How AR is driving Innovation in Broadcasting

Perhaps a good place to start is why. Why is AR driving innovation in broadcasting? Partly, the answer is, because it can. Broadcasters are innovating with augmented reality (AR) because it’s now possible for them to do so. So what changed?

AR technology is ever-evolving but isn’t new. What is new is broadcasters being able to bring together cinematic quality graphics to productions in a real-time broadcast environment. Pixotope is enabling broadcasters across all sectors to leverage powerful game technology such as Epic’s Unreal Engine and make it accessible, reliable, and controllable in a new setting. The resulting potential for innovation with augmented reality in broadcasting is limitless.

That’s why we’re seeing it reinvigorate and revitalize the industry. Opportunity and experimentation by broadcasters have led to them now using AR to add a new dimension to journalistic reports like news and weather, engender fan loyalty at sports events and even give rise to entirely new formats that capture viewer imagination as never before.
Broadcasters are exploring all AR storytelling avenues to maximize viewer engagement, information, and entertainment. This blog will take a look at some of the ways those goals have been realized across a number of different broadcast sectors. 

 

Why AR should be part of your broadcast toolkit

AR is earning its place in the broadcasters toolkit for its potential to attract new audiences and give added value to existing viewers via its (now more deployable and controllable) storytelling firepower.

In fact, AR elements are being introduced across the broadcast landscape everywhere you can think of, driving innovative content and deeper engagement with the audience. And it’s more accessible, more ‘user friendly’ for broadcast professionals than ever before. The quality of the graphics and game engine technology has leaped forward exponentially in the last few years, but being able to deploy AR in real-time and manage its application in a live broadcast situation with relative ease has been a huge breakthrough. Unlike legacy CG systems that use Unreal as a plugin renderer, which adds restrictions on functionality and performance, Pixotope is a fully native implementation of Unreal for any workflows, with no compromise on features, quality, or performance. It’s this combination of increased accessibility and performance plus limitless storytelling potential that’s making AR an essential tool for an increasing number of broadcasters. 

 

How AR is reinventing data visualization

The immersive nature of AR lends itself to being able to tell the most incredible stories and capture viewers’ attention, thereby aiding networks to add a new dimension to their shows and build a rapport with their audience. 

In a world-first, Pixotope helped Anomalyst Studio to add a new dynamic to the live broadcast of the 56th Singapore National Day Parade. Traditionally this annual event has been a physical mass display show, but by incorporating real-time AR, MediaCorp, the show’s broadcaster, gave its audience an unforgettable interactive experience that proved a huge hit. 

To ensure that the large physical cast, LED stages, and the AR elements blended together seamlessly, the large-scale live show had to be rehearsed and choreographed. Maya was used to produce the animated content which was then imported into Pixotope to display in the main event; this included rain effects and a huge mirrorball. To get the lighting spot on for the main show, the team used 360-degree cameras to capture recordings of the various lighting states, which they used to sample the lighting conditions of the environments. The team pushed the visual quality to make the AR feature believable and integrate seamlessly with the event.

In another world first, Silver Spoon used Pixotope on the virtual production for Fox’s Alter Ego singing competition. This show was devised following on from the success of the Masked Singer, also aired on Fox (where full costumes were used to hide the singers’ identities). For this AR live event, Alter Ego featured a line-up of fully realized 3D characters that were driven by human counterparts. The human singers drove the digital avatars via mocap suits, while the wonderfully lit and textured CG characters appeared to perform on the real-world stage. 

It was a technically challenging project and is a pretty astounding achievement – and goes some way to show what the future looks like for live events and broadcasts; bear in mind that AR tech will get more sophisticated year on year.

AR adds a new dimension and dynamic

Broadcasters are also using AR to educate and show people about public dangers, such as floods or ice storms – and since AR enables creators to paint a picture of what the impact will be, audiences are more switched on to this content. AR could be viewed as a new story-telling weapon – one that everyone should have in their broadcasting arsenal.

The idea of creating visually rich stories that are more ‘believable’ and really resonate with viewers came to the Weather Channel in 2019, when it educated viewers with its use of AR to show the destructive nature of a tornado. The immersive mixed reality piece not only won an Emmy award for Outstanding Science, Medical, or Environmental Report, but it also won the public over as they could more easily relate to what was being shown. The segment garnered more than 22 million views on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube combined.

 

Similarly, by incorporating a virtual set and AR content, the Spanish television network Televisión Canaria (RTVC) is enjoying a yield in higher viewing figures of its prime-time show ‘Una Hora Menos’. When a volcano erupted on the island of La Palma and 1,100 degrees Celsius hot flowing lava started to destroy everything in its path, a team from Videoreport Canarias leveraged the power of Pixotope to show the TV audience what happens when the lava comes into contact with cold water. 

 

Adding real-time graphics as an interactive entity in news reporting, or using AR elements to add a dynamic to live broadcast is bringing new life to journalism. Thanks to the work of the professionals behind Televisión Canaria, who covered the volcano eruption and used AR to communicate the catastrophe, the channel achieved historic rating results.  ‘Una hora menos’ attracted 15.2% of the audience, compared to the 11% average of RTVC.

 

Real-time AR tech and live events

The possibilities with AR are limitless, and companies are keen to take advantage of this tech, to really push the envelope. Take the NFL’s coverage of the Carolina Panthers first home game of the season, for example. Fans and viewers alike were in awe of the team’s debut of the giant AR-generated mascot that could be seen leaping around the stadium and onto display panels, and jumping down onto the midfield, tearing up the New York Jets opposition flag, prior to the game.

The Famous Group, the studio responsible for the virtual panther, used Pixotope to layer real-time 3D graphics on top of a live feed of the broadcast. The Pixotope Engine can render and composite real-time photorealistic CGI characters, VFX, and environments at full speed, without degrading the video quality. 

Since the panther was rendered in real-time, it was possible to create interactions between the animal and the real-life environment to a high degree of accuracy. The fans were wowed by the fantastic show and immediately took to social media – this resulted in a huge increase in fan loyalty and engagement, with the panther animation hitting up to six million views on Twitter.  We are only at the tip of the AR iceberg; we can see from the way that the world and this technology are progressing that AR will become ubiquitous. As audiences crave more personalized and interactive content, broadcasters will all be adopting AR to exploit its boundless opportunities and bring joy to the masses.

Discover more about AR in action

Read our case studies to discover how Pixotope supports advanced augmented reality solutions for ambitious productions across various industries.

 

Dot