The acquisition of Beyond Sports allows Sony to offer end-to-end options to clients for player data opportunities

The acquisition of Beyond Sports allows Sony to offer end-to-end options to clients for player data opportunities

Beyond Sports will bring its artificial intelligence data visualization capabilities to create simulations for Sony’s expanding sports business.Courtesy of Beyond Sports

Sony has reached an agreement to acquire Beyond Sports, an artificial intelligence-based data visualization company specializing in fan engagement. The Dutch technology company will join optical tracking provider Hawk-Eye and digital media platform Pulselive among Sony’s sports businesses.

Beyond Sports may use player-tracking data to create photorealistic simulations – some of which are used by professional sports clubs – but it has carved out a particular niche in rendering graphical representations aimed at a younger demographic of fans.

For example, Beyond Sports animated highlights during the Nickelodeon broadcast of NFL wild-card games the past two seasons; that’s how Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles recreated precise formations and player movements. Beyond Sports also created block-shaped cartoons during the NHL playoffs last June.

“We believe we’re experiencing a once-in-a-generation shift in how fans consume sports content, and there’s very much a transition from this passive, laid-back viewing experience to much more lean-forward, interactive, immersive experiences,” said Rufus Hack, managing director of Sony’s sports businesses. “And we believe that Beyond Sports is very much at the forefront of some of these contextual trends and has the tools and technologies to help the world’s best sports rights holders – our customers – think about how to run new commercial opportunities and also try new ways to engage with fans.”

Sony already works with 23 of the top 25 global sports rights holders, Hack said, and those trusted relationships led to conversations about the next frontier in content creation. At about the same time, Beyond Sports co-founders Sander Schouten and Nicolaas Westerhof independently wrote a short list of companies with which they could continue their own business.

See also  Can you make a fortune by hacking a video game?

“The ink wasn’t even dry,” Schouten said, when Sony – one of the names on the list – contacted with interest.

“I think it all starts with knowing who you are, what you are and what you’re good at,” said Schouten, CEO. Added Westerhof, CTO, “We believe that with our technology, it would be best for us and we would be very good at being part of something much bigger.”

Beyond Sports sits in the middle of that sports media ecosystem, ingesting tracking data (like Hawk-Eye’s), imagining a new experience and then publishing it through another platform (like Pulselives). Sony now offers an end-to-end solution for that workflow, enabling leagues, federations and broadcasters to do one-stop shopping for partners.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, except that Sony bought 100% of the shares of Beyond Sports. Beyond Sports will remain data agnostic and will continue to be compatible with other tracking data systems.

“I think fundamentally there is a disconnect between sports supply and demand among the younger generation,” Hack added. “I don’t think the younger generation cares less about sports than we did or our parents did. And just don’t think we as an industry have delivered sports the way they want to consume sports.”

Schouten worked in video streaming and Westerhof was a video analyst for Dutch soccer powerhouse Ajax before starting Beyond Sports in 2014. With feedback from the national association in the Netherlands, they began creating virtual worlds for tactical analysis before recognizing the product’s consumer appeal.

See also  This week in the metaverse: Amazon could disrupt the NFT industry, the creator of Moonbird's NFTs gets hacked, and Pedigree wants you to foster a dog in the metaverse

Beyond Sports has its roots in immersive worlds and can create compelling 3D characters in AR and VR, but is not limited to these media. The depictions can be viewed on smartphones or websites or inserted into digital worlds such as Roblox or a game on the Sony PlayStation.

In the Netherlands, Beyond Sports operates the Gameface app which enables interactive streaming of Eredivisie matches. Fans can customize features: replace players with cartoons, recreate the game on Mars, even put their own face on an athlete. When a Brazilian player scored a goal, the highlight was not available in his home country, but a replay rendered in Gameface was viewed more than 300,000 times on social networks.

“It was kind of an eye opener for the league here to say, ‘Wow, so we’re actually getting eyeballs from Brazil now, even though we don’t have broadcast rights sold to that country,'” Schouten said. “People make their own clips and [executives] can actually see what they like or don’t like, and that behavior becomes very important because that’s the new generation that they’re tapping into that a lot of leagues are struggling to keep with or actually engage with in the first place.”

Hack acknowledged that Sony has not maximized the commercial potential of its raw material, the tracking data. The technology has been upgraded to detect 29 points on the body, including limb movements and head direction, giving Beyond Sports new opportunities to capture the emotions and other subtleties of the athletes.

“Hawk-Eye is in a privileged position where we effectively collect tracking data at a large portion of the world’s biggest sporting events, but in fact historically we haven’t done much downstream with that data in terms of productizing it to create value,” Hack added . “Beyond Sports are incredibly complementary” when it comes to producing engaging content for fans and brands.

See also  Newcastle new boy Garang Kuol came to Australia as a refugee before becoming the youngest international since Harry Kewell

Just as Sony Pictures, Sony Music and Sony Interactive Entertainment (including PlayStation) are all multi-billion dollar subsidiaries, the sports businesses could become the parent company’s next accelerator.

“Sony has big ambitions in sports,” Hack said, adding: “Sports has been identified as one of those entertainment genres where we currently have incredible businesses in Hawk-Eye and Pulselive, but not at that scale. And so we’re very interested in trying to drive acquisitive growth as well as organic growth through the Sony family to get to a larger scale, and Beyond Sports is almost the first step on that stage.”

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *