Meet the Member: “Every sport, at every level, needs a short form strategy to stay relevant”

July 27, 2023

This week’s interview is with Daniel Evans, Senior Vice President of Sales for Magnifi, we dive into the role of AI in sports broadcasting, vertical highlights and the sporting event he would love to work on.

Briefly explain to us what it is that Magnifi does and how are you involved in the sports sphere?

In simple terms, Magnifi creates real-time highlights out of live and archived content using AI.

Technically speaking, we leverage machine vision, machine learning, including object and pose detection, facial recognition, audio and sentiment analysis, and a variety of other techniques to analyse, segment, transform, and distribute content in near real time.

AI is the buzzword of 2023. How has this increased awareness and chatter around AI impacted your workspace?

This buzz is definitely drawing attention and I think it’s been helpful in a couple of ways.

One, it’s validating for those of us who have been educating customers for years on the opportunities AI brings in terms of new efficiencies and new capabilities.

Second, we’re now seeing many executives and decision-makers directly involved very early in discussions. That’s a big change in the market. Going back to 2021 and early 2022, we spent a lot of time getting buy-in from project stakeholders to then stall at the budgeting or approval phase from lack of visibility or priority. That is no longer the case.

As doubts around AI capabilities have fallen away, decision makers are now fully engaged in these discussions and are looking for other opportunities with the various technologies that make up the AI stack

We are increasingly seeing more fans prefer watching short highlights to taking in a full match. Has this been a gradual change and something you expected or has it surprised the industry?

I think it’s a natural reaction to fans wanting to stay engaged with the community while experiencing a massive growth in the amount of content available to them 24/7. You’ve seen these generational transitions as technology evolved.  Baby boomers followed beat reporters and sports pages and watched highlights on the evening news. Gen X had cable TV and ESPN and suddenly you could keep up with more and more sports in an hour or two of SportsCenter. Gen Z had Twitter where they could follow the action live and share their opinions with the wider sports community on the go.

With each evolution, fans had access to more and more content; and with social media, fans had a way to engage with the community outside of the parks, arenas and water coolers. That engagement around moments is extremely sticky. Conversations happen and communities are built around highlights.

Every sport, at every level, needs a short-form strategy to stay relevant, to stay in the conversation. The industry knows this and it’s the reason we’ve seen massive growth – there’s too much content and too much riding on getting it to your fans quickly to not have automated workflows.

Another big trend in the industry at the moment is filming vertically or reworking traditional broadcasts to fit a vertical screen.  How has this impacted the sports broadcast industry and your business of highlights?

I think the industry is still figuring that out – and AI plays a key role. Most broadcast workflows were designed to deliver the highest quality broadcast to linear television. Event production itself has seen massive changes over the last couple of decades with advancements in cameras and resolutions, production tools, green screens, live graphics, etc. Then comes along this explosion of OTT, SVOD, AVOD, and all these distribution channels, each with their own unique challenges. Technology needs to be device friendly keeping a mobile-first approach.

These production teams (and their marketing counterparts) are as excited as we are by the prospect of automating these workflows. One of the most natural use cases for AI is content refactoring – in this case aspect ratio changes. Our stack includes scene, object, and pose detection, ball tracking, and other proprietary techniques to keep the action in frame so your TikTok and Instagram stories present your best moments in the form factor fans expect.  

How do you see the role of highlights in sports broadcasts changing over the next few years?

PwC did their annual sports leader survey on the current and future state of the sports market report in 2021 where they interviewed 800 leaders from the space and well over 90% of those surveyed expected short-form/highlight demand to grow significantly over the next 5 years. It was top of the list in terms of consensus, so the short answer is: more highlights.

Fans have a huge appetite for content and short-form meets them where they are – on Twitter (now X), TikTok and other social platforms. The up and coming generation doesn’t watch TV, they grew up on YouTube, they thumb scroll TikTok for hours or binge shows over a weekend. There are too many challengers vying for the attention of sports fans. Highlights and short-form content is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s now a must-have. 

Right now, the focus is on making sure their best moments get to fans as the action happens. That’s table stakes right now, but over the next couple of years, you’ll see AI deliver real-time localization, matchup-specific generative graphics, and more fan-centric storytelling.

In Africa, for example, there are 75 different languages spoken by at least a million people. India has 121 different languages. Shouldn’t they be able to enjoy their NBA or FIFA highlights in their native language? With native intonations and sensitivities? These audiences may not be large enough to justify providing commentary across all of these regions and languages, but that’s not a limitation with AI. That’s one area we’re excited about.

Our role is to ensure these advancements can be reliably implemented at scale and as part of an automated content workflow.

If you could work on the broadcast for one sporting event what would it be? 

That’s an interesting question. I grew up playing American Football and have been fortunate to attend a couple of Super Bowls, so the Super Bowl is likely the answer most would expect of me, but I would say the Olympic Games. It’s such a special event. You have this amazing pageantry, amateur competitors training so hard to represent their families and their people, and all these emotional storylines.

It’s hard to beat the Olympics as an experience and to be part of the storytelling would be amazing.

Meet Team Magnifi at the upcoming SportsPro APAC event in Singapore. Explore conversations around visibility, engagement, and how their AI-powered solutions can make videos your new marketing currency.