Compelling experiences: Edgecast asks if 2022 is the year live sports becomes truly ‘live’
By Ariff Sidi, chief product officer and general manager, Edgecast
Sport is the foundation of a range of social interactions and relationships. We become fast friends with people who support the same team as us, chat with co-workers about last night’s game and attend an in-person match with family members. Sport also has the extraordinary capability to unite an entire nation when a home country is playing, which we saw during UEFA Euro 2020 and Tokyo 2020. Even the most casual sports fans become immersed in the excitement of cheering on a national team or player during a high-profile sporting tournament.
When the pandemic started in early 2020, tournaments around the world were cancelled or postponed and when they resumed, they were played behind closed doors. Consequently, fans had to watch matches at home and there was a risk that the empty stadiums and inability to watch games in-person and enjoy social interactions would result in them becoming disengaged.
To solve this problem, broadcasters sought technology solutions to create a compelling match day experience and maintain the social nature of live sports. In the past 12 months, we’ve seen more changes in live sports production and fan experiences than we have in the previous 12 years.
Most fans are now back in the stadiums, but they want the same immersive, interactive experience they became accustomed to at home. Broadcasters are seizing the opportunity to meet fans’ expectations and use technology to roll out new formats and experiences for live sports fans, regardless of if they’re watching at home or from the stadiums.
As we head into 2022, we expect to see a number of technologies and trends continue to transform the live sports viewing experience. Live sports has been one of the most interesting areas in broadcasting for a long time, but we expect it to become even more exciting in 2022 because the pandemic changed the mindsets of broadcasters and forced them to evaluate the live sports experience and then redefine it.
Need for speed
Despite significant improvements in latency in recent years, it still remains a significant hurdle for live sports streaming. Live streaming used to be up to a minute behind broadcast, and delays and buffering were a hallmark. Fortunately, advancements in technology mean that such use cases are now dated. We reached a point where latency was around 30 seconds behind broadcast, but in 2021 it actually took a step back and was in the 45 to 60 second range. This is because, in order to provide viewers with lower latency, there will need to be a trade-off with advertising revenue because over the top (OTT) providers will need to have fewer adverts or bypass digital ad insertion.
However, broadcasters that want to introduce more immersive and interactive features need to deliver streams with lower latency. In 2022, we anticipate real time streaming will be the foundation of more immersive and engaging match day experiences. It will soon become a business imperative for broadcasters wanting to introduce wagering and live betting because it will ensure fans aren’t placing bets when they already know the outcome. Broadcasters, rights owners, and sports teams and leagues must have real-time streaming capabilities in place if they want to deliver more compelling live sports experiences in the stadium and to people’s homes.
Next level fan engagement
Once broadcasters have real time streaming technologies in place, they can introduce applications and features that elevate fan engagement. As previously mentioned, social interactions are the cornerstone of live sports, and broadcasters are embracing technologies that nurture these social bonds.
As a result, in 2022, we expect innovations such as co-watching experiences for at-home fans to receive an uptick in popularity. Major sports leagues, such as the NFL, use co-watching features to empower friends and family to watch together when they can’t be in the same physical location. The NFL partnered with Yahoo to debut Watch Together on the Yahoo Sports app, enabling each user to invite up to three friends to join a split-screen video chat displaying a synchronised live stream of a game.
Additional interactive features such as live betting, in-game trivia and personal camera angles for viewers watching their favourite teams also proved to be successful in a live sports environment, and they are likely to stay because they provide a new layer of interactivity and immersion that wasn’t previously possible. Sports fans can now bet on who will score the next goal or choose the camera angle they would like to view from their mobile or laptop. These features benefit broadcasters because they make their service more compelling and reduce the likelihood of customers switching to a rival, in turn making their service more attractive to advertisers. Additionally, sports teams and leagues can supplement their in-stadium revenue with features such as live betting.
Supporting in-stadium experiences
Fans returned to stadiums in 2021, and in 2022 we’ll see more broadcasters, sports leagues and teams using streaming technology to enhance the in-stadium experience. A great example of this is the 2021 Super Bowl LV which introduced in-stadium 5G solutions for fans who attended in-person in Tampa, delivering immersive and interactive viewing experiences. During the match, fans could use the NFL Mobile app to engage with seven different camera angles in the stadium and five angles at home, while projecting augmented reality (AR) overlays of the NFL’s Next Gen Stats for players onto the livestream. This use case shows how combining the best elements of technology and in-stadium experiences can usher in an exciting new era of live sports viewing experiences for fans.
Future of live sports
The pandemic accelerated several trends in live sports streaming and created demand for hybrid live sports experiences. Despite lockdowns and social distancing, technology has empowered live sports fans to continue watching their favourite sports teams with loved ones, take control of the viewing experience and engage with the match in new and exciting ways.
In 2021 we saw fans return to stadiums, but it’s clear they still want technology to enhance their viewing experiences. In 2022, we expect broadcasters to use 2021 innovations as a springboard to further elevate the live sports viewing experience for fans. Real time streaming, edge computing, and new applications and features to maximise fan engagement will be a major focus for sports broadcasters wanting to reduce churn and create additional revenue streams.
Over the past year, live sports underwent an intense period of transformation, and it’s poised to continue evolving by combining technology and the in-stadium experience for truly immersive and compelling viewing of live sports experiences.