Sales, adds: “This trial gave NativeWaves the opportunity to prove to a major broadcaster that our solution is easy to use, easy to integrate into existing workflows, and works across many different types of events. We were delighted that Andrzej chose volleyball for this trial because it was a key international event in a sport that is becoming increasingly popular. It is also family-friendly and delivers a good vibe and great entertainment.”
What the Trial Involved
Despite taking part in several PoC trials for various customers, this was the first time NativeWaves was asked to deliver a multiview experience for a small court event. It was also the first time that NativeWaves EXP was used for volleyball – and the first time that the company was asked to work with a smaller data provider – in this case VolleyStation (https://volleystation.com/).
Christof Haslauer, CEO of NativeWaves, says the decision to integrate data made the trial more complicated, but the results justified the effort because the overlays brought an exciting new dimension to the viewer experience.
“We only had three weeks to pull everything together so there wasn’t a lot of time to do live testing of the data integration into our showcase NativeWaves EXP app, which we were using for the trial,” he says. “This app delivers a multiview experience and works on both Android and IOS. It gave us a foundation to build from as we were able to quickly adapt some of the components that we’ve used for other sports so that they worked for volleyball. This level of customisation, which has only been possible for a few months, means we can now adapt our basic EXP app to suit many different sports in a matter of weeks.”
Polsat’s brief to NativeWaves was to deliver a multiview single device experience on a mobile device. In addition, NativeWaves was asked to deliver a synced second screen experience, where viewers could sync their mobile devices to the TV broadcast and watch the main action on their TV while using their mobile to access different camera angles, data and analytics, and instant replays.
To achieve this, NativeWaves took the signal from 11 of the 23 live cameras that were used during the games, including close-up and fly cameras.
“We collaborated with DTS, who we have worked with in the past, to set up a system that allowed us to access multifeeds using Polsat TV’s own interface codes,” Haslauer says. “DTS was already familiar with our encoder, so it was very straightforward. We took the feed from the cameras straight through to an encoder at the venue. From there they were synchronised and delivered to our app via the cloud using an ethernet uplink.”
Krzysztof Lubinski adds: “It was a very straightforward installation with the uplinks coming directly from Polsat TV and the main broadcast signal presented to me for synchronisation purposes. As the main broadcast signal was the only one that came with audio, Christof spread the audio out to all the camera angles so that even when a viewer switched between them, they all had the same audio.”
Lubinski believes much of the success of this trial lay in the careful preparation everyone undertook at the start of the project.
“We agreed everything in advance – how to prepare the signals, how to prepare the SDI links, where everything would be delivered to and so on,” he says. “All we had to do on the day was plug in the equipment, connect it all, synchronise it and get it up and running. There were no surprises.”
Delivering An Exceptional Experience
As this was a trial, Polsat only invited members of the Polsat Plus Group to experience this first foray into second screen technology.
A link to download the NativeWaves app was sent out and 89 responded by installing it on their iPhones (54 installs) and their android devices (35 installs).
Between July 19th and 22nd NativeWaves delivered six volleyball games from the tournament, including the semi-finals. These were Italy v Argentina; Japan v Poland; Japan V Slovenia; Poland V Brazil, USA v France and USA v Italy.
Viewers who accessed the experience were able to choose from multiple camera angles, access instant replays and view data provided by VolleyStation.
“We had fantastic feedback from everyone,” Haslauer says. “Polsat TV’s management were very positive, as were the production team and the people using the app. Some of them were at the venues where we were able to achieve latency of just under three seconds, which meant they were able to enjoy the experience as well.”
Iwona Kowalska adds: “During the trial the production team from Polsat was so inspired that they were coming up with innovative ideas of what they would like to do with the app in future. Slow motion replays, for example, and close ups of people’s faces showing their reactions to each game. There are many new possibilities to explore and many ways in which we can help broadcasters offer something more than out of the box streaming.”
What was learned from this trial – and what next?
Andrzej Szymański says: “As a broadcaster we know that tradition television technology is not enough to appeal to certain audiences, in particular young people. They like to track events they are interested in but in their hands they always have their mobile phones and they use them to seek out additional information about the event. We believe second screen technology is very important to keep fans interested because it brings another dimension to the viewing experience. I am very happy with the result of this trial, and I’ve received positive feedback from the volleyball world and from our fans. It was good to start with volleyball because it is easier to implement new technology when working with more agile sports where the leagues are prepared to experiment. We now must think about our next step, which may be a second screen application for sports in general, not just for volleyball.”
Christof Haslauer says: “The trial helped us streamline our own workflow. It went well because we had the upload bandwidth, we had DTS working alongside us and knowing what was needed because we’ve worked together in the past, and we had a great customer in Polsat who were willing to try something different and new.”
Iwona Kowalska says: “Working with capable and organised partners who are innovative and willing to move fast is so exciting and we are grateful that Andrzej and his team gave us their trust. The multiview experience is a great way to bring the excitement and vibe of a live event into people’s homes and give the entire family something new to enjoy. It doesn’t have to be just about sport either – there are many other live events that could benefit from a second screen experience. I am particulary proud that the teams of Polsat’s live broadcast production, VolleyNation’s Data Analytics, DTS and NativeWaves worked so fast and seamlessly to make it happen in a very tight timeline.”
Krzysztof Lubinski says: “This trial was a resounding success and it left people wanting more. The questions we fielded from the production crew showed how interested they were and how much they wanted this service to be a part of their future. I was particularly impressed by VolleyStation and their ability to supply data that was quick and easy to integrate. If Polsat is planning to become a sports hub, they should now feel a lot more comfortable because this solution for volleyball can easily translate to other sports, which would give them a real competitive edge.”