Looking at the key trends for sports video in 2020 with Harmonic

By Thierry Fautier, vice president, video strategy, Harmonic

The world of sports video is moving at a rapid pace. Over the past year, we’ve seen an increase in the number of live OTT sports channels, and sports fans have shown a willingness to pay for premium video streaming experiences. There are a number of key trends in store for the video sports environment in 2020.

2020 resolutions

A wide range of video resolutions will be used to deliver live sports in 2020. On the low end, US sports channels have agreed to use 1080p60 high dynamic range (HDR), as they see this format as the best for sports and also the most economical solution. We expect some sports channels to introduce the first 1080p120 HFR experiments in 2020, coinciding with the launch of ATSC 3.0 services.

In addition, we should see more over the top (OTT) sports premium experiences in 2160p50 HDR, similar to the service deployed by Mediapro and DAZN. On the high end of the spectrum, Japan will continue its 8K journey with the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, broadcast in 4320p60/120 HDR. From fHD to 8K, a variety of resolutions will be used for live sports delivery in 2020.

The OTT experience will push the sports button

The OTT experience is more attractive for live sports than traditional broadcast, as it gives viewers the possibility to watch multiple games simultaneously, pick a different angle and get access to stats.

In 2020, we see the OTT sports experience evolving toward supporting a social community and e-betting. This is putting the pay TV experience at a disadvantage, so what are the options for pay TV operators? For those operators that have a one-way network (ie, DTH and non-interactive cable), there aren’t a lot of options. For operators using an open STB (ie, BYOD), they can become a super aggregator and host OTT applications on the BYOD STB.

At IBC2019, Google presented a new approach with Harmonic, Technicolor and 3SS, where the Android TV STB offers a broadcast view, along with additional unicast views delivered OTT. This can lead to new applications, such as multi-game, multi-view (including VAR views) and personalised programme guides for sports events. Keep an eye out for these in 2020.

Low latency will come to life, this time thanks to Apple

Low latency DASH using CMAF isn’t particularly new news. First demonstrated in 2017, its has since been trialled and showed with encouraging results. The same delay as broadcast was almost achieved for OTT using software-based, off the shelf components (ie, encoders, packagers, CDNs and players) upgraded to support low latency.

But during the FIFA World Cup in 2018, latency continued to be a challenge. Viewers complained of receiving OTT content more than 30 seconds after the live broadcast. So what is holding up the industry from solving the OTT latency issue?

In June 2019, Apple finally released its own low latency specification, and trials are also underway to address iOS devices. Once iOS and DASH devices are both covered, it’s highly likely we will see more commercial deployments of low latency sports applications.

Scaling the OTT sport experience

In the past, OTT channels have experienced some glitches, especially at the launch of premium sports events. In 2020, a major challenge will be for sports OTT providers to scale services while maintaining a high QoE. We know this is possible, since Akamai’s CDN was used to successfully stream high quality video to 18.6 million simultaneous users in India for the VIVO IPL cricket event. It will be interesting to see if this architecture is used, or whether OTT providers start using their own caching infrastructure like Netflix does for VOD.

Under this concept, OTT providers manage their own CDN, putting caching servers in the major PoPs of each ISP in the country. This is a new technique that sports OTT providers need to acquire, and they do not need to do it by themselves. They can use the technology developed by caching server companies or user services provided by CDN companies. In the end, what matters is providing a better QoE at a lower cost.

Sports leagues extend their reach

Over the last year, we have seen sports leagues in the US (ie, NFL, MLB, and NHL) followed by others around the world develop their own direct-to-consumer (D2C) strategy in competition with broadcast rights already sold to broadcasters. In Europe, Formula 1 went down this route in 2018, and football leagues such as Spain’s La Liga and UEFA are developing a B2C offering in overlay to the contract they already have with large distributors in each country.

La Liga just announced that its D2C activity was only 8% of its revenues, but is expecting it to reach 20% by 2022 and 50% by 2026, and Amazon began its live subscription coverage of English Premier League matches in December on Prime Video, exclusively in the UK.

Where will this lead us? Expect to see some sports rights moving to OTT, in certain geographies, or for specific games not covered by existing broadcast contracts.

Targeted advertisement

Live sports has the potential to reach many OTT subscribers. The latest subscriber count reported by DAZN, an OTT sports subscription service, is eight million, which is a significant number from an advertising perspective.

Dynamic ad insertion (DAI) technology is available and thoroughly deployed in the market. In 2019, live applications of DAI technologies were commercially and successfully deployed at the French Open tournament by France Televisions on its OTT feeds. In 2020, we’ll see more DAI being deployed.

Cloud becomes a natural ally

At the French Open 2019, for the first time, it was possible to watch all matches in HD over the internet on Google and iOS stores as well as via a web browser. The event took place over two weeks; therefore, using cloud technology was the most cost effective way to offer all of the matches.

We expect the use of the cloud for live sports streaming to be generalized in 2020, with the addition of more BYODs as well as connected TVs and an improved experience in UHD HDR with next generation audio.

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters