After 18 months of testing, the UFC has secured a three-year arrangement with 4D Sight to digitally swap lucrative advertising logos onto the surface of its Octagon fighting venues during bouts.

The technology has two critical useful components: 1) it broadens UFC’s potential universe of brands for one of its most valuable ad types while selling into more than 170 territories, and 2) it allows UFC broadcasts to comply with country-by-country advertising restrictions for industries such as gambling, alcohol, or tobacco.

“It changes the way you think about your fundamental (ad sales) structure,” said Alon Cohen, UFC’s SVP of Research and Development. The “baseline (logo ad) contract for the UFC is for a global brand.” However, many brands prefer to target mainly North America or Europe.”

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The new technology will allow UFC to separate those logo sales by territory, allowing regional sponsors that do not want or need to reach the entire planet to participate.

Cohen described the technology as “very different” from that utilized in games with more static backdrops, such as soccer or baseball.

For several years, they have often used simpler technologies that overlay an image over a green-screen backdrop or even an LED sign. Those “upstream” approaches rely on cameras mounted on tripods and coupled to a sensor. And they don’t have to bother with people moving into and around the screen, according to Cohen.

“Achieving a similar look for our sport is so much harder,” Cohen stated. “This is not the same thing. That is not the case.”

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It’s especially critical when a worldwide league like the UFC tries to follow laws that differ in virtually every region.

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“For sports that have restricted ban (ad) categories, it’s an urgent problem,” said 4D Sight CEO Erhan Ciris. Ciris is located in New York City, however the majority of his crew is in Turkey.

Handheld cameras are shooting from each of the eight sides of the Octagon, the UFC’s moniker for the eight-sided arena where contests take place. Adding more weight to the handheld camera will simply make it heavier and shakier, according to Cohen.

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In addition, the Octagon itself has two continually moving competitors and a referee, all of whom are surrounded by a crowd and support staff just outside the Octagon’s borders. Traditional upstream insertion technologies are in for a nightmare.

“We’re piling hard thing on top of hard thing on top of hard thing,” Cohen stated. “4D Sight had the wherewithal to get it done in real life.”

Instead, the 4D Sight method involves introducing the logo “downstream,” after the image has been captured in a video stream. The 4D Sight technology then inserts the logo in real time, where it should be in the image, regardless of whatever camera is feeding the stream at the time.

According to Ciris, this technique echoes 4D Sight’s esports background and early customers (Riot Games is an early investor). In video games, there are no physical “cameras,” only a digital video stream that outputs to the screen in the midst of frequently violent, fast-paced action.

Ciris believes that technology must be able to “do placement and replacement” in real-time live streams.

“Taking something out is much easier,” Ciris observed. “There is no hardware, no staff on the ground (to perform the changes) for UFC.” “(The brands) see it as compliance.”

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The technology finally allows UFC to take full use of the Octagon’s ad-selling prospects, where a brand would be in full or virtually full view for much of each bout for UFC’s millions of viewers.

For the time being, Cohen said, the company will separate ad revenues by territory, with possible localization modifications like a Dutch-language logo for a Jose Cuervo ad in the Netherlands vs a Spanish-language design in Latin America.

“Climbing the mountain to even get to this point is huge for us,” Cohen stated. “It corresponds to how we perceive the world.” Here’s a new technology that enables an existing method of selling. With this technology, you can now turn your regional or geo-targeted sales into full-fledged channels. A logo on the canvas is the most easily understood asset. That should provide a huge market opportunity.”

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For the time being, UFC has only begun to demonstrate sponsors what is possible, but Cohen expects the advertising to be incorporated into live broadcasts soon.

“It’s going to be invisible if it’s done right,” Cohen stated.

Future applications could be even more sophisticated, such as logos that change throughout a broadcast to indicate a new prop bet accessible through an advertiser’s sports gambling app.

Finally, tailored ad targeting, similar to what you may see on a linked TV video stream, could make its way to the Octagon’s canvas. Ciris stated that the company has previously completed a prototype project for a client that involves “personalization down to the person.”

Ciris added that 4D Sight can also inject volumetric characters into video games, which it has done for esports competitions such as Call of Duty. That could even be done in the Octagon, though the UFC doesn’t require it.

“Does there exist a future where it enables an entirely different and more granular type of targeting?” Cohen stated. “We think that’s coming, but it may not be coming as quickly as you think.”

Endeavor signed a deal with WWE last month to form TKO Group Holdings, an independent combat sports firm that encompasses both WWE and the UFC. Endeavor owns 51% of the new firm, which trades under the ticker name ‘TKO’ on the New York Stock Exchange.


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