The center of the virtual advertising universe could very well be Doha, Qatar. A man named Mohammad Ali Abbaspour has millions of dollars in funding in one hand, unique SPboard technology in the other, and football federations knocking on his door.
His company is Sponixtech, which two weeks ago unveiled new technology capable of remotely producing virtual advertising across multiple markets, regions or continents from a single international program feed. Its first broadcast was a soccer match at Spain’s RCDE Stadium between Morocco and Chile which had a set of virtual ads on the global feed and separate ads on the South American feeds. If that sounds routine in a world with virtual American football first-down scorers and digital ads playing on NBA baselines, it was conceptually the opposite.
Sponixtech staff didn’t need to be equal near RCDE Stadium. Or even install equipment in the room. They managed all the virtual advertising… from a “cloud” in Qatar.
“There are different technologies in the [virtual] Sponixtech founder and CEO Abbaspour told SportTechie. “Some of them need a specific billboard to put in the stadium, and some of them need a specific camera to put in the stadium. Others…need to have access to the main camera feed. But no one in the industry can do that just from the flow of the program. And especially dirty fodder. We use dirty food.”
A “dirty stream” may contain a game score, game clock, graphics, or watermark. But Sponixtech’s SPboard technology uses software-based artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the computer version – via Google’s cloud computing – to clean up dirty feeds.
“The solution is unique,” says Abbaspour. “Now, maybe tomorrow someone will do what we did. But at the moment, no.”
A precursor to last month’s launch was Sponixtech’s 2020 immersive proofreading solution called SPov. Previously, the standard bearer was Intel True View, which installed 5K cameras around arenas and stadiums to capture visual data on the pitch, then, by synchronizing virtual cameras with computers, created replays of the point of view at the first person of the players.
Sponixtech managed to do the same, but without integrating cameras or hardware into the stadium. Leagues or clubs such as UEFA, Mediapro Belguim, UAE, SL Benfica and FC Cologne were very impressed, and soon broadcast partners like Eleven, Sky Sports, BeIN Sports, RMC Sport and Al Kass introduced immersive replays to their games and studio. shows.
The next progression was to create a similar virtual advertisement without hardware. It took two years and an undisclosed multi-million dollar investment from UK-based Aser Ventures to refine the technology, and the result was a three-pronged platform that can change the virtual industry.
According to Abbaspour, the SPboard process begins with real-time stadium calibration. The next step, and perhaps the most complex of all, is computer vision segmentation that allows virtual advertising to not interfere with players, referees or the ball.
“Player segmentation is the most complicated and difficult part, especially when you don’t have a specific scoreboard or green [screen] inside the stadium,” says Abbaspour. “So that’s the uniqueness of our solution, that we can segment the players, the ball, that sort of thing without any issues… without having hardware in the stadium.
The final piece renders the virtual overlays from commercials to shows. Sponixtech’s protocol is to get pre-game ads from the brand or sponsor with instructions on where the virtual ad should go and when during the game. Renders are then projected appropriately and accurately through color grading.
Leagues, clubs and rights holders have been enthralled as it is a lucrative software that allows them to sell each billboard multiple times to different sponsors at the same time.
“Let’s say the price of a [regular] billboard for a club or league is $1,000 per game,” says Abbaspour. “So a club or a league or a rights holder can tell a sponsor that instead of $1,000 for that billboard, you [can pay] $700. But you won’t be visible in those other three out of four markets.”
“And then after that, they’ll go and sell the second board to these three or four markets, each of them, for example, for $400 or $500. So in that case, they’ll have a lot more revenue by renting the space of a billboard. And at the same time, they can sell the same billboard many times. That’s how it works.
This exact scenario played out during Sponixtech’s second SPboard integration during last week’s soccer game between Japan and Ecuador. The event was hosted in Germany, with the international stream simulcast in Japan with virtual advertisements for Kirin beer and also in South America with virtual advertisements for Banco Pichincha.
As of now, Sponixtech can create virtual ads simultaneously for four to seven different streams at a time, and with more internal machines they can scale up to 20, 100 or more. At this point, it’s just a matter of cost. It also has plans to expand into handball, tennis, paddle tennis, basketball and futsal, and could eventually host the American sport of baseball. And if the company tunes into American sports, Sponixtech could take a stream of a Dodgers-Cardinals MLB game and put virtual Dodger Dog ads on the Los Angeles show and virtual Budweiser ads on the St. Louis. And MLB and rights holders could gradually add to their revenue stream.
“Yes, you see, we can produce different foods for different markets,” says Abbaspour. “It could be different continents, it could be a different country, even it could be different cities within a country.”
All from a cloud in Qatar.