Synamedia on going for gold in 2020 with live sports broadcasting
By James Clark, director, global security business development, Synamedia
We’re out of the blocks, sprinting into another decade of sporting extravaganzas that will be watched by thrill seekers across the globe on an explosion of screens. The Tokyo Olympics is certain to be a TV highlight this year. The potential for the underdog to unearth fractional performance improvements and upend the Olympic dreams of a medal-laden colossus makes for nail-biting viewing.
In many ways, the intense competition between elite athletes and their focus on incremental performance improvements mirrors what’s going on in the sports broadcast industry. Amazon Prime, DAZN and other streaming players are nipping at the heels of the pay-TV Olympians and the race is on to deliver incremental technology and business model innovations that ensure fantastic live viewing experiences on any screen, anywhere, while relegating streaming pirates to the losers’ enclosure.
So what is in store for our industry in the streaming ‘20s?
Clearing the latency hurdle
Hearing the cheers from your neighbours before the hurdlers have crossed the finish line on your own screen is a much-touted problem. Achieving synchronised latency between live broadcast and over the top (OTT) streaming at scale will be a ‘must have’ as live sports streaming goes mainstream. This requires the entire end to end chain to be optimised for low latency; using a low-delay encoder is a moot point if the CDN platform and player introduce delays down the line.
Put simply, if you are not in control of the CDN, then you do not have control of the end to end network and your latency will be dependent on third parties.
We will see a surge in traditional providers moving to converge their broadcast and IP streams at the headend to help minimise latency and optimise workflows ahead of a full-scale move to the cloud. There is also talk in some quarters of aiming for better than broadcast latency, although in the short term this may be at the expense of quality. In any case, some latency is a good thing because it lets providers innovate with added value features such as goal alarms.
Stealing your running lane?
Back in February 2019 BeIN Sports revealed that it had not renewed its Formula 1 contract for the Middle East and North Africa largely due to piracy. We are only at the start of this battle. A growing rash of pirate streaming services threaten the revenues of broadcasters and sports rights holders alike.
The industry will start to raise the volume about the toxicity of streaming piracy. Combatting piracy requires everyone including CDN and cloud service providers, ISPs, payment providers, chip manufacturers, anti-piracy vendors, integrators, rights owners, streaming providers and legislators to cooperate. The fight-back will be helped by the widespread adoption of emerging streaming piracy disruption services that combine innovative technology with human intelligence, making it possible to take down or disrupt a pirated lived sports service within minutes, or even before it starts.
Show me the money!
How to engage the younger sports-mad generation that have yet to become pay-TV converts is certain to be keeping some marketers awake at night. Streaming challengers such as DAZN and Amazon Prime are courting millennial and Gen Z sports fans with fresh ways to consume premium sports content that are more convenient, affordable and accessible than the standard 12 month contracts of old.
We will see more nimble ball play from pay-TV providers as they adopt cloud-based video platforms with a range of flexible monetisation models. Spinning up a pay per view (PPV) OTT channel for streaming live broadcasts will become commonplace and some providers will trial micro-transaction offerings that allow fans to view a portion of a live football match, for example a recent goal, for a minimal fee.
Playing ball with social media channels will also be on the agenda. According to a recent GlobalWebIndex report, 36% of sports fans now watch and follow sports action via social media channels. Ignoring this huge audience is not an option. Publishing clips to social channels while an event is taking place will become an effective way for providers to reach casual viewers and lead this audience toward their primary paid-for service.
Scaling the Cloud
The cloud is democratising sports broadcasting and production and splintering the broadcasting landscape. Amazon Prime broke new ground, winning the rights to live stream 20 English Premier League matches last December. While Amazon was generally perceived to have done a good enough job on Boxing Day, the wise decision to live stream six matches with staggered start times allowed them to swerve any major cloud scalability issues by significantly reducing the number of concurrent viewers per match.
Live sports are appointment-driven viewing, creating peaks in traffic during major events that require the ability to scale massively. We will see incremental technology advancements in cloud workflows using automation and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as more reliance on edge computing and full redundancy in geographically distributed data centres in order to process feeds as close to the stadium as possible. There will also be a focus on smart deployment models that keep cloud costs to a minimum.
In the interim, traditional broadcasters will need to prepare the ground for a complete move to the cloud by fully virtualising their video networks and embracing AI and automation capabilities. This will help them to move content and workloads between on-premise, cloud or hybrid environments more quickly, easily and cost effectively.
The final whistle
As we sprint into the streaming ‘20s, new technologies and business models will deliver transformative live sports viewing experiences to sports fans around the globe.
Cloud-based glass-to-glass video networks that are robust and scalable enough to cope with huge audience peaks for major ‘appointment to view’ events such as the Olympics will win gold.
There will also be a place on the winners’ podium for operators achieving synchronised latency between live broadcast and OTT streams by delivering incremental gains across the entire chain.
But when it comes to prize money, one final word of caution. For the industry to reach its full commercial potential this decade, it has to come together to defeat the growing scourge of streaming piracy. If we don’t, then the pirates might just end up winning gold.