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The Hundred: Sky Sports and the ECB Turn to Gamification as Cricket Is Freshened Up' for a New Audience

21/07/2021

The Hundred: Sky Sports and the ECB turn to gamification as cricket is freshened up for a new audience By Will Strauss, Editor

Monday, July 19, 2021 - 11:16

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Player avatars for presenter analysis and a new way of displaying on-screen broadcast graphics will both be part of Sky Sports' gamified live coverage of the new family friendly' cricket tournament The Hundred which starts on Wednesday (21 July).

The Hundred is a professional franchise 100-ball-per-innings format involving eight men's and eight women's teams located in major cities across England and Wales.

With the sport looking to attract new fans, it's not cricket for dummies' but it is very much a TV-friendly format, with accessible start and end times and shorter matches, that has been devised to be more entertainment-focused and inclusive than other forms of the sport.

As such, alongside some of the world's best cricketers, The Hundred will feature a mixture of music, DJs, fan participation and more in an effort to attract more female and child viewers, attendees and participants.

Sky Sports is the host broadcaster for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)-owned competition and will show all 68 games with the BBC broadcasting 10 matches free-to-air, doing its own coverage but taking Sky's world feed.

It's been a challenge but when is innovation not a challenge? We've gone into the unknown we do believe it is a broadcast world first

The family-friendly approach will be reflected in Sky Sports' output which, in conjunction with the ECB, will use gamification to appeal to younger viewers.

That gamification comes in two main forms: player avatars that will be used for analysis during presentation elements of Sky's coverage; and on-screen broadcast graphics with a gaming' or esports' feel that have been designed to help simplify the game for viewers.

Sky Sports director of cricket Bryan Henderson, speaking to SVG Europe ahead of the tournament, explained the premise behind the tournament and what they are setting out to achieve.

Cricket as a sport is doing really well and has had some incredible moments over the last few years, with both the England women's and men's World Cup wins and some amazing international and domestic cricket, he said.

The issue though, concerns demographics. Cricket's audience on and off-screen is typically, quite middle-aged ABC1 men. And although they are an important segment, we need to engage new fans if we are going to grow and future-proof the sport. At the same time, society is evolving. People's lives are changing, people want shorter formats that are easier to understand and they want formats that are affordable to watch with the family.

Cricket has recognised this and the issues that it has in its appeal and relevancy. And so The Hundred has essentially been born out of that and our commitment to it and to growing the game.

The upshot of this from a TV perspective will be a new way of broadcasting the sport, he added. We are going to freshen things up and present things in a slightly different way

Player avatars

Created in conjunction with the ECB, the player avatars are part of the gamification of The Hundred, with Sky Sports on-screen talent and pundits due to present around them during pitch-side presentation elements within the coverage.

The avatars will help viewers to get a little bit closer to the players , said Henderson, and make the graphics more gamified and in tune with the target audience .

They were created using facial recognition and motion capture technology rather than the volumetric technique that Sky has used to great effect on its golf coverage with Sky Scope.

The decision to go with avatars rather than volumetric capture was purely practical, according to Sky Creative creative director of innovation Jason Landau, who was invited to talk to the ECB after it saw the impact of Sky Scope.

What is right for one sport isn't necessarily right for another, he said. With the cricket bowling [motion] it wasn't going to be feasible [to do volumetric]. At the same time, we'd been talking a lot about avatars. We'd seen how they were getting better in the overall look so we examined the pros and cons of doing a hyperreal avatar, and then capture the motion data. We thought it would be different but also engaging.

Using avatars rather than volumetric capture will also make it easier to re-skin if someone changes hairstyle or bat sponsor , Henderson added. Plus we can touch up hair, alter facial expressions and change things as we wish.

We were always worried about the motion capture shoots, but once the players had seen what we were trying to achieve, they really bought into it

The avatars themselves have been created using MetaStar, Dimension Studio's hyper-real avatar solution and the Augmented Reality experience created by Arcade (an immersive experience creative agency, using Unity).

Dimension Studio created the avatar faces using images from 19 stills cameras that captured a scan of each player's head. Those pictures were then animated, processed and stitched together before skin texture and detail was added.

Motion capture techniques were then used to generate the sporting action for each avatar body.

For this, Target 3D positioned 30 optical micro tracking cameras around each player. These triangulated the position of 50 optical markers that were placed on a bodysuit worn by the cricketers as they played different shots or went through their bowling action.

Motion capture gloves were also used to capture movement for bowling wrist and finger position, providing an extra level of detail.

The position of the markers was then used to calculate a skeleton that then drives the animation. The data capture session took
LINK: https://www.svgeurope.org/blog/headlines/the-hundred-sky-sports-and-th...
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