At SportTech 2019, a key panel featuring the BBC, DAZN, Tennis TV and Ostmodern discussed the challenges of producing live sport.
A key aspect of the production of any broadcast is the technology that makes it work – but a pitfall that can costs viewers, time and, ultimately, money is when that technology fails.
This especially so when it comes to the production of sport, which is often live. A lagging stream or one with poor quality will be ditched in favour of an alternative option – illegal sports streams are common enough that they disrupt rights holders – meaning pressure is on production teams to have a service that just works.
There is often a trade-off between reliability, latency and quality, according to a recent panel at SVG Europe’s SportTech 2019 conference, which was held at Lord’s Cricket ground in May. The panel, which was chaired by Ostmodern CEO Tom Williams, was entitled “It’s Just Got to Work’ – Keeping Viewers and Subscribers Happy when Streaming Live Sport” and featured speakers from the BBC. Tennis TV, and DAZN.
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Oliver Thompson, executive product manager, BBC. “Linear is still hugely important for sport, particularly in terms of numbers, but OTT gives us a direct route to that audience.”
The BBC, Thompson added, has a whole department which is dedicated to delivery but said “the market is always changing. Demands are also shifting.”
He shared the stage with Tennis TV director Andrew Hall, who said his operation – which is ran by Tennis authority the ATP – is much smaller in scale but does face some of the same considerations as his panel mates. Most notably, the need for reliability.
There is an expectation that a live stream “just works” said Hall – “this applies no matter if you’re a large provider or a smaller service.”
In order to guarantee a high quality, Tennis TV works closely with its partners to reduce latency, but there is a bigger focus on offering a stream of the highest quality.
“I think our audience appreciates the fact that our coverage is pretty much comprehensive of the ATP tour,” subscribers get access to every singles match “which is a very difficult thing to achieve via traditional television,” he added.
Ultimately, keeping a high production value even on OTT services is often one of the pressing issues, said the BBC’s Thompson.
He explained: “There is a level of expectation, not so much around quality of delivery but quality of presentation. OTT gives us the opportunity to stream more hours of sport, but the expectation that goes with the [BBC] brand is that that is to a very high production standard.”
“There is a level of expectation, not so much around quality of delivery but quality of presentation.”
To this end, the BBC is trialling UHD to connected TV sets – technology it first trialled during 2018 football World Cup. It will also show off this technology for this year’s Wimbledon tennis tournament, which takes place in July.
For DAZN, which has been labelled the Netflix of sport, the service is about trying to ape traditional sports broadcasters in terms of quality and delivery but use the advantages of OTT to offer a more personalised experience for the viewer.
“Sport needs to be given back to the fan and made accessible, on devices they use all day long,” said DAZN senior VP of market expansion Marcus Parnwell. “It’s really about delivering the same high-quality experience to everyone.”
Engaging the youth
That challenge – of how to make content appeal to younger viewers who are more familiar with VOD – is a key component of BBC Sport’s strategy, according to Amy Williams, who heads up youth engagement at the British broadcaster.
Williams explained that using “relatable talent” in productions is often more important than the experience offered. What does that mean?
“Transparency and honesty,” said Williams. “Young people can see through fakes, so you need talent who can engage honestly and avoid the cringe factor.
“You need talent who can engage honestly and avoid the cringe factor”
This, she added, often involves mixing genres – introducing music artists into sport productions, for example. “Something that used to be unusual becomes straight forward,” she added, labelling it “Sport entertainment”.
Another aspect is social engagement. The second screen generation, as it is often called, may not be giving their full attention to a live sport broadcast. So how do you get that level of engagement?
“Utilise tools that are already out there to try and engage in a conversation with the audience. Use a mobile first strategy.”
This can involve making lighter entertainment shows that are more engaging, such as the BBC’s The Art of Football, The Playmakers, which looks at different jobs in sport, and 90 Seconds.