This Technology Makes Cameramen Disappear During Live Sports Games

In an era where live sports broadcasting is more technologically advanced than ever, a new development is set to further enhance the viewing experience. Researchers at Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania have pioneered a revolutionary AI model designed to make cameramen virtually invisible during live sports broadcasts, promising a more immersive and uninterrupted viewing experience for fans around the globe.

Historically, one of the minor yet persistent issues with live sports broadcasting has been the unintentional appearance of camera operators in shot, which can detract from the action and potentially spoil key moments for viewers. Recognizing the potential impact on viewer engagement and the bottom line for broadcasters, the Lithuanian researchers set out to address this challenge head-on.

At the core of their solution is an “end-to-end system” capable of detecting and then digitally removing cameramen from live footage. This system leverages the power of YOLOv8, a state-of-the-art object detection system praised for its speed and accuracy. YOLOv8, an acronym for “You Only Look Once”, is able to identify and classify objects in a single viewing, a feature that makes it uniquely suited for real-time applications such as live sports broadcasts.

“Our approach involves dividing the broadcast image into a grid, with YOLOv8 predicting bounding boxes, class probabilities, and segmentation polygons for each grid cell. This sophisticated process allows for the precise identification and segmentation of cameramen, effectively removing them from live shots,” explains Serhii Postupaiev, a key member of the research team.

The success of YOLOv8 in this context is underpinned by a specially created dataset, which includes a wide variety of cameraman forms, from different sizes and shapes to varied types of equipment and clothing, captured under numerous lighting conditions and game stages. This dataset has been instrumental in training the YOLOv8 model to accurately detect and segment cameramen in a diverse array of live sporting events.

Once a cameraman is detected, the system employs video inpainting techniques—akin to the Spot Healing Brush Tool in photo editing—to fill in the space where the cameraman was with appropriate background details. This meticulous process ensures that the live feed appears seamless and uninterrupted, with the edits virtually unnoticeable to the viewer.

“Thanks to the inherent delay in live broadcasting, our AI has a crucial few seconds to analyze and edit the footage before it’s aired. This slight delay is all that’s needed to maintain the broadcast’s real-time feel while ensuring a cleaner, more professional presentation,” Postupaiev notes, whose Master’s degree work at Kaunas University of Technology was focused on this innovative project.

Although the project initially focused on soccer, its implications extend far beyond a single sport. The technology is applicable to any dynamic game where cameramen might inadvertently become part of the action, including basketball, football, and ice hockey. Moreover, there’s potential for retroactively applying this technology to classic game recordings, offering fans new ways to enjoy historic moments without visual interruptions.

This isn’t the first attempt by broadcasters to mitigate the visibility of cameramen during live events. For instance, skating cameramen dressed in white have been deployed during hockey games to blend in with the icy background. However, the comprehensive AI solution developed by the Kaunas University of Technology team represents a significant leap forward, using advanced technology to essentially make cameramen disappear from the live broadcast, ensuring viewers’ attention remains squarely on the game.

As live sports broadcasts continue to evolve, innovations like this remind us of the relentless push towards perfecting the viewer experience. In the race to capture and maintain audience engagement, technologies that enhance the seamlessness and quality of live broadcasts are more valuable than ever. With this latest advancement, fans can look forward to even more immersive and uninterrupted viewing experiences, further blurring the lines between being at the game and watching from the comfort of home.

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