Ep. 30: Sporting Event Broadcast Technology with David Shapiro
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.
David Shapiro, President, North America at Pixellot, joins Rob Cressy to talk about using technology to capture and broadcast sporting events. Why is there such a big opportunity in the high school market? How can this help with monetization and recruiting? What is the fan engagement like surrounding this content? Will there be opportunities for sports commentators to be created?
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Rob Cressy: (00:04)
Welcome to the game day playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy and joining me today is David Shapiro, President of North America at Pixellot. David, great to have you on the show.
David Shapiro: (00:31)
Yeah, thanks for having me. Rob. Look forward to the conversation here.
Rob Cressy: (00:34)
Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?
David Shapiro: (00:39)
Yeah, so as you mentioned, I'm the president in North America for Pixellot. We're a worldwide company. I've spent about 18 years in the sports industry. I've been at Pixellot for a little over a year now. We have a lot of exciting growth and I'll talk to you about, but at a high level would Pixellot does is we automate the production workflow. So what we're trying to do is democratize sports production, make it possible for more teams, clubs, organizations to professionally produce their sports events.
Rob Cressy: (01:12)
So I'm actually familiar with your space in what I love so much about what you guys are doing is we live in a world now where you can purchase anything from anyone at any time, anywhere. So now when we look at the content options with everything streaming from Netflix to Disney to HBOGO, you name it, we're now so accustomed to whatever you want you're going to get. But as we've looked at the amateur sports or rec league areas, let's say a grandmother in Chicago wants to watch their daughter play field hockey for the first time, how is that possible? Or why is that not possible yet? So am I correct in saying that there is an opportunity for people to be able to consume content of those people they love or know about in unique ways via streaming
David Shapiro: (02:11)
One hundred percent. In the market research that we've done, there's roughly 200 million events every year that are being played but not being broadcasted and that's where we see the opportunity. If you look at the marketplace 10 years ago there wasn't this whole streaming and OTT infrastructure out there. So really the sports that were able to be produced, were at the very, very top of the pyramid. And now with the infrastructure that's out there, you've seen the opportunity to move down to be able to cover, I mean right now, even a lot of division one schools so let alone amateur, which is you know, further long tail. But even at the division one school level, a lot of them are only producing their football, men's basketball, women's basketball there's 20 other sports on campus that are not being produced and that's really the opportunity that we see is more of the long tail space.
Rob Cressy: (03:08)
So I obviously understand why someone would want to be able to watch a field hockey or soccer or volleyball game from a university because it may involve people that they know. But is that why strong enough for these universities or athletic departments to say, you know what, we do need to invest in putting the technology in there to allow us to stream that because is the audience size large enough to make this worthwhile?
David Shapiro: (03:39)
Yeah, so I, it really depends on what the cost is to produce that content, right? If you look at traditional broadcasting, I think the answer to the athletic department would be no, it just simply costs us too much to produce that content and we're not going to get that return on the investment. But with Pixellot and what we're doing through automating the production workflow, it starts to help that math make sense. And I think at the university level there's a lot of different value adds there. You know, one, it can help you from a recruiting standpoint. If all your sports on campus are being streamed as a parent who's looking to send my kid to your university, that's certainly a value add. If I know that my kid's going across the country, but I'm going to be able to watch every single game. It also helps you market your athletic department because now you've got content to put on your website, social media, and promote all of the sports on campus. Then I think there is the revenue generation that as you have this wider array of content, it opens up the door to either pay per views, subscription, sponsorship activation that you can do through the additional streaming hours that you have.
Rob Cressy: (04:51)
So let's then talk about the engagement side of things. So you'd have to imagine that the people who are watching these live streams, they are about as highly engaged as you're going to get in terms of an audience.
David Shapiro: (05:04)
Yeah, you're exactly right because you're looking at, you know, parents who really want to see their kids. You're looking at alumni who have a real affinity for that school or perhaps they even played that sport at the school. That's what they really care about watching. went to UC Davis, when I was their division two school now smaller D1, they're in the big West conference, but not a power five by any means. When I played baseball there, zero of our games were produced. That's still the case. None of the baseball games are produced. But I'd much rather watch a UC Davis miss baseball game today than I would even watch a Stanford or a Cale game that is going to be on ESPN.
Rob Cressy: (05:44)
Makes sense. So let's talk then about the value in one of these users who are highly engaged. Cause you talked about the ability to monetize this. So right now we live in a world where so much get thrown at us on the social side of things. It's never an extreme of feed. You go on to Netflix, it's like you have so much that you can consume, which sort of devalues the content side of things because of options. But with this, you've taken someone who is highly targeted to say, I really want this because I can't get this anywhere else. Does this make that content or inventory more valuable from a monetization standpoint?
