News from NEMSummit 2017

DOUG WILLIAMS from BT R&D reports from Madrid:

For the last couple of days I have been at the NEM Summit 2017 in Madrid. This is an annual gathering of researchers and people from the European Commission, together with a smattering of government policy makers as well.  The Summit is trying to understand and accelerate the definition of the research agenda around media and content.

Some of the Summit was about policy concerns relating to so-called fake news, a phenomenon I prefer to call lies. This is a bit off-topic for 2-IMMERSE but I am writing a parallel post about it as I found it interesting and, importantly, encouraging. Watch out for that post in the next 24 hours.

Apart from the policy stuff the Summit also provides a platform for people to share recent research results, and it’s in that role that I was attending – to share some of the recent 2-IMMERSE work.

I presented two early studies from 2-IMMERSE.  One was one of our first service prototype which we called  Theatre at Home.  This was the first experience built on our micro service platform and it allowed two households to share the experience of watching a live screen performance together.  The video is here and the schematic of the technology is shown here:

The presentation I gave, slightly annotated so it works better without an accompanying voice over, is below. nem-theatre-nov-2017-all-slides-explanatory-no-video  To be honest, the trial was not perfect. We struggled with a number of aspects of the trial, but that is as it should be.  As some wag has said,  ‘if we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be research, would it?’

My second talk was about an assessment of football clips — and I wrote a blog post about this earlier in the year. We were exploring whether there was a way to assess if one format — that used three screens — was better or more impactful than another — which used only one screen).  You can see an outline of comparative clips in this video. Once again the presentation itself – again slightly annotated to help it be readable without a vice over – is included below. nem-football-nov-2017-all-slides-explanatory-no-video  Our conclusion, which was based on responses from over 200 judges, is that we are 95% certain the preference reported for the three screen example was not by chance.


Sports streaming – coming up short?

Although the 2-IMMERSE project is ultimately about building a platform, two of our prototypes are focussed on sports streaming. So the current state of play in this market is obviously of considerable interest to us. The streaming systems developer Phenix has released a short assessment, The Streaming Wars: Sports Report, commissioned with the reputable UK-based research organisation Yougov, that makes sobering reading. The polling for the report was done with consumers in the USA (sample size 2,309 adults; online fieldwork 12-16 October 2017; figures weighted and representative of all US adults aged 18+), but it’s likely that similar attitudes would be found in Britain.

Jed Corenthal, CMO at Phenix, sums up the current problems:

In our “Sports Report,” it was obvious consumers understand they’re paying for services that don’t always meet their expectations. In fact, nearly three-quarters of sports viewers expect there will be an issue during their sports live stream! It’s understandable then that 63% don’t plan on signing up for a streaming sports service in 2018 and more than one in three (34%) would think about cancelling a service that was giving them an issue.

Findings from the research include:

  • Sports viewers have come to expect bad service – nearly three-quarters (72 percent) anticipate a latency issue while they watch a game.
  • 64% expect buffering, 42% delays, 32% expect poor picture quality and 30% expect loss of service.
  • 63% of sports watchers are reluctant to sign up or re-subscribe to sports live streaming platforms in 2018 and more than one in three (34%) would think about cancelling the services giving them issues.

Despite these significant concerns, the report suggests that ‘there’s ample opportunity for the streaming industry to not only solve the latency issues it faces, but use real-time capabilities to elevate the sports fan’s overall experience.’

  • More than 1 in 3 (36%) want to gain insights into player stats and information.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 (30%) want the ability to watch in virtual reality (VR) to view the game from different angles.
  • More than 1 in 5 (22%) want to see updates from the locker room/sidelines.

And there are key takeaways for our 2-IMMERSE work:

  • 17 percent want to engage with other viewers, and crucially…
  • More than 1 in 3 (36 percent) want to stream more than one game on different devices, demonstrating the proliferation of the multi-screen experience.

Although not everyone would agree, this is Jed Corenthal’s conclusion:

The live streaming experience is broken, particularly in the sporting arena, where latency issues abound. The industry must address the frustrating issues, such as buffering, delays, poor picture quality, loss of service, etc. plaguing everyone’s experience, from the NFL [Ntional Football League] to UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship]…

The upside we found was that if this main challenge can be overcome, there is incredible opportunity to offer more than just real-time streams to the customer. More than one in three want to simultaneously gain insights into player stats and information, and stream more than one game on different devices, respectively. If latency at broadcast scale is resolved, the streaming experience will be bigger and better than we could have imagined.


It’s trial time!

