Thought Leadership: Limelight Networks’ Jonathan Smith on high quality content to combat illegal sports streaming

Limelight Networks specialises in supporting large broadcasters such as the BBC and Channel 4 to deliver broadcast quality content to audiences around the world. Here, SVG Europe talks to Jonathan Smith, managing director EMEA, about streaming TV, piracy, and how to offset this activity.

“The Ashes Test cricket series has started and will undoubtedly draw in huge audiences. But how many people will be watching the match via broadcast TV, and how many will be streaming it? And, more importantly, will those people be streaming it legally?

The viewing habits of Millennials have changed dramatically from their parents’ generation, with younger viewers more likely to access video content online. This in itself is not surprising.

However, recent research has shed light on a growing challenge being faced by sports broadcasters as a result of Millennials’ viewing habits. The Sports Industry Group has revealed that an increasing number of young viewers choose to watch illegal streams of live sports.

So how can broadcasters respond? The answer lies in delivering the highest quality and most accessible live video experiences that will keep these younger audiences watching matches through their service.

Online viewership continues to grow

The trends are undeniable. Watching video online is no longer the future; it’s here today. Online video viewership continues to grow, as does the number of connected devices for consuming content. Limelight’s State of Online Video market research report highlights the shifts in viewing habits. More than three quarters of consumers watch video online each week. More than half of these people watch at least two hours per week, with Millennials far exceeding that average. That’s staggering!

Live sport continues to be one of the pieces of content viewers are willing to pay a premium for, and in return they expect high quality live streams to be available on any online or mobile device whenever they request it. Sports broadcasters must be capable of delivering a consistent and high quality experience in order to stop fans finding an alternative source for the content they want; customers will grow increasingly frustrated if they are paying for a live stream that constantly buffers and lags behind the action.

Viewers are more likely to stream illegally if their sports broadcaster can’t deliver the experience they are paying for. Here are some tips on how to offset this activity.

Ensure games can be watched at all times

There has been an explosive growth in the use of devices, applications, and content consumption. Viewers prefer watching TV shows to other types of online content, followed closely by original content or YouTube videos. To meet this demand, content must be accessible around the clock.

Computers and laptops remain the most common device for online video viewing. However, their popularity has been waning while smartphone usage continues to grow, especially amongst Millennials. For these consumers, smartphones are the primary device for watching online video, so they do not have to restrict their online viewing to times of the day when a computer or laptop is available. Therefore, it’s critical that your entire website is optimised for mobile users so that sporting events can be watched at any time and on any device.

Ensure the content is of the highest quality

Consumers are engaging with online sports brands from all corners of the planet. This is important to recognise when 24% of respondents would cut the cord if they could directly subscribe to just the channels they want online. As your sports content becomes easier to reach, consumers expect to get the best possible experience when online.

The website must be well-equipped to deliver consistent performance and reduce latency to scale of traffic. But if your site doesn’t deliver a quality user experience every time, regardless of device or location, you can expect to see high bounce rates. This is likely to leave customers seeking other outlets to view sports games.

Keep digital assets secure during peak events 

Delivering broadcast quality sports coverage to viewers all around the world, on hundreds of different devices, is a huge challenge. Traffic concerns and potential security threats are exacerbated. It is paramount for broadcasters to deliver consistent, high quality sports coverage across multiple platforms.

Content delivery networks (CDNs) add an extra layer of protection to busy websites, observing traffic outside the content path to avoid causing latency issues. When combined with smart cybersecurity features the choice of CDN can mitigate against distributed denial of service attacks that can take down an online sporting event without warning.

The audience’s experience is everything

Over a half of consumers think buffering is the most frustrating aspect of watching online video. Half of respondents (46%) will stop watching a video after the second time it buffers, and 78% will stop if it buffers three times. Sports fans that are glued to how their team or sporting star is performing are especially impatient when the online action slows or stutters to a stop. They really won’t wait.

Sporting site marketers and customer experience professionals must pay attention to signs of clogged up traffic, which will result in decreased conversion rates and the loss of unique visitors. A CDN optimises end-to-end website delivery, including dynamic, personalised content, which means faster time to action by customers. Questions also need to be asked about the scalability of the CDN and its points of presence when there is a surge of demand to see a sporting event.

Video management and automatic conversion into multiple formats eliminates the complexity of managing and publishing online video. With competition heating up, those tasked with delivering the customer experience must stay alert to their website performance to encourage audiences to pay, and continue to consume the content.”

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