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Best Practices for Live Streaming a Local Sporting Event

Now that delivering content online is affordable for local sports teams, fans can live stream every game remotely, enabling teams to connect distant fans and create a permanent archive of past games.

It was once impossible to catch your local soccer league’s away game without traveling to the opponent’s town. Now that delivering content online is affordable for local sports teams, fans can live stream every game remotely, enabling teams to both connect distant fans and create a permanent archive of past games. But live streaming a fast-paced sporting event isn’t foolproof, and there are multiple steps to consider even before the camera starts rolling. In order to provide a premium viewing experience and transport fans to the stands, follow these best practices for live streaming local sports games.

Before you dive into a streaming event, there are some steps you should take to set yourself up for success. Site surveys are always a great idea—knowing the layout of the location for camera cabling will help streamline day-of setup and ensure maximum quality. You should also consider the time of the game and try to prepare in advance whenever possible for unfortunate weather conditions. Unforeseen issues like a blinding glare from a sunset or audio interference from a windy day can put a wrench in any live stream.

Often overlooked, audio is a vital part of live streamed events. Cameras should be equipped with shotgun microphones that help follow distant action, and announcers should be armed with either handheld mics or wearable lavaliers to capture their dialogue. It is best to mix audio separately from the video, in order to overlay announcer audio on top of the action on the field.

Camera Setup
In order to keep up with the action, use multiple cameras when filming a game. Viewers won’t appreciate trying to follow a constantly moving and zooming camera. Rather, swiftly switch between multiple camera angles; this will make viewers feel like they are part of the action.

Cameras should be stationed to allow for the widest possible coverage. It’s also wise to include a wide angle “master shot” for stationary moments such as timeouts. With multiple cameras, communication is key; provide a way for camera operators to communicate with the master control, so the director can request reframing and camera operators can know when their camera is “live.”

When setting up your cameras, it’s important to identify the axis of action. The action should always be moving toward or away from the camera. Breaking the axis of action makes the live stream very confusing for viewers to follow.

Somewhere between planning and production, you need to verify you have enough bandwidth to deliver the event. In order to avoid sharing your bandwidth with those distracted fans in the stands checking e-mail and sharing photos, you’ll need access to a dedicated network connection.

There are multiple methods for calculating bandwidth needs, but as a general rule, have your total deliverable bandwidth double your overall throughput. In other words, if you’re planning to deliver a total of 3 Mb/s of content, a 6 Mb/s upload should suffice. Backup bandwidth, in the form of bonded wireless data access points, is also useful as network connections have a habit of failing at the least opportune time.

Device Optimization
Ultimately, live streaming serves a remote audience. In order to provide the best viewer experience, it’s imperative to know your audience and how, when and where they will be watching your live stream.

Unlike a traditional broadcast where a single feed is used to deliver content, you can customize your live stream to accommodate your audience’s preferences. It is best to personalize the viewing experience by optimizing your stream for multiple devices. Targeting popular devices such as smartphones and tablets, and gearing your live stream toward desktop or laptop viewers will give your fans a wide range of viewing experiences to choose from. As fans decide throughout the season which device is right for them, be prepared to tweak the data rates, resolutions, and streaming formats you offer.

In the early days, there were only a couple of codecs, and live and real-time encoding was difficult. Luckily, we now have more control. When it comes to encoding live sporting events, you will need to bump up your bit rates significantly from the bit rates you use for standard talking head shots. If you typically shoot a talking head shot at 720p with 2.5 Mb/s, double that to 5 Mb/s for a cleaner look. Depending on which sport you are shooting, however, you could lower to 3.5 Mb/s if you’re capturing slower speeds.

Another way to increase quality is to encode the video in high complexity, which basically gives the encoder more information to work with. It’s like shooting the same content at the same angle with both HD and SD cameras. Raising the complexity will create a crisper image.

With today’s technology at your fingertips, anyone can take advantage of affordable, high-quality streaming, empowering sports fans to root for their hometown heroes, even from afar. With these steps in mind, you’ll seamlessly extend the power of your local sports franchise beyond the field and into a global community.

Scott Grizzle is senior solutions engineer at IBM Cloud Video.