DOUG WILLIAMS from BT writes: Will the system work? We are in the final throes of preparing for the MotoGP at Home trial, as the boxed up “kits” above demonstrate.  Anyone who has been in that state will be familiar with the uneasy mix of excitement and uncertainty.

For the MotoGP at home tests we are seeking an evaluation, from MotoGP fans, of our ‘as-live’ multi-screen production of this year’s Silverstone race. We are conducting nearly all the trials in people’s homes and our ambition is that the system is robust enough and simple enough for our triallists to use with minimal instruction; we are seeking 100 responses.

At the moment the experience depends on support for elements of the HbbTV2.0 specification and some other capabilities that cannot be reliably found on any common TV platform. So we are having to provide a small computer together with a phone and tablet as the apps we are using are not available on any app store. That’s what you can see in front of the boxes.

There is a lot of last minute logistics and bug-fixing going on and Murphy’s law is in full operation. To help on the logistics side – needing to find 50 duo households of people who are already keen on MotoGP – we have enlisted the help of a recruiting agency, Acumen, who will tomorrow receive seven test kits and some training from us and who will then go away and start conducting tests with screened triallists who already watch MotoGP.

Fundamentally we want to know whether the experience we create feels like an enhancement to the excellent coverage already available. We want the evaluation to uncover more about the utility, and perhaps futility, of certain features, and so help us to retain good ideas and drop bad ones.  And we intend too that it will help us highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the technical platform on which it is all built.

We trust our triallists enjoy their experience — and of course we hope the system works!


Making object-based CAKE at BBC R&D

Object-based media production, which is a central principle underpinning 2-IMMERSE, is being intensely developed by our colleagues at BBC R&D. Freely available online are resources that introduce the ideas behind object-based media, and which outline one especially neat demonstration of it in action, the Cook-Along Kitchen Experience, or CAKE.

Back in 2013 Tony Churnside wrote a BBC R&D blog post that outlines the approach and rationale for object-based broadcasting. This was updated just a few months ago, and remains an essential introduction:

Complementing this is a slightly more technical post by Robert Wadge, written in 2013 and updated two years later:

Just about a year ago, Matthew Brooks and Tristan Ferne looked back over 2016 to review recent work with object-based media from BBC R&D:

This includes a nod towards the involvement of BBC R&D in 2-IMMERSE:

We got busy with 2Immerse, a European project creating a multi-screen, multi-home, interactive immersive home theatre experience. As well as finalising the architecture, we built scrolling scripts that synchronise with the performance, video chat that brings homes together during intervals, and a layout engine that can present content across multiple screens.

Earlier this year, in May, Ian Forrester outlined BBC R&D’s plans to develop a community of practice for object-based media production:

The team is putting together an impressive sequence of demonstrations and workshops around the country (and beyond), and along with outlining this the post features a rallying cry for the significance of object-media:

We believe that the object-based approach is the key to content creation of the future, one which uses the attributes of the internet to let us all make more personal, interactive, responsive content and by learning together we can turn it into something which powers media beyond the scope of the BBC.

Perhaps BBC R&D’s most developed demonstration of the approach is the CAKE pilot, which is described in detail here (and illustrated above). The test period for the prototype of this cooking experience has recently come to an end but the ideas behind it are well worth exploring:

Following a recipe with CAKE is different to other cooking shows because it’s not a linear TV programme. It customises recipes based on your familiarity with ingredients and methods, your tastes or dietary preferences, and how many people you’re inviting round for dinner. The experience reacts ‘in the moment’ to your progress, allowing you to create new dishes at your own pace. Novices can level-up and experts can cut to the chase, supported by an evolving dialogue between audience and presenter.

Also available online is a paper prepared for the recent IBC symposium, ‘Moving Object-Based Media Production from One-Off Examples to Scalable Workflows’ [.pdf], authored by Jasmine Cox, Matthew Brooks, Ian Forrester and Mike Armstrong from BBC R&D. This is a valuable account of the team’s experiences and plans for the next stage of development, as their introduction promises:

This paper follows the creation of our most recent example of object-based media, the Cook-Along Kitchen Experience (CAKE) which was conceived and produced as an object-based experience from the outset. This paper looks at how we are applying the lessons learned from our previous work to the development of OBM data models and software tools. The paper also discusses how we intend to involve content creators from both inside and outside the BBC and build a community of practice around the development of new forms of media.


Theatre at Home prototype video

We are pleased to share the first video from the project. This introduces and offers a simple demonstration of the first prototype from 2Immerse, creating a multi-screen experience to enhance the viewing of performance at home.