Live events: An opportunity for telcos

For telcos, live events present specific challenges and opportunities. Providing millions of people with high quality images and audio simultaneously can soak up large amounts of bandwidth on networks, forcing telcos to invest in additional capacity. Yet, it should be feasible to make a return on that investment: live events are an enormously popular form of entertainment on which people around the world are prepared to spend vast sums of money.

New technologies can be used to enhance live events, enabling many more people to enjoy both the immediacy and the interactivity of the event, while increasing immersion. The combination of low-cost high definition cameras and microphones, high-speed connectivity and artificial intelligence are set to dramatically improve the experience of sports, concerts and talent shows.

The most obvious advance is the ability to stream very high-definition video from multiple angles, giving the viewer the opportunity to watch the action in a more personalised and immersive manner. Added to this, artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to help automate the production and editing of this footage. For example, image recognition can be used to enable football fans to track the movements of their favourite player, automatically switching between camera angles as appropriate. Similarly, image recognition solutions are increasingly being used to support referees and judges by automatically detecting infringements in real-time.

At the same time, AI can also be used to enable real-time analysis of live action, as it unfolds. In a game of football, for example, AI can be used to show how the formation of a team changes during attack and defence or the predominant style of play of individual players. That data can also be used to enable bookmakers to offer spectators more precise odds to support in-game gambling. Real-time footage, underpinned by low latency connectivity, is a key enabler of in-game betting and in-event competitions, such as quiz questions that spectators need to answer in a short window of time or head-to-head contests between viewers. In a similar vein, low latency connectivity can support in-event messaging and social media by ensuring everyone is viewing the same action at the same time.

Telcos have many of the key technological enablers required to deliver such enhancements to live entertainment. They could and should, of course, be in pole position to provide very high-speed connectivity to the event venue. They can also provide services such as digital identification/authentication (via a one-time password in a SMS message, the Mobile Connect specification or another mechanism for matching a mobile number to a specific individual) to prevent ticket fraud, authenticate access to VIP or member areas in a venue and more.

Telcos could also provide supplementary services, such as wireless connectivity (using either Wi-Fi 6 or private 5G) within the event venue and data processing/analytics at the edge of the network. Moreover, telcos can support ticketing and in-venue payments, via carrier billing or another digital payments offering.

In the professional entertainment market, the live events opportunity is a B2B2C play: Most of the services would be provided to an event organiser/broadcaster, rather than direct to consumers. However, there is a potential direct-to-consumer (B2C) opportunity too. The table below highlights B2C services for amateur events, and the enablers that telcos could leverage to support these.

Potential telco live events services for consumers

Source: STL Partners

Some telcos already sell high definition televisions and other kit, such as virtual reality headsets to consumers. Live events services such as the above would not be out of place among them.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world participate in amateur sports, drama and concert performances. These events can be of interest to hundreds of people who have friends or relatives among the participants, as well as the athletes, performers and musicians themselves. While amateurs won’t be able to afford to employ dozens of 360-degree cameras and microphones, many could deploy two high definition cameras, such as those sold by Danish start-up Veo. Its solution is comprised of a single unit housing two 4K cameras pointing in different directions. The cameras can simultaneously film both halves of a pitch or court, without the need for a camera operator. Additionally Veo uses artificial intelligence to track the ball and produce footage of the game that follows the action. The current model costs £700 in the UK and US$800 in the U.S.. The solution is currently being used by more than 6,200 clubs.

  • Veo charges a monthly subscription fee of £36 to buyers of its cameras, which gives them unlimited access to the Veo Editor, unlimited storage of recordings and the ability to download highlights. There are volume discounts, but that subscription fee represents a major financial commitment for an amateur sports team (on top of the up-front price of the camera), suggesting the Veo is primarily aimed at serious clubs (youth academies and adults playing in competitive leagues).
  • A team can also pay an additional £10 a month for Veo Analytics service, which uses AI to create heat-maps and other stats about the game.
  • Live streaming functionality carries a £13 a month charge, and clubs will need to provide their own SIM card and data plans, if Wi-Fi coverage isn’t good enough.

If live streaming of high definition videos of amateur events becomes commonplace, it could generate a significant volume of traffic for mobile operators. However, this is not expected to be a huge opportunity in the near term, as smaller amateur events are unlikely to be streamed because there won’t be sufficient interest to justify the additional hassle and expense. In cases where an amateur event is live streamed, there may also be demand for instant replays, statistics and highlights, all of which could be generated by AI. Over time, Veo and similar systems may even be able to provide a referee with an instant replay on their smartphone so they can check a decision.

As with professional event organisers, amateur clubs and societies may wish to run competitions around events and facilitate live chat among their distributed fan base.

BT is an example of an operator that is testing the live events market. In April 2021, BT announced that it had connected 70 grassroots football clubs across the UK with broadband/Wi-Fi, as part of a new initiative. The telco said it planned to connect 100 clubs by the end of the summer. The connected clubs are reported to be using the Wi-Fi for live streaming of matches, setting up contactless payments and guest Wi-Fi. As things stand, BT is providing the service on a pro bono basis: the telco is the lead partner with each of the four home nation football associations – The FA, Scottish FA, Irish FA and FA of Wales.

For more detail please see our report Telco plays in live entertainment.