David Shapiro: (06:28)
Yeah, I think it does cause we're speaking exactly to the target audience. You know that the audience may not be a million people, but the audience might be several hundred or several thousand that are super engaged and targeted.
Rob Cressy: (06:43)
And with that, then I would break it down into local versus national because if you're watching a game from somewhere in Florida, but one of your parents live in Chicago, that's are we going to want to see a local car ad like you may see in a lot of regional stuff as opposed to a larger national brand coming in so that it is more relevant to it? Or is that something that may be geo-targeted based like you see with a lot of other advertising?
David Shapiro: (07:15)
Yeah, no, you're right. It really does open up the sponsorship opportunity. You know, if you're a small division three college in Alabama the people come into your game or maybe within a 20, 30 mile radius and that's who you can then sell your advertising to. Now, if you're, you know, tapping into your database of 500,000 alumni over the last 40 years that are all over the country, it certainly opens the doors for who you can have that sponsorship conversation.
Rob Cressy: (07:46)
What about on the recruiting side of things? So when I think of what you guys are doing, I'm like well imagine of a high school football team, put this in and you are a star player or maybe not even a star player. What this allows you to do to get more visibility in how other industries or verticals could spawn off of this because once you're able to capture the content and then chop up the content, then it can be distributed and it can be distributed all the way from the teams and leagues all the way down to the individual player. Is there an opportunity for this to shift the way that recruiting is done?
David Shapiro: (08:26)
Yeah, I think there certainly is. Right now the showcase industry is really big. You know, you've got to travel to the showcase tournaments or events to be able to be seen and get that scholarship a lot of times and as more of this content gets captured, it's going to make an opportunity for those athletes that can't travel to those events to be able to be seen because all their best plays are going to be able to be captured. It's going to be a lot easier for them to put together a highlight reel that's going to get that college coach interested in them.
Rob Cressy: (08:57)
So I'm all on board with this technology, but I'm also very forward thinking. So what are the big challenges that you run into in terms of the adoption of this?
David Shapiro: (09:10)
So, you know, the last I'd say 18 months, our adoption has been skyrocketing. It did take a little time. Pixellot has been around for five years. I'd say the first three and a half years were fairly slow growth. But the last 18 months we've been ramping up at a rapid pace. So to give you a sense for the scale we're talking about, our technology right now is on about 6,000 fields across the world. About 60, 65% of those are in the United States. Just last month in December, we livestreamed 85,000 hours of live sports content to give you a comparison. So you can put that in context. ESPN, which is the worldwide leader in sports. In 2019, they did about 45,000 hours of content across the entire year. So we doubled that in one month. In January we're expecting to do 115,000 hours of live sports content production. Two years ago, December, 2017 we were doing 700 hours. So we've gone from 700 hours a month to 85,000 hours a month in two and a half years here.
Rob Cressy: (10:24)
Can you pinpoint anything that helped that help you guys get over that hump to accelerate that growth? I mean, obviously in the launch of anything, you always hear about the hockey stick growth curve, but it does take time for adoption because certainly on day one you're sitting there and you're like, we have zero teams, league schools using this and all of a sudden you get a little bit more credibility and a little bit more credibility. Was it simply the social proof or was there anything that you're like, man, we really discovered this and this is what really helped us out?
David Shapiro: (10:58)
Yeah, I think it really was just the people. It's a small network of people that are in this space in terms of athletic directors and people that are making the decisions. So as people started to see this is really working, we're generating revenue, we're getting great content. Then word spread pretty quickly. You know, the majority of our growth in the US to date has really been in the high school marketplace and we're lucky enough to have a great partner in the NFHS network. NFHS stands for National Federation of High Schools. So that's the equivalent to the NCAA, but in the high school marketplace. And so we've been able to align with the right partner that also has given us access to all these people and helped us tell the right story.
Rob Cressy: (11:42)
From a fan engagement side of things. How important is the ability to share this content? So step one, we just need the ability to stream and view it. You're like, it's awesome. I can watch my daughter play volleyball. But the next level being whether you're the parent who wants to share that on Facebook or you're the student themselves and say, Hey, let me show you this awesome highlight. How important is the share-ability to the growth of this?
