NFC Brings Real-Time Audio Commentary to America’s Cup Spectators

By Claire Swedberg

Live2Media's Livecard system includes a radio receiver that operates only when its built-in NFC reader detects an authorized RFID tag and, based on that tag, determines which channels an individual can access.

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During the 34th America’s Cup yacht race, being held this summer in the San Francisco Bay area, some spectators are listening to audio commentary about the competition, or to crew members aboard the boats, via a Near Field Communication (NFC)-based solution provided by Pleasanton, Calif., startup company Live2Media. The technology consists of a battery-powered device containing an FM radio receiver that receives multiple channels of audio streams, providing that audio to users when its built-in NFC reader detects an authorized RFID-enabled Livecard.

For the America’s Cup races, the cards presently authenticate only a user’s identity, says Greg Moyer, Live2Media’s CEO. But in the future, he says—for other venues or events—such cards will be able to dictate which channels a person may access, collect data indicating what is being heard, and enable the collection of reward points at sponsors’ NFC-enabled reader kiosks, known as “Tap Towers.” Advertisers could also air promotions on the channels, and the collection of data about the traffic to those channels could help the advertisers decide the best time and channel on which to place ads.

The SCOR device, with a Livecard printed with America’s Cup graphics

Live2Media has spent several years developing a system to bring audio to spectators of sports and other events. The solution is intended to enhance those spectators’ experience, by providing them with a choice of audio streams. After all, Moyer notes, ticket holders can usually watch an event taking place in front of them, but rarely can they hear what is being said by players, coaches or commentators. The Livecard Kit comes with the receiver—known as the SmartCard Operated Radio (SCOR), which offers multiple audio channels—and also includes an NFC Livecard, a set of ear buds and batteries.

The America’s Cup is the first event at which Live2Media sold its technology. The solution is being offered at three different zones in which spectators congregated to watch the races within a 15-square-mile area.

The 2013 America’s Cup—being held throughout September in the vicinity of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay, north of the city of San Francisco—consists of a series of races between two wing-sailed catamarans, one operated by a defending champion team and the other by one of multiple challenger teams. Live2Media is selling its Livecard kits to spectators as they arrive at the viewing areas. Moyer declines to indicate the number of kits that have been sold to date. The technology firm began offering its solution last month, having been delayed by an accident in which a crew member aboard one of the competing yachts was killed, after which the audio system was put on hold for about a month.

Participants purchase the kit for $30, according to Moyer. The SCOR device, which measures 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches in length and width, and is as thick as a deck of cards, can be worn around a person’s neck on a lanyard. It offers three channels of audio—one featuring interviews with competitors, as well as commentary; one playing a live audio feed of what is being said on one of the competing boats; and the third broadcasting the audio feed from the other boat. However, the system does not operate until a user inserts a Livecard, which is made of PVC plastic and is the size of a credit card—85.6 by 54 millimeters (3.37 by 2.13 inches). The card is printed with graphics promoting the event, and also contains an embedded RFID tag made with an NXP Semiconductors Mifare RFID chip. The SCOR device—which has a built-in NFC reader, developed by Live2Media and made with an NXP MFRC522 reader chip—reads the unique ID number encoded to the card’s tag. Built-in software then determines if the card’s ID is authorized. If authorization is confirmed, the software prompts the device to power on. If the card is removed, the device ceases to operate.

The user can then scroll from one channel to another, listening through the provided ear buds. In the future, the SCOR device will be capable of uploading data regarding which channels were listened to, for how long, and by which uniquely identified cardholder, via a Wi-Fi Internet connection (if available onsite) or via a Bluetooth connection to a mobile device. This information would then be stored on a server hosted by Live2Media. The uploading function is not yet available, however, and initial plans are to upload that data via a Tap Tower at other events.

At America’s Cup, Moyer explains, the NFC card simply provides an authentication and on/off powering function. The company intends to use the NFC card to provide attendees with access to very specific information and audio streams at other venues during the coming months.

According to Moyer, the NFC card will eventually be able to identify a specific user, as well as the type of package he or she has purchased or requested. For example, Live2Media intends to offer more than three channels in the future, though it will then provide users with options to purchase access only to specific channels. That data will be written to the card at the time of purchase. When the device’s NFC reader interrogates the card’s tag ID, it also reads data indicating which channels should be activated. For example, a spectator may pay only for the particular channels that he or she wishes to access. A foreign-language speaker may request only channels that broadcast in his or her native language, for instance, or parents may wish to block certain channels that they find objectionable for young children.

Live2Media’s Greg Moyer

“We’ve been talking to a lot of teams that want to include [the system] in a season pass,” Moyer states. Users could receive or purchase the devices and cards, and then use them throughout the season. If Live2Media’s system were in use at another event, an attendee could bring the SCOR device that he or she purchased during the America’s Cup, though the visitor would need to buy or acquire a different Livecard for that venue.

Moyer likens the device to a Gillette razor system, with the NFC card akin to a replaceable blade.

Live2Media is currently in discussions with the managers of an upcoming event that will take place at multiple locations throughout the United States, to provide its system with an additional feature. In this case, Live2Media would also install its NFC Tap Towers onsite, where individuals could then tap the NFC cards used in the Livecard Kit devices against a reader in the tower, in order to upload user-related data to a cloud-based server.

For example, if a car company sponsors a tower, a user could tap the tag, the ID number of which—linked to the individual using that card—would be read and forwarded to the server. The user could then receive a coupon or reward points for a discount on car servicing or some other service, for example. At the same time, all data stored on the card would be uploaded, including the channels that person listened to and for how long, thereby providing marketing data for the program’s organizers that would indicate the kind of audio in which device users were interested. The process will provide redundancy, Moyer says, for situations in which Wi-Fi access may not be available to transmit real-time data regarding audio channel usage.

To date, Moyer reports, the technology has been working well at America’s Cup, though the location may be a difficult one for an initial installation, he says, considering the geographic layout of the spectator areas. Ensuring audio transmission, he notes, has provided the greatest challenge.