MediaKind looks at key trends in the sports broadcasting market for the next year

By Olie Baumann, lead engineer for Cygnus 360° events, MediaKind

Disruption in the media industry is rife. Innovations and evolving consumer viewing habits are transforming our expectations of how live events, and in particular live sports, are watched.

While sport remains the biggest draw for TV viewers worldwide, finding ways to deliver this video content at scale and on an increasing number of devices and formats comes with its own challenges for broadcasters, service providers, content owners and rights holders. Furthermore, niche and non-traditional sports are continuing to redefine the way live events are enjoyed, particularly for younger audiences.

As these mobile-savvy audiences demand their favourite live sports content in increasingly immersive formats, broadcasters need to respond in kind. Content providers, broadcasters and service providers will need to securely and reliably acquire, backhaul, and distribute the highest quality content from anywhere to everywhere.

So, as the dawn of 2020 beckons, what developments in live sports broadcast technology can we expect to see?

Sports viewing will move further towards OTT

A defining trend of the modern broadcasting era has been the shift from linear TV viewing towards over the top (OTT). While the main living room TV remains a critical part of live sports, younger viewers are live streaming sports content on second screens more than ever.

As we move into 2020, the increasing demand for live sports content is going to drive an industry-wide need for achieving broadcast-quality streaming at scale, in order to match these evolving consumer viewing habits. Application-specific packages designed for broadcast-quality IP video at scale will become ever more crucial for broadcasters looking to appeal to a younger demographic.

One of the most exciting developments for me this year has been to see how far the industry has come in harnessing low latency for ABR delivered content. Although today’s initial deployments currently adopt unicast low latency methods, we are going to see an increasing rise in multicast viewing and it will become ever more crucial for live event broadcasting.

Leveraging ‘direct path’ technology between encoder and packager can massively reduce the time to move content from one media processing function to the next.

As the media industry prepares for another major year of live sporting events, these OTT video feeds will need to reach viewers in the lowest latency possible, in broadcast-like quality and scale. No one wants to have the magic moments from these events spoiled via social media alerts, a good 15 seconds or so ahead of content on their screen!

2020 Olympic Games as a test bed for innovation

Next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo will be a likely test bed for future innovation as the demand for live events continues to surge, particularly if the Japanese broadcaster NHK fulfils its pioneering ambitions to shoot the entire fortnight in 8K. For this to be achieved, a high density encoding application will be key to reducing the expense associated with acquiring and distributing the high resolution live content.

Nonetheless, the consumer reality of achieving 8K could provide an unwelcome distraction to the ongoing rollout of 4K, which still has a way to go before reaching its true potential.

Realistically, it is very unlikely that native 8K content will be available to consumers at critical mass in the next five years. OTT services are still restricted in their ability to deliver linear 4K content due to the lack of Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) and other high speed broadband technologies.

Delivering true 8K content requires 40-50Gbps, at a time when many North American households are operating at around a quarter of that speed, and that is before addressing the question of whether many households have or want a display large enough to exploit the benefits of 8K.

Esports will grow as a media focused application

Another major driver of innovation in traditional sports broadcasting will be the rise of niche and non-traditional live streaming applications, eSports being the prime example. One of the biggest challenges to date has been around monetising eSports audiences in the same way as traditional sports environments which are both sponsor and advertiser rich.

The comparison is stark; the $4.5 billion a year deal the NFL signed with CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN dwarves the largest eSports rights deal of $42.8 million between Riot Games and Disney-owned tech company BAMTech back in 2016.

Further, fundamental differences exist in the way eSports content is delivered and consumed when compared to traditional sports. Generally, eSports is consumed on OTT platforms, predominantly Twitch but also YouTube and Mixer. This means that the production is purely focussed on these platforms.

It’s also true that gaming content is mainly viewed on PC displays which tend to be positioned closer than a living room TV. Combined with the fact that consumers want quality as close to the real in-game experience, this places significant emphasis on video quality.

At the IBC2019 eSports showcase, we saw developments in production and delivery starting to enable eSports brands to offer similar multi-camera, studio led experiences that are on par with live sports. In 2020, eSports fans will be able to enjoy tournament coverage without the limitations of a single camera view, taking the experience to multiple points across the arena, as well as within the actual gameplay.

The potential of 360-degree video

Over the past 12 months, MediaKind has been demonstrating the exciting potential of 360-degree video delivery within the world of live sports and eSports, and we’ve only just scratched the surface. The highly immersive and unique quality of 360-degree video will continue to revolutionise the viewing experience in 2020.

Through this technology, broadcasters can provide perspectives that were previously beyond the realms of TV viewing. For instance, football fans could be taken to the touchline to see the manager’s view of the football pitch and crowd. Another compelling application could be in motor racing; fans could take the opportunity to pick and choose a viewing angle around the race track, whether it be in the pit-lane or from their favourite driver’s seat. This could then open up enormous revenue potential for broadcasters, including in-game advertising or sponsorship opportunities.

As audiences become more global, the ability to deliver live sports and eSports content in increasingly immersive formats from anywhere to everywhere, is going to be a critical driver of media delivery innovation. The importance of high bandwidth, low latency connectivity will underpin the necessary developments the broadcast industry needs to take, to maximise what is set to be another game changing year for live sports.

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