David Shapiro: (12:08)
Very important and we've been investing a lot of development resources to make sure that that can happen. So to give you a sense for what we're doing now, we've just rolled out in the last three to four months here is automatically condensing games. So if you don't want to watch the for the full hour and a half game or two hour long game, you can see a condensed game, which is just in basketball for example, every basket that score. So it takes a hour and a half game down to about six minutes. We're also tracking each individual player throughout the game through optical recognition and tracking the uniform number. So we're actually doing in basketball now, personal highlights. So you could just get every basket that number 10 scored or number 18 scored and that can be sent directly to the athlete. The athlete right after the game can put all their baskets scored right on social media.
Rob Cressy: (13:00)
Is that something that is just automated as part of the process I'm done playing my game and as I boom Rob in your inbox, here's how you did.
David Shapiro: (13:12)
It is completely automated. So there's no buddy that's manually tagging or editing the film. The athlete doesn't have to go in and do that. They're just getting the automated highlights. So if they want to pick, you know, there one dunk out of the eight dunks, they can do that. But that obviously is going to take a lot less time than going through an hour and a half game. They're going through a minute and a half instead of the hour and a half video.
Rob Cressy: (13:36)
One thing that I saw is your ability to have either onsite or remote commentators for these games. This is something with me and in the background for sports plus hosting always interested me because I've seen so many sports startups say we're going to be the one that allows fans to become the commentators for the game. It's something that's a dream for many of us. We sit there and you're like, man, I can just imagine myself being Al Michaels or Marv Albert or whoever your favorite commentator is in actually doing that. But the reality is I've never seen that executed. The concept is good, but it looks like you guys have the ability to do that. Is that correct?
David Shapiro: (14:23)
We do have the ability to do remote commentating, but that's really like the master user level. So it's not like the social piece of it where you could have a hundred different fans doing the commentary. The way, the reason we built it out this way was so that you could have a game in California, but you've got your talent in New York and you don't wanna fly the talent out there. The talent could be in New York, watching the stream, doing the announcing from there and have it tied in. So that's really what functionality was that we built out and a lot of our partners are using that today.
Rob Cressy: (14:55)
Is there an opportunity for there to be an element of disruption for the industry or maybe new opportunities? Because if I were to look into how could you be a sports commentator and I just look at my own journey I quit my job seven years ago to go all in at working in sports and being creative. I started from zero and seven one said to me, Rob, if you ever hope to get paid to do what you love, you better be doing it already. So guess what I did? I started creating thousands of articles, videos, podcasts, social media, marketing, and really honing my craft. I see this as another opportunity. They're like, what if you have these streams that don't have someone commentating? Then you find someone who's another version of me who says, I would love to be a sports announcer. I'm willing to go and announce those games for you. You're in California. I'm in Chicago here remote. That's all good.
David Shapiro: (15:51)
Yeah, no, I think there certainly is a marketplace opportunity in the future, especially as we start to go downstream. You know, right now, so much of our content in the US is in the high school and college marketplace, but we're starting to roll out products. It's going to reach the more amateur below high school, youth sports marketplace. So the 8-14 year old athlete, and in that market right now there is no commentary but certainly an interest for it. So you could have thousands of games of little leagues or AAU tournaments that want to have somebody announcing the game and then you've got this almost like Uber marketplace of people that will take on that content and do the commentary.
Rob Cressy: (16:32)
Cool. I love that. So next thing is what is on your mind right now from a forward thinking standpoint? So if we want to learn from you and we're trying to pay attention to the trends, I love the technology. I love everything that you're building, but help us understand what has your eye right now.
David Shapiro: (16:50)
Yeah, so one of the things that we're focused on is building a product that has the ability to go downstream, downstream from even high school. And I'd say that youth sports industry, which is where I've spent a good portion of my career. I spent 13 years at an organization called Positive Coaching Alliance and then three and a half years at a company called Steel Sports, which was all focused on amateur sports. And there's roughly 45 million kids that are playing youth sports in the United States right now. Most of that's being captured on a cell phone. We want professional video of that. So we're in beta right now on a product that's actually a software only solution. So you could capture this with the new iPhone 11. You can use a GoPro, you can use a YI action camera. Some of these action cameras are only like $150. So you can use an external hardware and then upload that video into our software, have our software do all of the broadcasting work that we with our regular unit in terms of tracking the play, zooming in creating automatic highlights, creating condensed games. You'll be able to do that all just with our software and then not having the hardware expense. So we feel like that's really going to open up the marketplace. The other trend that we see is right now we've been focused mostly on the broadcast side, but there's a huge market around coaching and analytics to improve the player experience and player development. So we actually just about two weeks ago, acquired a company called VidSwap. VidSwap has been around for about 10 years. They do video tagging and advanced analytics. And so after your game, if it's captured through a Pixellot camera, it automatically can get broken down. So you would have, all the set plays, all the turnovers, all the assists, and then you'd have spray charts and heat maps, etc. The advanced analytics that pro teams are using. You'd have the opportunity to have that at the college, high school youth level.
Rob Cressy: (18:54)
Sign me up for that because just think about anybody who's playing sports, you want as much information to consume as possible and on the fan side, I mean I'm a big NBA fan and I listened to a lot of the podcasts. I get a little bit deeper into the analytical side of things because in sports you're looking for an edge, you're looking for different ways to chop it up and you also want to appeal to different demographics. By no means is the analytics side of things is going to be for everyone. This is going to be for the more die hard fan side of things, but having that ability allows you to go as deep as you want in sports is a very passionate thing that people do want to deep dive on.
David Shapiro: (19:35)
You're exactly right. And that's the reason we went into this. You know, there's the fan side and then there's also the coach side. Coaching has become a real professional career at the high school and even at the youth sports level. And so they're starting to use video in a big way to improve performance of individual athletes. And then also the team I think, you know, in the sport of football, video has always been a big part of their culture. And now you're starting to see other sports like lacrosse, baseball, basketball volleyball, etc adopt video, the use of video to improve performance.
Rob Cressy: (20:09)
Do you think we get to a point where coaches could be measured from an analytical value or at least in some capacity? So hypothetically speaking, let's say you have a high school basketball coach and his team does well, you can look at a win loss record, but traditionally a win loss record doesn't tell you everything about the potential improvement of a team. Even look at Baylor's head coach Matt Rhule, who just got hired by the Carolina Panthers. They were 1-11 two years ago. Go to a ballgame now here he is getting hired by a big team. Well, what if he had the ability to, to understand the type of impact that Matt Rhule has on a team more so than just a win loss record. It can be more, Hey, the completion percentages went up on this. Or really digging a lot more granularly to say, listen, here's the type of impact that having the right leader in your organization can have on the overall organization.
David Shapiro: (21:10)
Yeah, that's a very interesting point. You know, in baseball they've done that with individual players, right? They'll actually put down how much of an impact that Mike trout have on the win loss record as an individual. I know as far as I'm aware of, nobody's started to do that analytical, deep dive on coaches, but I assume it's possible and probably the next wave of things now that we've figured that it out around athlete performance.
Rob Cressy: (21:35)
Well yeah, it's the WAR though, wins above replacement level. So you could create that and even that, it's still just one figure. But I would like to be able to quantify things a lot more because so much of it is tasked within the analytic side comes in and it's, Hey, what are the ways that we're going to tell these stories? But for a coach, if you were someone who was so analytics driven, it's going to tell a different story because so much of businesses and success are things that you don't see.
David Shapiro: (22:06)
Yeah, you're exactly right.
Rob Cressy: (22:08)
So as we have you here is there anything that I didn't ask you that you think would be beneficial for the audience to know?
David Shapiro: (22:17)
I think the big thing here is just that video is going to be part of the future of all sports. I believe, you know, today it's really been part of the mainstream sports, but it's now being democratized through Pixellot and other people. So that the expectation can be all the way from youth, six years old, up to pros, even into adult sports. You're going to have professional video to remember that sports experience. I think so many of us had a, a instrumental impact on our lives came through sports, but unfortunately we don't have memories of that through video to relive that and share it with other people and going forward, that's going to be the case, which is exciting. I have three young kids and it's exciting to see this development and to know that they're going to have that video library of all their experiences in youth sports.
Rob Cressy: (23:18)
I completely agree. I am so all in on video. It is ridiculous. I mean obviously I'm all in a video, but I completely agree and I think it's just something of note that if your brand doesn't use video or have a video strategy or is even thinking about anything related to video, I would just say sit back and think and say, where could we use video? Or how could this come into our world? Because the adoption of video on platforms and you're going to certainly see it on social and it's already moved that way is only going to continue to increase.
David Shapiro: (23:52)
Yeah, exactly. Right.
Rob Cressy: (23:54)
So David, I really enjoyed this conversation. Where can everybody connect with you?
David Shapiro: (23:59)
So you can either connect with me personally through LinkedIn or Twitter. I assume you can get those up there. But our website is probably the best place to find information about what we're doing, which is pixellotl.tv. The new beta product that I talked about, which is a software only solution for youth sports. It's called PixellotU. So you can go find the website directly for that. Thanks for having me on and look forward to continuing the dialogue with you and talking with listeners here
Rob Cressy: (24:29)
And you're welcome. And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. Here's what I want to know. If you played youth sports, what sports or moment would you love to have had a video of you from? You could hit up FanFood on Twitter @fanfoodondemand, on Instagram @FanFoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms @robcressy