The Switch on the big trends that will shake up live sports broadcasting in 2020

By George Lopez, senior vice president of operations, The Switch

Sports fanatics queuing up at stadiums and arenas to watch even the most obscure team or player are no longer the only the ones primed to enjoy a unique live action experience; many are on the other side of the world, viewing live broadcasts on their living room TV, smartphone or tablet.

With consumers having more ways than ever to watch live sports and more platforms offering fresh content, how the viewing experience is delivered is becoming increasingly critical. A recent Sportradar report found that six out of ten sports fans cited “a great broadcast experience” as a key driver for becoming more engaged with a team. Meanwhile, broadcasters and streaming services have the capacity to deliver more live sports options than ever.

So, as we look to the dawn of a new decade in live sports, here is a look at the top five developments we can expect to see in 2020.

Demand for live sports will drive remote production

The number of live sporting events is growing at an incredible rate, with a recent study by Rethink Research projecting 75% growth in global rights revenue over the next five years. With more events needing to reach an exploding global audience, there is fierce competition between broadcasters, rights holders and service providers to deliver seamless coverage of sporting events of all types.

A trend that has been gaining major traction recently is remote production. With production budgets hitting their limit and demand for live content continuing to escalate, use of this cost effective approach is only going to increase in 2020.

Earlier this year, we witnessed a ground-breaking remote production for the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, with 80 camera signals from the course via 100Gbps fibre circuits to regional control rooms in Stockholm. More recently, The Switch has been supporting NFL Network with remote production of the broadcast of Conference USA college football games, which has enabled the NFL to produce more games far more cost-efficiently than traditional outside broadcasting (OB) production services.

More live sports programmes will woo Millennials and gamblers

Over the top (OTT) services will continue to emerge as a major driver of extended fan engagement. Younger sports fans want innovative new programmes that not only deliver the live broadcast of the big game or tournament itself but more of the narratives and analysis around the event, with live streaming offering a way for broadcasters and other rights holders to extend content for the most fervent viewers.

This will potentially lead to extended intellectual property deals that deliver live streaming of shoulder programming before, after and even during events. Taking a cue from shows appealing to younger, non-sports audiences – such as Love Island USA’s Aftersun programme and I’m a Celebrity Extra Camp – producers of sports content will increasingly look for extension programmes to maximise their live production investment.

This trend will be further reinforced by the growth of sports betting, now legal in the US, offering a perfect partner for OTT and companion shows that focus on stats, facts and analysis.

The Tokyo Olympics will bring 4K and 8K to the fore

Of course, the live sports pinnacle of 2020 will be the Tokyo Olympics, offering a major test ground for advanced OB technologies. Olympic Broadcasting Services are planning on using Tokyo 2020 to run the first 8K live content for the Games, with more use of drones and innovations like tracking cams that focus on a single competitor for OTT streaming.

While this sounds like an appealing enticement for end consumers wanting the best viewing experience for the games, realising the full potential of 4K, let alone 8K, is still in its early days. The technology is in place to produce and transmit 4K signals, but there are still huge technical hurdles for broadcasters to providing true 4K content on the consumer’s TV, providing they even have a big enough TV to notice the difference from HD.

What we will see, however, is an Olympian-sized step towards achieving zero latency, so that viewers of live-via-satellite broadcasts and OTT finally enjoy comparable signals rather than a 20 second delay between the two.

Esports will break beyond its core audience and into the mainstream

Having watched it explode over the past decade as the fastest growing entertainment niche the media industry has ever seen, we can only expect the world of eSports to continue its trajectory toward becoming a broadcast TV mainstay.

As major media companies embrace eSports, the gaming audience is growing beyond specialist online platforms and into the mainstream broadcast space where it will be viewed on par with F1 motor racing and PGA golf.

Esports is already driving technological innovation in live broadcast and will continue to do so. Direct fan interaction, player cams that put the viewer right in the game and pioneering use of augments and virtual reality are all advances in the broadcast and streaming of eSports that will get a wider viewing in 2020.

At the same time, gaming tournament production will increasingly reflect the approach and reliability of big-time live sports broadcasting; consistent standards across different events, true global reach, expertise in delivering seamless feeds, and redundancy that ensures events don’t suddenly go dark.

Innovators within the broadcast industry with an all-digital, IP-driven workflow are perfectly placed to deliver on this vision,  while the arrival of new consoles and gaming engines with built-in broadcast support will only make this easier.

New business models will unlock local and niche sports broadcasting

The combination of growing remote production capabilities, all-IP workflows and live direct to consumer streaming services will offer a boon to smaller sporting leagues that were previously not deemed profitable enough for traditional TV broadcasters. Put simply, these more cost effective approaches now mean that even the smallest of local teams and most unheard-of individual sports can find a platform that brings all their fans the latest action when they can’t be there.

Lower division soccer leagues in Europe, lower tier college sports and even high school football in the US provide great examples of this trend, which will be further accelerated by the deployment of smarter technologies such as drone control and automated highlight packages.

Meeting the needs of today’s audiences

Moving into 2020, the importance of high bandwidth, low latency connectivity for broadcasters is going to become increasingly evident as audiences become more global, and more demanding in terms of where, when and how they want to experience their content. The ability to deliver live sports and eSports content from anywhere to everywhere, both on traditional broadcast and streaming platforms, is going to be a critical element for driving innovation in 2020 and beyond.

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