Interxion going OTT with sports broadcast opportunities and challenges

Over The Top (OTT) broadcasting of sporting events, from the World Cup to Formula 1, is a hot topic right now. Richard Craig McFeely, strategy and marketing director, digital media, at Interxion, spoke to SVG Europe about the end user OTT experience, augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence and the challenges in bringing this directly to the consumer. 

Interxion’s Richard Craig McFeely

Can you describe the state of play today in terms of sports broadcasting? Why do you think we are seeing the live streaming of sports move online and away from traditional broadcasting?

Sports broadcasting is in transition across a number of areas. Reliable contribution is now available across satellite, fibre and internet for a wide range of sports events. Hybrid production workflows leverage these contribution networks to match the exact requirements of the varied sports market. Remote production benefits are starting to be realised. Distribution is seeing a move towards streaming for all content types, especially live sports. Most of the large sports properties can now be viewed via OTT streaming.

Sports fans are moving to streaming their live content for the same reasons that we use our devices for so much of our daily lives. Everything is being digitised. Convenience, personalisation, integration of data and video drive us to watch live sports events via OTT.

What evidence can you share of this trend?

The big news recently has been the announcement that Formula 1 will provide an OTT service as an option. While this will not be available in all countries from day one due to existing broadcast commitments, it does mark the move of a traditionally broadcast-focused sport to the streaming world. F1 joins many other large sports who provide a direct to customer (D2C) service. ATP Media is an example of an organisation that provides D2C service in all markets because they decided early on to retain their digital rights for their own monetisation. Expect this to become the norm.

Just last month, Star India set a new record for the live streaming of any event when 28% of its 700 million viewers tuned in to watch this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 tournament online. And throughout this next month, viewers around the globe will be gearing up to watch the 2018 World Cup, the second most popular sporting event in the world, following the Olympics. With different content platforms looking to stream World Cup games now through mid-July, it will be interesting to see what new records are set in regards to online viewership.

How does end user experience impact this trend?

User experience is the pillar on which all successful OTT services are built. The infrastructure is all about delivering user experience. Just ask the network teams at the major content platforms who build networks across connected datacentres exactly for this reason. Solve user experience issues and see how sports fans subscribe, watch your content and keep renewing their contracts!

What is needed to respond to this growing demand?

The key to delivering a great user experience to sports fans is an underlying connectivity community of carriers, internet service providers (ISPs) and content delivery networks (CDNs). The carriers provide the contribution capability from global event locations to the production hub. The ISPs and CDNs provide the superior user experience for sports fans to enjoy and engage with their favourite sports online.

What are the challenges to widespread adoption of online live sports streaming? How can they be overcome?

Currently, the biggest challenge for delivering large live events is the capacity of CDN and ISP networks. Especially the CDNs that need to support ever larger numbers of concurrent streams.  The CDN vendors that base their networks in highly connected datacentres are working to support massive live streaming requirements. Therefore, we can expect this restriction to be removed very soon.

Why is the datacentre’s role crucial in this transition?

Highly connected datacentres are at the core of the transition of live sports content from broadcast to OTT. It is simply not possible to effectively deliver OTT content without access to a community of ISPs. As stated above, user experience is the key to a successful OTT service of any kind (from online banking to live video). Valuable live sports content must be delivered via highly connected datacentres; it is the network architecture of the largest OTT content platforms and is necessary for sports too!

Where do you see this trend in 10 years’ time? Do you foresee virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) playing a role?

All aspects of our lives are being affected by digital transformation. We are just seeing the start of our digital lives with the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and AR and VR about to kick in. The future of sports broadcasting will develop with highly connected datacentres at the core of new production workflows, new content formats and intelligent content distribution.

New production workflows will include high-performance wireless networks such as 5G and beyond, combined with remote production based on virtualized video production software. Production capability can be acquired on a SaaS basis to match the needs of various sports. New levels of flexibility and variable cost structures mean all sports genres can be given high production values.

New content formats include 4K, HDR, AR and VR, and there’s potential in the future for new formats we don’t even know about yet. All of these formats will be captured simultaneously and will be combined with fan preferences to produce personalised content on the fly. Content will be automatically adapted to the screen size, location and ‘seating’ location of the fan. Want a traditional experience sitting on your sofa? Want to be courtside at Wimbledon? Want to sit by your favourite F1 driver? All of these viewing options are or will be possible when it comes to the live streaming of sports online, and they can be created on demand.

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