How Valencia CF used LTE broadcast innovation to create great fan engagement
Of all the complex and exciting content projects that Seven League have worked on over the last three years, the live broadcast of 5 HD channels over an LTE network at Valencia's Mestalla stadium is perhaps the most intricate and rewarding.
For the club's final home game of the La Liga season (May 17, 2015) against Celta de Vigo, this complex LTE broadcast trial was successfully delivered by multiple technology partners (Vodafone, Huawei, Qualcomm, Thomson, Samsung); the first of its kind in Spain, and the most advanced case study anywhere in Europe.
LTE (also know as evolved Multimedia Broadcast Service, or eMBMS) broadcasts over a very narrow portion of the bandwidth spectrum, enabling much higher concurrent usage than a regular unicast connection. It's ideal for any situation where multiple users receive the same content, like a video broadcast.
We say 'spectacular' for two main reasons: firstly the scale of the technology innovation, but also - crucially - the attention to detail in providing a genuinely excellent end-user experience.
It would have been easy - well, less massively complex - to run a closed LTE broadcast trial in which a live video signal was broadcast to a device, to prove that this was possible in a stadium of 45,000 people. To a large extent that concept has already been proved though; Borussia Mönchengladbach and Ajax had run previous trials of this type in Germany and the Netherlands.
The key advance at Valencia's Mestalla stadium was to not only raise the complexity stakes by broadcasting 5 HD channels simultaneously, but to pair that with a great user experience.
Driven by the vision of Valencia's Luis Vicente (Chief Revenue Officer), Vodafone worked with the club's internal IT staff to deliver significantly enhanced 4G connectivity at the stadium; in turn, Vodafone introduced Huawei, Qualcomm and Quickplay into the project to optimise the end user experience: a mobile app which allowed the user to switch seamlessly between the five HD channels, with no lags or loss of quality, on next-generation Samsung devices.
Thomson Video Networks produced the video encoding software and hardware required to turn live video the live video inputs into the broadcast outputs, in MPEG-DASH format.
Meanwhile, production company Enetres worked with the club's Head of Video, Julio Tarrega, to deliver the video content; this centred around a 4-hour live broadcast from multiple camera points (ranging from fixed cameras in the dressing room, tunnel and dugout to wireless mobile cameras on the team bus, and in and around the stadium).
All of these feeds were live vision-mixed into a Behind Scenes channel, allowing fans to get closer to the team from the moment they left their pre-match hotel, to the closing press conference.
Additionally – as if by this point we didn't have enough people squeezed into a production room – we ran 4 more channels, each of which was cut into the Behind Scenes broadcast at appropriate points.
The 3D Virtual Arena game engine from MediaPro's official LFP app was used to give fans a second-screen analysis view of the match complete with tactical data overlays. LFP data was also used to power a stats channel, including player performance info and also latest scores from the other games taking place (this was one of very few weekends in the Spanish season where all games are scheduled simultaneously).
A UGC channel was built around fan video uploads from match day, with the upload experience greatly improved by Vodafone's enhanced 4G connectivity around the stadium.
Finally, a social media channel was curated to tell the story of the day through fan, player and pundit tweets and Instagram posts; over 250 posts were broadcast during the event, requiring constant editorial attention.
It's hard to overstate the technical challenge that was overcome by all partners in delivering the end user experience; the maelstrom of decision-making, troubleshooting and end-product on the day itself was intoxicating in the extreme.
Seven League have been VCF's digital agency since April 2014, and were privileged to have a contributing role in the project (specifically around the definition and delivery of the content channels); Valencia is a hugely exciting place right now, and we're delighted to be part of the digital innovation at the club.