Global sports streaming is undergoing explosive growth, despite initially being hampered by the COVID-19 global health crisis. For example, this year’s Super Bowl was the first NFL game to deliver more than 1 billion total streaming minutes and was the most live-streamed NFL game ever. Couple that with Amazon and Hulu betting heavily on live sports, it’s clear to see sports now make up a significant proportion of live video streams. This trend is set to accelerate.
The cloud plays a significant role and in some ways has been instrumental in enabling live sports streaming, providing a highly scalable infrastructure combined with faster time to market. There are numerous ways cloud technology has had an impact on streaming and five key reasons why cloud-based live streaming platforms are perfect for the fast-paced world of sports
SCALING IN REAL TIME IS ESSENTIAL
One of the challenges with live video streaming is that it’s difficult to estimate the viewership of any given event. There could be 10,000 or 10 million viewers during an event depending on its popularity.
On-premises infrastructure requires a pre-estimate peak usage. As a result, systems would historically be over deployed, meaning too much money would be spent on infrastructure that would never be used; or be under deployed, meaning the infrastructure was not equipped to meet greater demand than what has been planned for.
Recently, the industry has witnessed a rapid shift to cloud-based live sports streaming workflows because of its inherent flexibility and scalability. Cloud technology is built for rapid scaling, whereas traditional infrastructure requires time and investment to build up. With the cloud, streaming services can easily scale up and back down, based on viewer peaks and lows, and since cloud-based streaming is based on a pay-as-you-grow business model, it ensures payments are made only for what is used. No upfront investment in infrastructure is required, as is the case with on-premises deployments.
In addition, multiple CDNs connected to the cloud can be utilized to rapidly scale during live sports events. Leveraging these multiple delivery paths is a valuable capability to have in situations where CDNs in different regions reach their peak and maximum capacity.
HIGH AVAILABILITY IS GUARANTEED
Streaming live sports content with high reliability is important, not only to preserve viewer experiences but also because there is a significant advertising revenue tied to premium sports events.
Over the last few years, there has been a misconception that cloud infrastructure isn’t as reliable as on-premises deployments. The COVID-19 global health crisis put that question to rest and has proven that the cloud is an extremely resilient infrastructure and in some perspectives more reliable than traditional broadcast. No matter how impressive a broadcast facility is, during the pandemic, those facilities shut down while the cloud continued to operate and grow.
With a cloud-based streaming platform, streaming services can utilize multiple cloud availability zones or use different cloud providers to ensure the highest possible level of availability. During the event of a failover or infrastructure upgrade, consumers can seamlessly switch between clouds, without any impact on the viewing experience.
QUALITY AND COSTS CAN BE OPTIMIZED
The explosive growth of streaming has led to compression technology innovations, such as AI-based content-aware encoding.
Using content-aware encoding in the cloud, streaming quality can be materially improved, resulting in an overall reduction of 50% in storage and delivery costs. This AI technology imitates the way the human eye focuses on contrast, color and movement within a video frame, adapting encoding parameters in real time to allocate bitrate where needed and increase compression in other areas. In addition, there is inherent benefit with the reduced traffic, which results in less buffering and a higher overall quality of service for consumers.
LATENCY IS LOWER THAN EVER
Latency has been a long time hurdle for live video streaming, but the industry has pivoted rapidly and made major improvements. Today, specifications such as CMAF can deliver the same latency for live streaming as broadcast. There is no question that the global investment in cloud and delivery technologies are so extensive it won’t be surprising if the latency of streaming will soon surpass that of traditional broadcast.
TARGETED ADVERTISING IS A HUGE OPPORTUNITY
Advertising is a critical part of the sports ecosystem. Major sports events can attract up to millions of viewers, which is a huge revenue opportunity for advertisers, sports franchises and content owners. One of the benefits of using a cloud-based solution for live streaming is the ability to carry out targeted advertising.
By deploying a cloud-based dynamic ad insertion solution with manifest manipulation, targeted ads can be transmitted to individual consumers in real time to boost overall monetization of the service.
It’s clear that live sports streaming is increasing worldwide. Over the next several years global revenues from sports digital media rights will grow by 11.5%, according to eMarketer.
Fan experiences are evolving, too. In the future, live sports streaming will become much more interactive with multiview angles, personalized content, targeted ads and real-time features including stats, highlights and polls. Only cloud-based video streaming platforms can provide the flexibility and scalability to rapidly meet growing adoption, adapt and keep driving forward the viewing experience and support the ever-growing personalization trend.
Shahar Bar is senior vice president, Video Products and Corporate Development at Harmonic.
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