Guest Comment: Going OTT with sports broadcasting

Tom Williams, chief executive, Ostmodern

Tom Williams, chief executive, Ostmodern

The nature of how people watch live sports broadcast is changing. Once an activity bound to linear TV in home living rooms, the last few years have given rise to a whole new set of consumer habits and expectations, writes Tom Williams, chief executive, Ostmodern. Young people, in particular, are becoming increasingly demanding. Content owners are in a position where they must do more to engage these audiences and meet these changes.

Social media, alternative commentary and relevant articles are all factors which play into the modern-day experience of watching sport. It’s been obvious for quite some time that a single broadcast feed isn’t enough. Instead, a carefully curated hub, which presents a variety of video streams, social media feeds and editorial articles – in a way that is consistent, coherent and compelling – is needed for the live experience.

Until recently, viewers and sports rights holders alike have only been able to watch one angle chosen by a content owner – or too often, chosen by a single editor. The introduction of the Red Button has helped to widen the options, but these are still limited and can suffer from delays, leading to a frustrating experience for viewers.

While for now a majority of viewers at home may be happy watching whatever is chosen for them by the broadcaster, there are a growing number of viewers who would instead prefer the freedom to make their own decision to watch their favourite team, player, or sport. Instead of dictating who and what audiences should watch, sports rights holders should be empowering today’s audiences with better curated choice. The rise of VOD and streaming have unlocked the potential for broadcasters to satiate both the needs of the masses and those of viewers with more niche preferences.

No time for delay

A number of sports broadcasters have already launched their own VOD services but these existing services aren’t always up to scratch with audience expectations. Designed to complement the live linear experience, these services are already archaic and clunky to use. As a result of technical constraints, they are subject to latency – 30 second delays can mount to 10 minutes over the course of a game – taking away from the immediacy of the live action.

This is particularly obvious for viewers who are also following the game on social media, where spoilers are caused by real-time updates, making it obvious to consumers that many broadcasters are behind the curve. As a result, they seem to disengage, rather than engage, millennial audiences. Communication in the moment is the true value of live sports, and OTT platforms must stop being defeated by the time lag.

There’s no denying that there is a growing appetite for video which provides an alternative to what’s being broadcast on the television. An example of this can be found in Andy Roddick’s live stream commentary of the Wimbledon Final between Andy Murray and Milos Raonic on Periscope. At its peak, 2.6k people were tuned in to this alternative commentary. While this is only a tiny fraction of the linear TV audience, which peaked at 13.3 million, it still demonstrates that there is a hunger for an alternative opinion and experience – after all, commentary from the likes of John Lloyd and Tim Henman isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Equipped with a vast range of raw material, sports rights holders are in a prime position to do well in these new circumstances. Any sport, be it football, cricket, rugby, or tennis, will have a number of cameras placed around the course, courts, or stadium to capture multiple streams of video at any one moment. A successful sports VOD service will not only give audiences choice over which stream they watch, but will curate and present the content so that it is relevant, easy to discover and, of course, engaging.

Two screens, one experience

Traditionally, the editorialising of content for live sport has been focused on delivering the best broadcast experience to one end-point, the TV. Editorial teams must now consider how best to deliver the huge number of content sources they have. More significantly, they must present their video streams in a way which not only considers the linear TV, with its lean back approach, but also the second screen, which offers an on-the-go, interactive viewing experience. Effectively this allows the two screens to merge to provide a unique viewing experience. Fans can follow one specific view on their phone, and see the wider game progress on the big screen. The other screen, then, complements, and is in harmony with, the big screen but is in fact not secondary to it.

Curated hub requirement

Key to the success of any VOD platform is an editorial workflow, with its impact on how both live and archive content can be surfaced. This workflow determines how to guide users on which live streams to watch by presenting content in an engaging way. There is also the opportunity to derive new revenues as sports right holders provide fans a place to access their archive – a tactic already adopted by the WWE.

Young audiences are demanding a more personalised experience than ever before. For this a well-curated, designed hub is needed. By teaming up with a VOD delivery expert who understands the entire workflow from the backend forwards, sports broadcasters can be sure they are creating a platform which appeals to the very breadth of audiences, becoming the go-to destination for a particular sport, without the worry of latency and delay.

In a constantly evolving world, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the future holds for sports broadcasters, but for now the signs are that the industry will move more towards personalisation. A well curated OTT platform which delivers an experience tailored to the individual subscriber will ultimately help broadcasters to meet the expectations of today’s (and likely tomorrow’s) digital consumer.

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters