Unpicking the future of fan engagement for live sports

By Ariff Sidi, general manager & chief product officer, Media Platform, Verizon Media

The impact of COVID-19 has limited in-person attendance for most major events, yet fans remain hungry for live sports. Sports broadcasters and teams need to find new and innovative ways to evolve the live experience for viewers at home and keep them engaged, as it is still unclear when fans will be able to return to stadiums in-person.

This is an opportunity that is ripe for innovation, and content owners have the ability to experiment with new technologies, enabling higher quality delivery and, of course, lower latency.

With new technologies we can bring the integration of real-time interactivity into live video platforms. This opens up new possibilities for how viewers interact with the content provider and with each other. Sports fans can bet on who will score the next goal or choose the camera angle they would like to view all from their mobile or laptop. This capability opens up new business opportunities by making live viewing a more interactive experience.

Real time experiences increase engagement

One way to ensure a good viewing experience is to incorporate lower latency streaming solutions as latency is one of the main hurdles to overcome with live sports streaming. Fans are found to be less sympathetic to broadcasters if their stream is experiencing delays and buffering. Technology that provides sub-second latency (ie, time behind live of under one second) for live streaming enables the creation of interactive global online experiences that were previously not possible.

Bringing fans together

Real-time streaming combined with video player optimisation and edge compute provides viewers with brand new ‘watch together’ social experiences, such as co-viewing synchronised live streams and in-game trivia, allowing fans to host virtual watch parties with family and friends. Yahoo! Sports is an early example of using these real-time streaming features to increase viewer engagement and create new experiences.

Video quality gets better with 5G

Although it is possible to deliver high quality video at scale without the aid of 5G, the global rollout of next gen connectivity will significantly increase the quality of experience for end users. As 5G networks promise to bring faster speeds and a more reliable connection, we’ll likely see more interactive use-cases become mainstream and more reliance on mobile devices as the first screen or even the ‘cable box’ of the future through casting technologies.

The OTT opportunity

OTT has unique advantages over traditional broadcast platforms because the underlying technologies naturally allow for more interactive viewing experiences. There is a real opportunity to experiment with technologies that maximise fan engagement and most importantly increase viewer retention and loyalty.

For broadcasters trying to innovate the sports experience for fans at home, investment in technology such as real-time streaming, edge compute and more will create unique ways to engage fans and create additional revenue streams. Advertisers can offer more integrated ad experiences, while the virtually unlimited distribution opportunity of streaming means they can reach an extremely targeted and engaged audience.

With more fans than ever turning to live streaming for their sports fix, having fans feel as though they are part of the action is a crucial business advantage. Those who fail to innovate and evolve their OTT product are likely to see viewers leave their offering dissatisfied and turn to a competitor that can offer them an experience that’s as engaging as being there in person, if not better.


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