The Power of Virtual Support

The Power of Virtual Support

Source: The Record – Issue 20

By Alex Smith

With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing physical venues to close, digital platforms have become central to maintaining fan engagement, sparking a period of rapid innovation

In a year that has brought live events to a halt, digital platforms have provided some of the few remaining available links between fans and the teams, bands and brands they support. Whether it’s streaming live matches and performances or engaging with the latest releases through online advertising, the way in which people connect with the brands they support has been reshaped by the pandemic.

Many people have been introduced to entirely new experiences, as they get to grips with the realities of supporting from a distance. And to maintain engagement with audiences, media companies and their partners have had to accelerate development of innovations and solutions, which are now set to change the fan experience even after the pandemic eases.

“Across the media industry, companies have had the same conversation with us about how they can change the way that they interact with their audiences leveraging digital platforms,” says Jennifer Cooper, global head of media and communications industry strategy and solutions at Microsoft. “Covid-19 has certainly accelerated that change. What’s also interesting is that understanding people’s engagement and behaviour has actually become a lot more possible, as organisations now have access to data that would never be capturable if fans were just sitting in the stand.”

The dramatic shift towards digital platforms has therefore presented both a challenge and an opportunity to the media industry. Those who may not have previously embraced digital transformation have used the example of more recent entrants to the market as a model for their own strategies, according to Martin Wahl, principal program manager of industry accelerators for the media & telecommunications sector at Microsoft.

“So many companies have looked to the new players, who were born in the cloud,” he says. “It’s not just about user interface, it’s the ability to understand what your users have watched and what they’re likely to watch in the future. How do you better target the content you’re producing to the audiences that want to watch it? To understand that, organisations have to be able to merge all of the data they have access to and analyse it to produce actionable insights.”

Microsoft’s Power BI service is one tool which has helped companies to uncover these insights as they attempt to build greater engagement with their platforms. The service can unify all the data that an organisation has access to and visualise it in the form of interactive dashboards. Microsoft AI can help those who are not data scientists to prepare data, build machine learning models and find insights quickly. Media companies can also make use of Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, a real-time customer data platform. Customer Insights brings together transactional, behavioural and demographic data to create a profile of an organisation’s customers. By analysing customer interactions with prebuilt AI models, customer needs can be predicted to make informed deci-sions and personalise customer engagement across channels. Organisations can also connect Customer Insights with Power Bi to model and visualise the knowledge they have gained about their customers.

“Microsoft technology is helping our customers make sense of the deluge of data during this digital transformation,” says Cooper. “We’re helping organisations automatically and systematically take all these data sources and rationalise them to personalise the fan experience, while enhancing it with other technologies such as augmented or virtual reality.”

One example of how Microsoft technology has been used to help deliver fan experiences is in the NBA’s use of Microsoft Teams’ Together Mode. Together Mode uses AI segmentation technology to bring people together into a shared background, allowing them to focus more easily on each other’s faces and body language. The NBA outfitted each of its team’s courts with 17-foot-tall LED screens that wrap around three sides of the arena, serving as virtual ‘stands’ populated by more than 300 fans using Together Mode. Participants could then view both their fellow fans and a live feed of the game within Teams.