How WarnerMedia Could Use 5G To Turn Fans With Phones Into NBA Broadcasters

Courtesy of Warner Media

WarnerMedia Innovation Lab's Jesse Redniss, one of THR's Top Hollywood Innovators, has his team exploring everything from the future of filmmaking to how social distancing will impact experiential activations.

Jesse Redniss is WarnerMedia's emerging tech utility player — overseeing data strategy and privacy, including for the coming streamer HBO Max, while also exploring the potential of AT&T’s 5G network and managing the WarnerMedia Innovation Lab.

The Lab, a 20,000-square-foot Manhattan facility that will serve as an incubator for content and tech, was supposed to open in May, and its pandemic-related delay has actually spurred creativity. “It’s made us think about what the future world will look like in terms of productivity,” says Redniss of the novel coronavirus outbreak. “A lot of companies have been forced into digital transformation.” 

The Connecticut native and father of four notes that “experiential opportunities were booming” before COVID-19, and his team is exploring how that may look in a world that has embraced social distancing. “How do we bring those experiences to life where it’s not just a video feed? We really want to push the boundaries of how you can bring in the tactile components, hearing, seeing, smelling. Tech can help bring to life in the virtual space,” Redniss says.

While "Smell-o-Vision" may be farther down the road, Redniss is already helping the company explore the potential of volumetric capture, a type of 3D scan he says could fundamentally shift how content creators think about storytelling. “Most stories are told from a fixed point of view,” says Redniss. But with multiple cameras capturing 360 degrees, there are potentially thousands of views to choose from. “The ability of the consumer to have freedom of point of view is going to be very powerful.”

Last summer, well before the pandemic put professional sports on hold, Redniss helped the NBA conduct its first live broadcast over AT&T's 5G network, shot by six smartphones. Now that it's clear such a feat can be accomplished, his team is toying with ideas for democratized broadcasts where instead of using only cameras on courts, directors could cut to pre-cleared fans with 5G-enabled smartphones. Viewers at home would then see traditional shots of the court mixed with views from the stands — or even from a local bar. 

When you combine the high-tech scans with the speed of 5G, Redniss says the opportunities are endless. “You’re going to be able to do real-time live-streaming volumetric capture,” he says. “I can literally transport you into Fortnite.”

Redniss says not every idea will work as well — which is where the Innovation Lab comes in: "The lab can help all our brands do really small proofs of concepts and fail fast. And failing fast helps you succeed faster." 

A version of this story first appeared in the May 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.