Beyond Sports will bring its AI data visualization capabilities to create simulations of Sony’s expanding sports business.Courtesy of Beyond Sports
Sony has reached an agreement to acquire Beyond Sports, an AI-driven data visualization company that specializes in fan interaction. The Dutch tech company will join optical tracking provider Hawk-Eye and digital media platform Pulselive among Sony sports companies.
Beyond Sports can use player tracking data to create realistic simulations – some of which are used by professional sports clubs – but it has developed a special niche in offering graphic representations aimed at younger fan demographics.
For example, Beyond Sports’ animation highlights during Nickelodeon’s broadcast of NFL wild card games in the past two seasons; This is how Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles recreate accurate formations and player movements. Beyond Sports also created block-shaped animations during NHL games this past June.
“We firmly believe that we are experiencing a once in a generation shift in how fans consume sports content, and there is a very significant transition from this passive and uneventful viewing experience to one that is more forward-looking, interactive and immersive experiences,” said Rufus Hack, president of Sony Sports Executive. “We believe Beyond Sports is at the forefront of some of those contextual trends and has the tools and technologies to help the world’s largest sports rights owners – our customers – think about how to capture new business opportunities and also try new ways to interact with fans.”
Hack said Sony is already working with 23 of the top 25 global sports rights holders, and those trusted relationships have led to conversations about the next frontier of content creation. Around the same time, Sander Scotten and Nicholas Westerhoff, founders of Beyond Sports, wrote a short list of companies they could push their own business even further.
“The ink wasn’t dry,” Schouten said, when Sony—one of the names on that list—reached out with interest.
“I think it all starts with knowing who you are, what you are and what you are good at,” said Schuten, CEO. Westerhoff, chief technology officer, added, “We think with our technology, that’s going to be what’s best for us, and we’d be really good at being part of something much bigger.”
Beyond Sports is in the middle of the sports media ecosystem, where it ingests tracking data (like Hawk-Eye’s), imagines a new experience and then publishes it through another platform (like Pulselive’s). Sony now offers an end-to-end solution for this workflow, enabling consortia, federations and broadcasters to do end-to-end partner shopping.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, except that Sony bought 100% of the shares of Beyond Sports. Beyond Sports will remain data neutral and will remain compatible with other tracking data systems.
“I basically think there is a disconnect between sports supply and demand among the younger generation,” Hack added. “I don’t think the younger generation cared less about sports than we did or our parents did. And you don’t think we were providing, as an industry, sports the way they wanted to consume sports.”
Schouten worked in video broadcasting and Westerhof was a video analyst for Dutch football powerhouse Ajax before starting Beyond Sports in 2014. With comments from the Netherlands National Federation, they began crafting virtual worlds for tactical analysis before learning about the consumer’s appeal of the product.
Beyond Sports is rooted in immersive worlds and can create compelling 3D looks in AR and VR but is not limited to those media. Its images can be displayed on smartphones, websites or implanted in digital worlds, for example, Roblox or a game on Sony PlayStation.
In the Netherlands, Beyond Sports operates the Gameface app that enables interactive broadcasts of Eredivisie matches. Fans can customize the features: replace players with animations, recreate the game on Mars, and even put their face on an athlete. When a Brazilian player scored a goal, the spotlight was not available in his country of origin, but the entertainment presented in Gameface was viewed more than 300,000 times across social networks.
“It was an opening for the league here saying, ‘Wow, so we’re actually getting eyeballs out of Brazil now even though the broadcast rights to that country are not being sold,’” Scotten said. [executives] They can actually see what they like or don’t like, and that behavior becomes really important because it’s the new generation that’s being taken advantage of, and that’s struggling with a lot of leagues to stay with them or get involved with them in the first place.”
Hack acknowledged that Sony had not maximized the commercial potential of its raw materials, and trace data. The technology has been updated to detect 29 points on the body, including limb movement and head orientation, fueling new opportunities for Beyond Sports to capture emotions and other subtle details of athletes.
“Hawk-Eye is in a privileged position where we actively collect tracking data at a large part of the largest sporting events in the world, but in fact, we haven’t really done much historically with that data in terms of turning it into products to create value,” Hack added. Beyond Sports is incredibly complementary in producing engaging content for fans and brands.
Just like Sony Pictures, Sony Music, and Sony Interactive Entertainment (including PlayStation) are all multi-billion dollar subsidiaries, sports companies could be the next parent company accelerator.
“Sony has big ambitions in sports,” Hack said, adding, “Sports has been identified as one of those entertainment genres where, right now, we have incredible business in Hawk-Eye and Pulselive, but not on that scale. And so we’re very interested. By trying to drive acquisition growth as well as organic growth through the Sony family to reach a larger scale, Beyond Sports is almost the first step at that point.”