A tech-lovers guide to a software-based virtual advertising solution

You’re familiar with the general concept of virtual advertising, but can’t sleep until you know EXACTLY how the technology works? You’re not alone. So for our fellow lovers of AI, machine learning and all things techy, we’ve put together this handy guide to explain just how a software-based, broadcaster-friendly virtual advertising solution works.

When selecting a virtual advertising platform, the main components to consider are:

  1. The tools and technologies required for each phase of an event;
  2. The architecture;
  3. The real-time technologies.

So, let’s dig in…

Virtual advertising platform: three phases of tools and technologies

First, it’s important to understand the scope of the virtual advertising platform. Each phase requires its own set of tools and technologies to be successful.


For the preparation phase, your virtual advertising system should include an event management system. This will allow you to create an event schedule, upload the artwork, create zones where the artwork will be placed and sequence the play-out of the artwork throughout the event. It should be easy to access (web based and cloud hosted), easy to use, as well as have the ability to implement both strong controls (to restrict access) and business logic (to ensure appropriate combinations of sponsors/brands).

Live event

This is where the magic happens – replacing physical space and objects with virtual assets into a live television broadcast. The virtual advertising platform needs to be highly accurate to replace only the required pixels, very fast so as not to significantly delay the broadcast output, incredibly reliable to ensure the expected virtual minutes are delivered and easy to integrate within a complex live production. *see real-time technologies below for more details on how this is accomplished.


After the event, your virtual advertising platform should provide sophisticated and intuitive reporting and analytics to all stakeholders (the club/agency/league and their brands/sponsors). The detailed implementation report should be supported with highlights videos and rich data, and be presented in a user-friendly web-based UI that respects league rights on video distribution.

Virtual advertising architecture: modular and distributed

Second, consider the sports event for which you’d like to implement a virtual advertising system. For each event, the size of the production (number of cameras, broadcasters, production integrations, etc.) and the size and distribution of the audience will vary greatly. One size doesn’t fit all, as was made apparent during the recent pandemic. With on-site operations drastically limited, the need for flexibility has never been higher. Therefore, your virtual advertising solution should be designed in a way that efficiently and economically accommodates these varying needs.

A modular and distributed architecture will allow for maximum flexibility during deployment. That means, video inputs, production integrations and virtual outputs should all operate independently so that each component can efficiently scale. This type of architecture is well-suited for a wide variety of deployment models, particularly so for remote (REMI) production, where live content is captured from a remote location and managed from a central control room.

Virtual advertising real-time technologies

Finally, let’s define the real-time broadcast quality technologies that enable a virtual advertising solution to work its magic. During a live sports production, the quality thresholds are extremely high and the latency needs are very low. This is due to the fact that the single most valuable asset of any rights holder, the world feed, is being virtually modified. Most importantly, the end result must look so natural and visually realistic that the audience would never guess they are seeing a virtual ad placement.


The keying sub-system is responsible for managing occlusions in the area where a virtual asset is to be drawn. That means, identifying foreground objects (players, balls, etc.) as separate items from the background surface (an LED board or grass area). Failures in the keying mechanism can cause foreground objects to be drawn over, or background areas to not be drawn over, both of which result in a poor viewing experience and break the illusion of augmented reality.

There are different technological approaches to keying, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, such as:

Chroma keying

An older and simpler technology, chroma keying is lighter in terms of deployment hardware, but is also more susceptible to changing conditions and has limitations related to color clash;

Infra-red light keying

A very robust technology in both indoor and outdoor settings, but infra-red keying is more complex and costly to deploy with specialized hardware required at the venue

Computer vision based keying

A newer technology, which can offer the best combination of deployment simplicity and general purpose performance. However, the performance is heavily reliant on the quality of the AI implementation, which can vary greatly between vendors.


To provide a reliable target for virtual ad replacement, keying must be complemented with tracking. Tracking is the technique used to keep the virtual objects locked into their correct position in the scene. During sports production, the cameras pan from side to side, zoom in/out and are adjusted (racked) based on lighting conditions at the venue. These dynamics change the perspective of the scene as captured by the camera and in turn the virtual objects being placed. Accurate tracking ensures those virtual objects do not wobble and appear stable, thus providing a seamless viewing experience.


The final stage of the real-time virtual advertising process is to insert the virtual ads into the live feed. Sophisticated rendering is required to accomplish this in such a way that the advertising looks authentic while providing multiple safety mechanisms (such as automated or manually invoked bypass and failover) to ensure the virtual insertion “does no harm”. It’s easy to provide crisp graphics that look pixel sharp, but would appear unnatural and misaligned to the actual weather/lighting conditions such as sun and shade, rain, or snow. The rendering process must also support all of the broadcast signal flows such as HD, UHD, HDR and whatever the future holds.

Hopefully this guide has provided you with the technical details you were craving to finally rest easily.

Still have questions? We could talk about this ALL DAY. Give us a call and we’ll gladly indulge in more super-techy chit chat about virtual advertising solutions.

Steve Plunkett

Chief Product Officer | Supponor

Adding Analytics Value to Live Virtual Advertising

A couple of weeks ago Brandon Costa at Sports Video Group interviewed Supponor’s Chief Product Officer Steve Plunkett for the SVG SportsTech On Demand series to discuss how virtual advertising technology is improving and becoming more of a regular part of live sports productions.

Watch the video to find out how Supponor has evolved from a supplier of technology to a complete end-to-end service provider.

Steve Plunkett

Chief Product Officer | Supponor

Supponor moves to remote delivery

2020 and the uncertainty of Covid-19 forced Supponor to accelerate the implementation of its longer term plans for remote delivery of its services – and while challenging to deliver under such a compressed time line, it has helped us to become a stronger company today. The pressure to continue to support our clients, allowed us to innovate and develop our service offering to fit with the rapidly evolving demands of of the industry. Sports broadcasting was luckier than some other industries, with live sporting events returning by the summer, helping to keep us productive and busier than many others less fortunate.

Creating and delivering Covid-secure workflows which would withstand the rigours of live event broadcasting was a challenging process. The Bundesliga was the first Tier 1 league to restart its halted season, and we were fortunate that our virtual advertising services were considered an essential part of the league’s restart plan – but with that good fortune, came an incredibly challenging learning curve as we had to learn how to maintain our demaning level of service quality with only half our normal on-site crew due to restrictions in the allocation of on-site staffing slots.

Starting out ahead of the curve on our planned pathway towards remote or off-site production helped tremendously, but suddenly we found ourselves playing catch up as the industry has leapt forward five years in its adoption of remote production operations since the start of Covid. The broadcast industry’s rapid shift requires businesses to iterate and innovate faster to release upgraded and new solutions at a much more aggressive pace. What used to take months to plan and introduce we now find ourselves handling multiple iterations of new technology deployment plans in a matter of weeks. Soon that will be days.

Ironically, for Supponor, pausing live sports worldwide helped with that acceleration. Like most companies in the live sports event industry, we have a typical weekly cycle. We have plans, we develop software, we add enhancements and new features, and then they are tested and deployed over the weekend, which inevitably leads to a debrief on Monday and an examination of how it all performed in the field. It’s almost a four days on, three days off cycle. But with everything halted, we found ourselves being able to work through and have a much more significant and smoother development cycle.

Was it ideal? Of course not, lockdown was a tough time for everyone. But we were fortunate to not have to lose any staff so that we could leverage the time away from production to accelerate our development processes and to build in extra capacity and new capabilities that are now proving invaluable as we emerge fully into the active part of 2021.

Remote production has been a huge part of that. We had to adopt software, processes and even hardware from the way it’s been used historically so that everything we have done so well onsite for many years could be deployed fully remotely. There were powerful features already defined in our roadmap relating to remote production, that few of our customers were ready to embrace pre-Covid, and those were rapidly brought to the forefront as interest and demand grew. We had to develop components around software, and add in additional remote control and remote sharing tooling into our software stack as we found ourselves suddenly working remotely at events all around the world made all the more challenging with border closures and travel restrictions.

A good example of this was a live test we conducted on a match played in Colombia, South America last year. Nobody from Supponor was at the stadium, nobody was even in Colombia; everything was operated live from London where we were creating the virtually modified feeds. This would likely still have been possible without the Covid experience, but we would probably still have had people in the stadium as a back-up. It’s forced us to lean heavily on the technology and ensure its failsafe robustness in live operation.

A lot of it went further than we thought it would. It had always been theoretically possible to work from home and be driving virtual signage in North and South America, but nobody took it seriously pre-Covid. Now it is not only taken seriously, it has become the new normal in our industry.

Will that remain the case in the post-Covid era? We’re not sure. Some of the gains made by the widespread adoption of remote production will very much be part of the future landscape; the environmental and cost benefits are too compelling to ignore. But we suspect that will consolidate into a middle ground, where centralised production from dedicated facilities and production hubs becomes the normal workflow rather than people working from their kitchen tables. It’s good to have the ability to be able to do that hugely distributed home-based workflow, and who knows precisely what the future holds when it comes to the need to adopt bio-secure working practices. But we see the synergies of assembling staff together into centralised production hubs as being irresistible to companies and people alike as human interaction will still be valued. People will no longer unnecessarily travel from venue to venue, but teams in production hubs will produce several concurrent games in a single shift.

But the key here really is flexibility. We have built a very solid offering; the software is robust, our technology is reliable and production-proven — no-one else has 10 years of experience in the field with this. That allows us to be agile and respond quickly to market demands.

That has seen us in good stead during the pandemic, and it will see us in good stead in the future when we start to move onwards to deploying other new technologies. The sports broadcasting industry was brought to a dead halt very rapidly by Covid, but it has adapted with impressive speed and is already racing ahead once more.

Development in fields such as cloud-native deployments and Augmented Reality is, if anything, even faster than before and rapidly catching up with the progress made in remote production. As fans come back to stadiums, arenas, pitches, and racetracks around the world, 2021 and onward is going to be a very exciting period to be working in sports broadcasting, whether from a production hub, an onsite truck, or even on your kitchen table.

Steve Plunkett

Chief Product Officer | Supponor

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