Peter Moore is working to bring the video games industry’s latest cutting edge technology to sports broadcasts and streaming
Peter Moore’s career is the stuff of a small boy’s dreams.
Having spent 20 years as a video game executive in companies such as Sega and Electronic Arts, he became CEO of his favourite football club, Liverpool, in 2017. Under his leadership, the club won both the Champions League and the coveted Premier League, which Liverpool fans have been pining for for over three decades.
The club’s commercial performance also leaped 50pc in that time, almost unsurpassed by any other major European football club. When Mr Moore took over at Liverpool, its valuation was €1.2bn. When he left earlier this year, it was €2.5bn.
Now, he’s doing something else. Mr Moore has gone back to the video games industry with a new mission – to bring that industry’s latest cutting edge technology to sports broadcasts and streaming.
On the fringes of last week’s Web Summit in Lisbon, Mr Moore shows me what Unity’s technology can do. He holds up an iPad with a replay of a live UFC fight. But instead of the usual camera angles, I can control any vantage point in the fight as it’s happening – including that of one of the fighters. I can zoom in, pause or replay any part of the action from virtually any angle.
He shows me another example, this time from an international rugby match. Again, I can switch angles or zoom in from far more vantage points than anything available now.
It’s a sports nerd’s paradise: analysis of micro moments or tiny details that otherwise would be missed.
All of this is made possible by two things. First, a much larger number of cameras filming the sports event than would normally be the case in today’s broadcast arena. (In the case of the UFC fight, it’s over 100.)
The other key variable is Unity’s game engine technology. This uses the kind of high-end graphics and artificial intelligence that can not only keep up with incredibly demanding rendering requests, but can sometimes fill in the gaps where cameras don’t actually record. Mr Moore says the way we watch sports is going to change radically in a few years.
“When I left Liverpool, I wasn’t really intending to jump right back into full-time work,” he says. “But I was so intrigued with this technology and the applications for sports, that I did. This will really change the way that people interpret sports because of how you can look at virtual camera positions.”
He makes the comparison to a world he knows intimately – video games.
“When you play FIFA or any of these games, you can drop the camera right in. This isn’t a million miles away from that idea. The goal is to bring sports to life in a way that I’ve certainly never been able to in my lifetime.”
Ultimately, he says, this should appeal to both professional broadcasters, who might want to incorporate the technology into their own streaming platforms, and sports viewers.
“One way to think about the business case is that you’re watching a pay-per-view event for a big UFC fight, for example, and one of the fighters does some remarkable kick or something. You might want to look at that in several different ways and maybe you’ll pay a little bit more for that streaming option.”
He cites recent big-ticket UFC fights as potential examples.
“I remember when Conor McGregor broke his ankle in that last fight,” he says. “We all thought [in Unity] that if we had the tech then, there’d probably be 10 million views of that ankle-break, as bizarre and morose as that sounds.”
Slightly less macabre examples also come to mind for Mr Moore.
“You remember Mo Sarah’s jinky run to score that wonder goal against City last month? Imagine being able to see that from every different angle. You’d just watch it again and again.”
There are obvious limitations to the technology for some sports. UFC is a lot easier to film and render using the real time 3D technology because it’s a much smaller space to be covered by the cameras.
A football pitch, by comparison, is huge and would take far more equipment.
Mr Moore says that to be effective, it will take an ecosystem to support it.
“We can’t do this on our own.
“We’re going to need to work with camera providers who can capture the data. We effectively sit in the middle of the tech stack. We take the data and render it, and then the likes of Cisco or Microsoft or Amazon or whoever deal with it.
“And then there’s potentially a role for the carriers, too. The 5G carriers right now, for example, are desperate for a compelling use case.”
Mr Moore’s role at Unity is partially to open the door with some of the biggest sporting leagues and associations, as well as broadcasters, to consider collaboration or licensing issues with the technology.
“They know me not just from my Liverpool days, but some of them also from my EA days,” he says.
“They’ve all seen the technology and it’s a little bit of a horse race right now. It’s important to talk to associations such as Fifa and others. Then you go with where a lot of the real action is, such as the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A, MLS and so on. You’ve got to get league-wide agreements and you’ve got to work with their broadcast partners.”
Mr Moore says individual clubs could also be key commercial partners because of the way they now commercialise their own streaming and social media operations.
The Unity game engine technology that Mr Moore is showing off isn’t just for sports.
“There’s a whole separate conversation about live entertainment,” he says.
“The ability to virtualise what is a very exclusive business model could be huge. Right now, if you don’t have a ticket to a concert, you don’t get to experience it. So we’d like to blow that up and let five million people watch a Foo Fighters concert rather than just 500 or 5,000.”
Is Unity thinking of a future in the metaverses of Facebook, Microsoft or other big tech platforms? Sure, says Mr Moore.
“Whatever way you define the metaverse, there’s no bigger platform than sports,” he says. “And live entertainment will be huge, too. Our view of the metaverse is having this extra dimension, third dimension to your sporting experience. Hundreds of millions of people every weekend can be somewhat in the metaverse.”
But right now, the metaverse is largely being talked about as something grounded in virtual reality. Is Unity thinking along those lines?
“I believe in the future of VR, but not in a way that’s hardware dependent,” he says. “Unity is based on real time 3D. That’s our core competency.”
Mr Moore said that while he misses being at Liverpool, he is glad that he “did his time” and was ready to move on.
“I went there and helped to reposition the club,” he said. “I helped build out the new stand, the megastore and brought American digital views.” But as for his future, he is now totally committed to bringing Unity’s technology to a wider audience.
“When I think about my time as a PE teacher on the frozen tundra of North Wales schools’ pitches in the 1970s, I really wish I had this kind of technology,” he says.
“But I can tell you now that it’s coming.”