From The National

07 Feb 2017

LONDON // UAE fans watching Spanish football’s La Liga club matches on TV may be surprised to see the hoardings around the edge of the pitches showing adverts for firms such as the Bahraini fast-food chain Jasmi.

It may be more of a surprise to learn that only viewers in the Mena region can see those ads. That is thanks to digital replacement technology (DRT), which allows completely different advertising to be shown depending on where the match is being broadcast. Watch a game in this country and the advertising you see on perimeter hoardings can be completely different to the advertising fans will see in China, for example.

“We’ve had by far the most enquiries about what we do, how it’s done and can we buy it, from the Mena region,” says Charlie Marshall, the chief operating officer of Supponor, a market leader in the field of DRT, which has so far used its system at 250 commercial live events. Spain’s professional football league, La Liga, has been using Supponor for digital replacement advertising in the broadcast of its live matches for the last few years.

“I think it’s more noticeable when you’re watching a game and you see your local brands or language on the boards,” says Mr Marshall.

“You’re more likely to ask: ‘Why is Cars Online, a Mena website, advertising in that stadium? Why would they be sponsoring Real Madrid?’ And then you go: ‘hang on a minute, they’re not actually in the stadium, it’s virtual reality.’ It has a bigger impact simply because of the look and feel as no one is used to seeing local Mena languages on boards. Also the consumer market in Mena is more tech savvy and switched on.”

Digital replacement advertising works by superimposing virtual ads over what is actually being displayed on perimeter boards in the real world. Using a combination of hardware and software, the live broadcast stream is split for different markets and different region-specific advertising content is integrated into each feed. On a very basic level, the software replaces pixels within a video image. In effect, it is a more sophisticated version of the green screen technology used to superimpose maps behind a meteorologist during TV weather reports, for instance.

The technology has previously been used in football for clocks and basic scorecard graphics, but more recently there has been a growth in marketing graphics that seek to appear to viewers that a logo or advert is actually there on the pitch, perimeter board or behind the goal, says Mr Marshall.

The technology boosts revenues for rights holders who sell advertising at football matches because it allows them to increase their advertising and sponsorship inventory.

“This technology multiplies the inventory of rights we can market,” says Mario Bayarri, the chief executive at Mediapro Middle East, part of the Spain-based Mediapro, the global media group that owns international rights for La Liga. “Now we can sell one minute of advertising exposure during a match to five different markets, meaning that instead of 90 minutes of advertising space availability per match, we now can sell 450 minutes per match.”

DRT also opens up new opportunities for advertisers and sponsors. Using the technology, brands can customise their advertising content at a match for a specific territory, and feature language and products relevant to its audience.

“An airline can advertise special rates flying from China on the Chinese broadcasting of that match, and at the same time it can communicate rates from Europe on the European feed,” says Mr Bayarri. “All of this, on the same match, live and in real time.”