Seifert: AI-powered archive footage among possibilities in long-term Amazon deal

The recently-agreed tie-up between Germany’s Bundesliga and Amazon Web Services, the retail giant’s cloud computing subsidiary, could lead to archive highlights created specifically for different rights-holding broadcasters.

Speaking to SportBusiness, German Football League (DFL) chief executive Christian Seifert said that individually-created highlights would be one potential strand of wider work between the Bundesliga and AWS.

Seifert said: “The overall idea is to develop more and more applications, products and ideas which are able to increase the one-to-one experience for every fan of the Bundesliga.

“If you have an archive of over 150,000 hours of Bundesliga material, then with AI you’re able to structure this archive in a completely different way. This gives the ability to create individual highlights in the future that we can offer to our media partners.

“At the moment we offer access to the picture streams we create and they [our media partners] edit it. But a fan in Japan has different interests in players than a fan in South America [for example]. Delivering pictures which are much more tailor-made to the specific market could be a very interesting approach.”

The Bundesliga-AWS agreement, which is understood to run for at least five years, was announced earlier this month and is wide-ranging in nature.

The initial focus of the deal includes the supply of advanced real-time statistics for viewers during live coverage and highlights clips, providing personalised content on digital platforms and using AWS cloud infrastructure, advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies.

Seifert said that the long-term nature of the deal affords the DFL the opportunity to work with AWS to “develop something which enhances the ability to experience the game on a more individual basis”. Various additional aspects are to be added “step by step”, according to Seifert, who said he will not measure the success of the deal “in a one-year timeframe but more so against the new foundation for the Bundesliga towards 2025”.

The co-operation took effect when the Bundesliga returned from its winter break on January 17 as the Bundesliga ‘powered by AWS’ statistics were incorporated into the multi-platform broadcast coverage.

The deal with Amazon, the first of its type by a football league, is part of the Bundesliga’s drive to promote itself as the most innovative league in the world and for the DFL and its various subsidiaries to “think like a media company” in order to maximise media-rights income.

Seifert noted: “We are structured and run like a media company. Why? Because more than 30 per cent of the whole turnover of two thirds of clubs from Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga comes from media revenues.

“And if you want to gain billions of media investments over the next decade then you have to be eye-to-eye on a level of competence with these companies. Only then can you prove that you’re worth the investment.”

The deal has, in part, been driven by the DFL’s appetite to create as much individualised content around the live broadcast as possible.

The DFL chief executive remarked: “Live sport by itself will become more and more valuable because it’s the only thing that can get a large amount of people watching a screen at the same time. This makes it very relevant and highly interesting for media companies because this is the last content you can count on catching many eyeballs at the same time.

“But the game by itself has the ability to provide so much more information that we need to think about the production, design and development process around how we can offer increasingly more individualised content.”

Research cited by the Bundesliga found that ‘Generation Z’ fans continue to watch matches using the largest available screen, but over 30 per cent also use a content-related screen to follow information and data about a match.

Looking to the future, the increasing breadth of bandwidth lowering the barriers for consumption of large data volumes – be it via glass fibre broadband or via 5G on any device – was a further motivation for the DFL to strike the AWS agreement.

Machine learning models will generate real-time predictions on when a goal is likely to be scored, identify potential goal-scoring opportunities and highlight how teams are positioning and controlling play. The ‘Amazon Personalize’ machine learning tool will create real-time and individualised recommendations to offer fans personalised game footage, marketing promotions and search results based on their favourite teams, players or fixtures.

Building integrated service development, access to data

The agreement does provide the visibility of the ‘powered by AWS’ moniker alongside the match statistics, but Seifert is keen to portray that as just one element of a wider agreement.

He said: “What’s really important is what happens behind the scenes. Today we already have various connections with AWS, such as our app, which works with AWS because it’s a highly reliable cloud service.

“Yes, you’ll see them on screen with the graphics but the most important part is that we establish teams together to develop services in an integrated way never before achieved between a football league and a technology provider.

“It’s not that we are buying a ready service or that AWS is just a graphics sponsor. The most important part is that we create teams between the two entities to generate really new applications to experience live football.”

LaLiga president Javier Tebas recently raised the issue of access to consumer data in any rights agreement the Spanish league could sign with Amazon. However, Seifert is confident about the levels of data the Bundesliga generates through its own direct-to-consumer services.

Asked if the provision of data by the likes of Amazon is a consideration for the DFL, Seifert remarked: “If you look at the data available today to you as a company then I think you already have enough data insight as a league or content offer to get better and improve your service for the fan on a weekly basis.

“The fields of co-operation [in the AWS agreement] include providing statistics and developing applications to create more personalised content and using the AWS infrastructure.

“We gain data [already] over our operated channels, on Instagram or YouTube [for example], or via our white-label content we produce for our media partners all around the world. We gain a lot of data and we know exactly what our fans are looking for.

“Knowing that, it also triggered us to understand better that in the future we need to provide more and more individual content and this is the exact scope of the corporation with AWS.”

Tender for media rights ‘completely separate’

The appointment of AWS to the Bundesliga technology role comes with Amazon expected to be one of the media companies looking closely at the domestic Bundesliga broadcast rights invitation to tender, which is expected to be issued early this year.

Amazon recently made its first sports media rights move in Germany by acquiring a package of exclusive Uefa Champions League rights for the 2021-22 to 2023-24 cycle.

The DFL looks set to announces its invitation to tender towards the end of February with the aim of having agreements in place before the 2020 European Championships kick off in June.

Asked about the forthcoming tender process, Seifert was at pains to stress that the technology role for Amazon would have no bearing on the DFL’s award of media rights.

He said: “They are completely different projects and in the talks with AWS, we never mentioned for a second the upcoming tender of the Bundesliga rights. AWS never asked and we never addressed it as it’s a completely separate matter.

“If Amazon or anyone else is interested in the rights, they can register [for the tender] and it’s a transparent bidding process free of discrimination.”

Under the current domestic rights deals, pay-television broadcaster Sky Deutschland broadcasts 266 exclusive live Bundesliga matches per season, while streaming service DAZN broadcasts 40 matches. Sky also holds rights to all 306 2. Bundesliga matches per season.

Including the additional deals with public-service broadcaster ARD (highlights), sports broadcaster Sport1 (highlights), and a direct deal with DAZN (highlights clips), the DFL brings in €1.16bn ($1.28bn) per season from its domestic media-rights deals in the 2017-21 cycle.