The broadcast game is changing beyond recognition. We live in an age of on-demand and personalized media, where the consumer expects to be in control of their viewing schedule and for content to be available in a multiplicity of forms, at any time and on any device.
These shifts impact all aspects of the entertainment industry. However, the sports industry, one of the largest broadcast businesses on the planet, has a whole host of new challenges and opportunities to contend with to maintain eyeballs. Chief among these is the idea that sporting events, which could always count on fans tuning in to traditional forms of broadcast at pre-set times, now need to broaden their horizons in terms of content distribution to grow their fan-bases and keep different types of fans engaged.
The fact is, loyal existing fans and those who are newer, casual followers of a sport want to engage with sports in many ways. Some might want to watch a match from start to finish, live on TV, others might just want to see a few highlights on Twitter. Some might not even be that fussed about the actual match, but more about the stars and personalities and seeing what they get up to on Instagram. So, broadcasters and content owners need to cater to all these fan types.
To win the viewership fight, TV networks and other content owners must figure out how to take advantage of technologies that create a high-quality, immersive viewing experience for fans across TV and OTT platforms. At the same time, broadcasters are still under pressure to increase production quality while keeping costs low to create high return for their sports investments.
A DELICATE BALANCE
A recent report from PwC projects the sports market to grow at a compound annual rate of 3.1% across the four segments, from $69.3 billion in 2017 to $78.5 billion in 2021, and that’s just across North America.
Yet, in sports, traditional broadcasting methods are getting more and more restrictive and require a lot of investment. To deliver cost effective, high-quality content to audiences and create a viewing experience that is closest to witnessing a match live in the stadium, more and more broadcasters globally are embracing remote production. This means that production teams don’t need to travel to each venue, and the different localized broadcasts can be brought to audiences more efficiently.
We helped Star Sports in India, the number one sports broadcaster in the country and subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, build this type of platform for their coverage of the VIVO Pro Kabaddi League, the second most popular League in India. During each match, the remote production team operate out of the Star Sports facility in Mumbai, working seamlessly with an on-site engineering team. They collaborate in real-time to deliver every moment of the action to more than 200 million viewers. The remote production platform ensures the smooth transmission of a combination of signals and camera feeds from each fixture because of its ultra-low, four-frames-per-second latency and hitless switching capability.
Another company leveraging technology for a better production experience is Dorna, the exclusive commercial and TV rights holder for the leading motorcycle racing championship MotoGP. To ensure a seamless viewing experience regardless of location, and bring fans high-quality racing content across different platforms, Dorna created a platform with live OTT video feeds with remote production and High-Dynamic-Range (HDR) imaging. The cloud-based platform combines traditional video contribution services and IP connectivity, allowing Dorna to manage and distribute MotoGP video feeds from any location to any device in perfect synchronicity. The platform also comes with extra bandwidth, which eliminates the common lag with OTT content delivery and ensures the reliable distribution of live video feeds—footage from the track and 360-degree on-board cameras as well as commentary—on a global scale and regardless of what device fans are using. With more efficient and cost-effective broadcast operations, Dorna gives MotoGP fans the high-quality, exhilarating viewing experiences they crave.
It all boils down to this: the lines between traditional and digital media platforms have blurred causing a seismic shift in the entertainment landscape. The growing influence of livestreaming and global OTT platforms is a sign of things to come for the sports world. From a commercial perspective, increasing the geographical footprint means more eyeballs, and more eyeballs means more revenue opportunities—whether it’s through subscriptions, sponsorship, advertising or merchandising.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
Every business, no matter the sector, needs to foster their existing customer base and attract new customers in order to grow, bring in new revenue streams and remain relevant in their market. In the sports industry, this has been achieved through the introduction of new platforms and formats to engage fans and make content more accessible for new audiences and keep existing fans loyal.
OTT platforms enable fans to watch any sport from anywhere, anytime. And over the next three to five years, the digital landscape will continue to grow, with OTT dominating the way sports is delivered to fans. Already, we’re seeing streaming platforms like Facebook Watch, Bleacher Report and DAZN change the way the world watches sports, bringing sports into an OTT streaming model, and making it free and easy for people to watch.
The rise of digital has already led to wide national deals being penned for major broadcast properties. The NFL has experimented with broadcasting games on Twitter and for the 2018 season, Major League Baseball teamed up with Facebook to produce one afternoon game per week on its Facebook Watch platform. This meant that fans at work or on the go in some way without access to a TV could still tune in to see their team play. In addition, various professional sports organizations have started to branch out into streaming their own content including NFL Network and NBA TV.
Meanwhile in Europe, Amazon Prime Video secured rights to broadcast live and exclusive English Premier League matches from 2019/20. The three-year deal means that Amazon Prime subscribers who might not live in their favorite team’s market, can watch 20 matches per season at no extra cost. And LaLiga, the top league in Spain, has signed a deal with Facebook that will see all 380 matches broadcast live on Facebook in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. And UEFA made the biggest game of them all—the Champions League Final—available for free on YouTube. It was a move that made perfect business sense. As Europe’s flagship spectacle, it gets them more eyeballs than any other event.
In sports, the live event will always be the main draw for fans, whether they are in-person at the stadium or watching it on TV. As the digital fan experience improves for fans, many sports leagues are looking at ways to enrich the live experience at venues to match up. We’re seeing innovative applications of augmented reality (AR) and data analytics to give fans real-time insights on players and athletes, while apps are making the (often painful) process of buying refreshments at stadiums easier.
A critical piece of creating immersive experiences is bringing viewers closer to the action—making every shot, pitch and corner turn as real as possible. Racing circuits like F1 have been doing this successfully. At Tata Communications, we worked with F1 to create a 360-degree live video concept that puts viewers right in the heart of the action, and it showed how fans could be given greater control than ever to choose how they want to watch and engage with F1—jumping on-board a car, or seeing up-close as the engineering team strategizes in the pit lane.
Another fast-growing motorsport, Formula E, has shown how digital has the potential to increase fan interaction with the live action through its unique, and much-debated, FanBoost feature. Fans are given the opportunity to vote for the driver they wish to receive a FanBoost before the race. The three drivers with the most votes receive a power boost of 30kW, which lasts for five seconds at a time and provides extra speed that can be used to perform a crucial overtake.
Motorsports are not the only ones experimenting with new ways of growing their audiences commercially, geographically and demographically though more immersive and engaging content. When it comes to social media, most of the major U.S. sports organizations have experimented with Twitter live streams, and the Facebook Watch video platform now enables U.S. users to watch live events in a community setting.
In the modern broadcasting landscape, attempting to manage every channel and platform may not be the right strategy for every sport. Rather, for a sport with a well-established audience and fan-base such as F1, the digital and OTT strategy must be aligned with the new audience demographics that the sport is targeting. So, for example, if a sport wants to target the under-25 audience, they need to be on a platform like SnapChat.
Future generations of digital products that deliver premium, immersive experiences with either live or archived content enabled by a wide landscape of underlying technology include personalized video, 3D video, augmented and virtual reality, and augmented video. According to a PwC study, these platforms could grow to a potential global market size of more than $1 billion by 2025. That’s a lot of potential viewers and fans that could be reached.
By tying together all the elements which make a great viewing experience, sports are deploying a variety of production and publishing strategies to create fever pitch on the plethora of digital channels available.
Brian Morris is vice president/general manager, Media & Entertainment for Tata Communications.