Feeding audience appetite: Brightcove on scaling the largest events on the web in 2023 and beyond

By Marty Roberts, Brightcove SVP product strategy and marketing

2022 has been a rejuvenating year for live sports and streaming, with the days of empty stadiums and canned crowd roars – finally! – a thing of the past. The Winter Olympics in Beijing, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and perhaps the most controversial FIFA World Cup of all time in Qatar, have put live-streamed sporting events at the forefront of everyone’s minds once again, and audience appetite is showing no signs of abating.

Reaching tens of millions of concurrent viewers online for large-scale events is in itself a team sport. A successful live-streamed event requires a combination of technology and troubleshooting team members to deliver a high-quality viewer experience. With sports-related streaming predicted to rise significantly again in 2023 following Amazon and UEFA agreeing a new Champions League rights deal, effective preparation, response and monetisation is paramount to ensuring loyalty, value and success. But what does the industry have in store for 2023? Let’s first take a step back and evaluate the year to date.

The story of 2022

An Ampere Analysis report highlighted that 58% of UK sports fans have access to at least one subscription over the top (OTT) service showing live sports; the second highest of the big five European markets. It therefore comes as no surprise that the delivery of sports streaming via OTT platforms increased in 2022, with players such as Amazon, HBO Max and FuboTV announcing new multi-year rights to stream sporting events.

Throughout the year, a wide range of streaming companies have adopted an OTT platform, allowing them to easily manage their content and, in turn, increase revenue through the adoption of subscription-based services. Through ownership of their own platform and content, streaming brands have been able to maximise what they produce and capitalise on the opportunities that both subscription video on demand (SVOD) and advertising-based video on demand (AVOD) offer.

Rise of the D2C sports landscape

Against the backdrop of the increasingly crowded OTT landscape, the global direct to consumer (D2C) streaming market has been flooded with a dizzying array of new and niche video platforms. The move to the D2C market for many brands has offered new and exciting opportunities to hyper-serve their most loyal fans and supply interactive and personalised services that more effectively target specific audience segments. Going direct not only enables brands to share live coverage, but also allows them to build fan engagement data and find new opportunities for monetisation.

Going it alone has long been a popular option among rights holder-owned platforms like MLB.tv, NBA TV – a likely inspiration for FIFA+ which recently joined the club – but the trend has now trickled down to all tiers of sports streaming. Smaller or niche rights holders are developing more sophisticated OTT distribution strategies with the view of growing exposure, better serving core fanbases, bolstering existing content offerings and, in turn, opening up new revenue opportunities.

Declining pay TV subscribers

2022 once again saw a decline in pay TV subscriptions, with Statistica forecasts suggesting the number of pay TV subscribers in the UK will drop by over two million in the next five years. Declining pay TV subscriber numbers are placing significant pressure on cable affiliate fees and many major streaming brands have adopted new sports streaming products and ideas to help bring in customers who seem unwilling to splash out on traditional multi-channel cable packages.

Then, of course, there are the broader challenges to the industry in the UK. One of the more sobering pieces of streaming-related news this year was when research from Kantar Worldpanel found that close to 1 million British households had cancelled streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, in response to the cost of living crisis.

In spite of these hurdles, recent years have seen a range of broadcasters offer tailored video offerings around specific sports or content verticals. NBC Sports Group, for example, now offers a range of single-sport passes as part of its Gold Digital platform. Being able to harness tailored content to recruit and retain viewers will be vital heading into 2023.

What will be the focus in 2023?

2023 will be no different when it comes to the production of large-scale live sporting events. With another jam-packed schedule planned globally throughout the year and viewership only expected to exponentially increase, expectations for the perfect video experience will put pressure on production companies to get it spot on.

The production of large-scale sporting events with hundreds of thousands or even millions of concurrent viewers remains a significant task heading into 2023. We expect the number of streaming platforms that are trusted to manage these events to consolidate, with video services relying on fewer partners to deliver a full package viewing experience. Beyond what we consider a great game or match, being able to drive audience engagement through interactivity, casual games and even sport betting will become a standard part of the online sporting experience.

2023 will also see new players enter the world of sport streaming. Both Amazon and Apple are currently going toe-to-toe and look set to become the market leaders at some point during the year. These trillion-dollar tech companies are furlongs ahead in the race to capture cordcutting sports fans, but companies like Disney aren’t going down without a fight as they continue to leverage multi-platform portfolios to maintain their place in the market. Competition for pole-position will undoubtedly be increasingly difficult heading into 2023 but the growing importance of D2C content within the sports broadcasting sphere will help the cream rise to the top.

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