With the direct to consumer (D2C) model becoming more influential, live sports streaming is increasingly subject to the kind of quality expectations associated with traditional linear output, writes David Davies.
While technologies such as 4K and HDR have tended to dominate the discussion around sports production in recent years, content producers have also been dealing with another revolution – more subtle, perhaps, but no less significant. It concerns the changing methods by which sports content is being consumed, especially by younger fans, and the drift towards viewing via digital and social platforms.
As Rory Renwick, a consultant with video services innovator Accedo.tv, explains: “Changing sports habits mean that the way in which younger generations are engaging with sport is very different. Generation Z is half as likely to watch sports often as millennials and twice as likely to never watch, according to a survey from Morning Consult. However, that doesn’t mean this generation is not engaging with sports – it is just more likely to be on social media and in smaller, bite-sized pieces.”
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But with linear TV still often the first choice for sports viewing among middle aged and older audiences, it falls on content producers to be delivering across multiple platforms – ideally to a comparable standard. With advertising spend also in a period of flux, this often means doing more but with the same or even less money – meaning that any efficiencies or streamlining of production workflows is highly sought-after.
Yvonne Monterroso, director product management at broadcast connectivity specialist Dejero, says: “It’s undeniable that TV viewership is declining and broadcasters need to seek alternatives to monetise by distributing content on multiple platforms. We’ve found that broadcasters, publishers and media rights holders are looking for a simplified end-to-end solution for live video production in order to do this.”
Low latency live video - from any location
One of the great bonuses of sport’s expansion beyond its former linear TV limitations has been the hugely increased opportunity for coverage of sports that might not otherwise have enjoyed much air-time. Monterroso notes:
“More affordable IP- and cloud-based technologies have enabled niche and lower-level or local sports to reach their geographically dispersed audiences. From sailing and mountaineering to marathons and cycling, events previously considered impractical to broadcast are now being made available live online. Even local events such as school fixtures have become fair game, thanks to the acquisition, production and distribution technology that has developed rapidly over the last few years.”
“A simple way to rationalise spending is to use versatile mobile transmitters and cloud video platforms to stream content in real-time.”
In terms of how content services look to deliver across what is likely to be an increasing range of outlets and platforms, it’s clear that making workflows as stress-free as possible is the ultimate goal. “Firstly, they are looking to capture broadcast-quality, low latency live video from any location,” says Monterroso. “Then, they need to be able to perform things like video clipping in real-time, edit video through a browser, and collaborate live production in the cloud. Finally, they need to achieve multi-platform distribution.”
From its perspective as a maker of remote contribution tools, Dejero has a strong focus on enabling integration with a host of cloud production and distributions, making it easier for broadcasters to deliver “professional and innovative content to digital and social platforms. For example, our mobile transmitters and video transport solutions are now integrated into Grabyo’s cloud video platform, which offers live broadcast production, live clipping, rapid editing and video distribution tools. This joint solution enables production teams to deliver live content to multiple broadcast, digital and social platforms simultaneously from anywhere in the world.”
Acknowledging the huge potential of 5G contribution for live sports streaming, Dejero has already brought several related solutions to the market, including the EnGo 3 and En 3x 5G-native mobile transmitters unveiled at NAB 2022 that are able to support multi-camera production and 4K UHD resolution. With D2C models growing more popular in sports, leading to increased pressure on existing content services, real-time streaming enabled by 5G could become a routine practice.
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“The rise in streaming consumption is forcing broadcasters to rationalise spending in legacy divisions,” remarks Monterroso. “And a simple way to do this is to use versatile mobile transmitters and cloud video platforms to stream content in real-time to online audiences.”
Making deliverables easier
Broadcast and media services company Red Bee Media has also seen its live sports streaming workload increase in recent years thanks to a client list that includes Polish football league Ekstraklasa, sports streamer SportsTribal, boxing content company Fightzone and sports data specialist Stats Perform. It’s notable, says Red Bee Media head of OTT and content discovery Madelene Gustavsson, that an increasingly wide range of sports and events are now being covered as a matter of routine.
It is common for streamers to “look to add additional live events and tournaments across the board,” she says, “and for them to be wanting to deliver to the [TV] screen as well as consumer devices and FAST services. They are very conscious of wishing to appeal to an international audience and respond to the demand from more and more countries to watch [a wider range of] sports.”
”The D2C model is becoming more popular for sports organisations and the 5G rollout to have a “positive spin for the whole consumer experience.”
One of the key reasons for Red Bee’s success in this area is its ability to serve as both an end-to-end service provider with clients, and a collaborator with “a good range of partners and vendors to support the [full spectrum of] use cases. This has meant we have expanded and deepened our partner/vendor relationship in line with the way the market has developed.”
She acknowledges that the D2C model is becoming more popular for sports organisations, but suggests that many will continue to opt for “a combination of approaches that is not conflicting” in order to fully monetise their events schedule. Technology-wise, she expects the 5G rollout to have a “positive spin for the whole consumer experience” with reduced buffering and ad-latency, while higher-resolution is also becoming a more important requirement – although deployments remain fairly selective for now.
In fact, it could be HDR that achieves more rapid traction in live sports streaming. Notes Gustavsson: “A possible future of enhanced video for OTT may be towards HDR, which speaks to the range of tones in the video rather than the resolution. For the living-room context, this may be more appreciated by the human eye and therefore a more probable investment area.”
Bringing engagement to life
As much as it’s about making sure that all the bases are covered when catering to digital and social platforms, Accedo.tv’s Rory Renwick implies that additional creativity is required in order to “bring the engagement to life” for younger audiences.
“It will be important to attract their interest and involve them as much as possible in the sporting and brand experience, and this will mean thinking outside of the box and adopting new innovative approaches,” he says. “At the same time, with these changing dynamics, broadcasters and rights holders need to find new ways to deliver value to advertisers and sponsors.”
Methods by which Renwick indicates that sports content services could be further developed include more integrated “shopping experiences” and the use of augmented reality to deliver “real-time game statistics and sponsor activations alongside the live stream, bringing a new level of interaction.” In short, it’s evident that we are in the fairly stages of what will be a long and very creative trajectory for sports streaming.
Renwick concludes: “With so many innovations yet to be explored, these advanced features can enhance live sports streams, targeting those younger fans and satisfying their sports content needs.”
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