Sports seemed to be a pricklier subject at IBC 2018 than at past events, with certain vendors looking to distribute blame for disruptions during this summer’s World Cup tournament. Yet every year vendors tell us how cracking live sports contracts is the ultimate end goal. Encoding expert Harmonic had a big presence as always and provided a few uninspiring insights from Amsterdam, so Faultline Online Reporter preferred to focus a bit further down the pecking order – starting with Israeli start-up Pixellot.
Pixellot was one of our surprise meetings from the show, swiftly shifting our initial cynicism, regarding some expensive looking camera set ups, to a mindset of intrigue about the company’s low-budget AI-based sports production tools.
The automatic sports production company recently broke 6,000 hours of broadcast hours in one week – expecting to blast through 40,000 production hours a month by the end of 2018. By admission of Pixellot’s Director of Marketing, Yossi Tarablus, there were doubts when someone informed him Pixellot was the number one worldwide for production hours of live sports – taking it upon himself to fact check this wild claim which to his surprise was confirmed.
In a nut shell, Pixellot enables amateur and semi-pro sports institutions to live stream broadcast-grade content without the costs, providing tools to shrink a 3-camera, 10-person production team down to a 1-camera, 1-person show. “Some 95% of sports events shown live are men’s sports, so this technology will be great for women’s sports and 99% of the total organized sports market is untapped,” said Tarablus.
After installing one of Pixellot’s cameras, which come in at around the $10,000 mark, sports establishments can get a streaming service set up via a white-label app or in web browsers. But it’s the production capabilities which provide real value. Faultline Online Reporter saw a demo where 3D virtual ads were embedded around the edge of a netball pitch in such a way that they were almost indistinguishable from real advertising boards, without interrupting on-pitch action. We have heard about this technology being tested by large broadcasters such as ITV in the UK but bringing such advanced techniques to amateur sports outfits is a game changer.
Pixellot has proved popular among US high schools in particular, Tarablus told us. Its ability to automatically track action and create highlights using computer vision techniques has piqued the interest of video coaching staff at some major Premier League clubs, as well as the Mexican national team and it has even made it to Asia Pacific at China’s Super League. Tarablus noted how being approached by such major clubs, which are ever more business orientated, was part of the reason Pixellot decided WiFi-connected cameras were a security disaster waiting to happen.
Niche sporting events can often mean isolated locations so on the connectivity side Pixellot has recruited US vendor Zixi, using its Feeder on-premise server and also the cloud-based Zixi Broadcast product to deliver HD content over unmanaged networks. Another partner company is SportsEngine, part of NBC Sports, which recently added Pixellot to its online marketplace to allow sports organizations to better monetize events.
One downside, if we really had to pick one, is the fact Pixellot’s production software is tied exclusively to its camera hardware. Although in the early days of business, getting these cameras deployed could be an effective way to get more production business in the long run, from where it could add support for third party camera hardware.
Another is that Pixellot only works with ball sports, which makes perfect sense because few other sports, with the exception of racing events, require cameras to track action as it goes. That said, Tarablus noted that there has been interest from the judo federation, whereby Pixellot’s technology would be used for multiple bouts of judo simultaneously to switch between them and also automatically compile highlights – so clearly Pixellot’s potential reach is much wider than niche sports at amateur events.
That said, Tarablus teased that a certain ESPN is interested in what Pixellot has to offer.
Regarding investments, LA-based Shamrock Capital was the latest to lead a funding round only last week, to make it $40 million in five years for Pixellot.