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Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality in the Sporting world

31 March 2020

Artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) can be powerful tools for a variety of industries including the entertainment and sporting world. The way that consumers access content is constantly evolving and with a heightened focus on personalisation and consumer engagement, AI and VR can provide a way for broadcasters and rights holders to provide innovative ways to enhance the viewing experience and keep ahead in such an ever-changing market.  

Enhancing consumer engagement

The way in which consumer viewing habits change is largely driven by the innovation and investment made by broadcasters /rights holders in how to distribute their content. The development of video-on-demand services and platforms, such as SkyGo and Netflix, have changed the entertainment industry enabling viewers to watch content whenever and wherever they want. It is not only innovation behind the scenes that has transformed user engagement but also the quality of the content itself. With the development of HDR, 4K and 4KHDR broadcasters have enhanced the quality of viewing. With a number of platforms in the broadcasting sphere, and a growing number of contenders, the demand to maintain and develop consumer engagement is ever present.

Many believe that personalisation best enhances consumer engagement as it targets a wider audience and increases overall consumer satisfaction levels. A recent study conducted by Deltatre found that, of those surveyed, 77% of consumers want freedom to watch what they want at their own pace with 72% of consumers considering personalisation to be an important factor. On top of this, 71% of audiences crave a deeper immersive experience when watching live games.[1]

This hunger for an immersive experience has already been demonstrated in other subsections within the entertainment group, such as ‘Secret Cinema’ and ‘Mamma Mia the Sumer Party’. As a form of entertainment itself, the excitement of live sports can be enhanced and further developed by AI and VR.

Organisations are already using AI to enable customers to replay moments within a match from a 360-degree angle. This enables viewers to choose to replay content from a specific seat or player view. This enables broadcasters to target wider audiences and encompass a variety of user preferences in one go. In addition, AI technology is also being used to focus on the consumer’s quality of viewing. For example, organisations are using such technology to launch channels that can detect a customer’s television capability and identifies the best viewing format for that individual consumer.
 
Advertising/ Sponsorship

Another growing trend is the increase in virtual advertising. This enables broadcasters to input adverts into content, which are not necessarily there in real life. For example, viewers of a live hockey match in the UK may receive a specific pitch side advertisement, which viewers in other territories or households may not receive. This enables the advertisement to target a variety of audiences simultaneously and ultimately benefit from more lucrative advertising and sponsorship deals. This is particularly of interest to organisations whose revenue is dependent on sponsorship. However, caution must be taken to ensure that; the relevant sporting rules allow it, it does not constitute product placement, that the advertisements are complying with local laws and that the advertisement falls within the relevant advertising regulations. In addition, there will also be data protection issues to address around targeted advertisements. It will also be important for licensors and rights holders to have conversations regarding ownership of the VR generated content relevant to live events, TV and streaming at the outset.
 
Used to invest in sports clubs

Not only is AI and VR changing consumer engagement and advertisement / sponsorship, some organisations are also using AI and VR to help improve sports performance.

Wearable AI devices can provide insightful data to help clubs train and invest in new athletes. For example, clubs are using wearable devices that measure power, speed, fatigue index and metabolic rates with accompanying software to analyse and review data.  Such devices can also be used in conjunction with VR, which enables athletes the opportunity to train in a virtual world in any location.
 
Protection and other considerations

AI related technologies are potentially patentable if they are new and involve an inventive step. However, it is important to ensure that the technology does not fall within the ‘excluded subject matter’ rules. AI computational models and algorithms will be excluded from patentability, unless they amount to a computer program having a "further technical effect".

Literary copyright in computer programs is also recognised by the UK courts. However, depending on the circumstances, an AI algorithm on its own may not attract the same protection as it may not be considered a work of the ‘author’s own intellectual creation’. In light of the above, organisations may seek to rely on the law of confidence/trade secrets that protects commercially valuable information and prevents others from using it which could extend to such algorithms and data should it not meet the requirements for patent or copyright protection.

In the UK, trade mark protection can extend to non-traditional types of marks such as motion images, holograms and sounds. This, in principle, provides a wider possibility of protecting VR workings as registered trade marks, provided that they are capable of acting as a badge of trade origin and are clearly represented.

Separately, caution must also be taken where use of a third party’s mark /copyright work has been made. Whilst this is not traditional use in the course of trade, commercial gain is being made and such use is likely to qualify as in the course of trade for infringement purposes. Therefore, it is necessary to get consent from the owner and draft licence agreements in place, covering all aspects of VR generated content well in advance.

It is clear that investments in this sphere can be highly beneficial, changing the landscape of consumer engagement, and adding commercial value to clubs and broadcasters/rights holders. Getting ahead in the market and having sought after technology paves the way to enhance talent, consumer engagement and the overall viewing experience and it is important that organisations protect such assets and have the necessary agreements in place to utilise them effectively.

Author: Abigail Dews


[1] https://media.deltatre.com/documents/PR_Working_Report_Deltatre_.pdf



Authors

Abigail Dews

Abigail Dews Trainee Trade Mark Attorney London (UK)

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