When you hear the words “video streaming” what generally comes to mind? For many people, it is a subscription-video-on-demand (SVOD) service like Netflix. But live video streaming is gaining momentum, especially for live sports. Viewers have a passion for watching live sports anytime, anywhere on any screen. A recent study found that fans are watching live sports most often on their smartphones and computers than they do on TV, despite the majority of sports media rights being held by linear broadcasters.
Live sports streaming has evolved and the market is buzzing
Traditionally, live sports events were delivered over terrestrial, cable and satellite networks. With the rise of OTT services, live sports streaming has started to evolve. Video delivered over-the-top of the traditional networks uses the internet and can be watched in real-time, just like traditional broadcast. All you need is a high-speed broadband connection and a subscription to connect and watch. Streaming lets you watch your live game wherever you are as long as your mobile device is connected to the internet.
Nielsen commented recently that "It's clear that the business of distributing sports video is on the cusp of profound change. For fans, it is an exciting time —they can expect more options to watch their favorite sports, and innovation from new players in how sports are presented."
In the next several years, worldwide revenues from sports digital media rights will grow by 11.5%. That’s faster than any other business area. Direct-to-consumer live sports streaming services are the trend, and we see a lot of players in the field. Sports rights holders, broadcasters like ESPN and even Amazon Video are delivering live sports events over-the-top in order to create new revenue streams. Even sports federations and leagues are joining the streaming business with their own channels and services. Some of the live sports streaming services that exist today include FuboTV, Hulu+ Live TV, ESPN+, Sling TV, NFL Game Pass, MLB TV, UFC Fight Pass, and Fox Sports Live. Competition is heating up in the live sports streaming space.
Key considerations to optimize your live sports content delivery
While many players are launching a live sports streaming service today, there are a few key challenges they have to address to create a successful service.
- Secure streams against piracy: Piracy is a significant issue for live sports streaming, and it has made security a critical requirement. The cost to secure content rights for major sports events is substantial. In 2011, NBC agreed to pay $4.38 billion for the rights to broadcast the Olympics through the 2020 games. It was the most expensive broadcasting rights deal in Olympic history. Part of the requirement for streaming live sports is keeping the content secure. Research shows that video piracy in 2019 resulted in $9.1 billion of lost revenue for pay-TV and streaming service providers. As piracy techniques continue to evolve and get more sophisticated, streaming service providers have a responsibility to keep content safe and protect their revenue streams.
- Enhance the user experience: Delivering a high-quality user experience for live streaming of sports is also important. Latency has been a major challenge for content owners and service providers. Those issues are starting to be resolved thanks to advancements in compression and the use of CMAF. Today, service providers can deliver the same low latency for live sports as broadcasters. Scalability is another issue that can cause quality issues for viewers during live sports streaming. When millions of subscribers are simultaneously watching a premium sports event, scalability issues can occur. Scalability issues during live event streaming are generally related to customer management or signal delivery challenges. With cloud-based solutions, like Harmonic’s VOS®360 Media SaaS, service providers can easily scale and improve user experience. Cloud technology is built for rapid scaling, whereas traditional infrastructure may take more time and investment to build up.
- Make monetization a priority: Monetizing live sports streaming channels has been a focus and driver for innovation. Rights holders today are exploring how to monetize streaming offerings so that they can boost their revenue. Sponsorship opportunities are one way to do it. Collecting subscription and pay-per-view costs are another approach. Advertisements are also an option, specifically dynamic ad insertion and free ad supported TV (FAST).
- Secure content rights: The high demand and growth of streaming have shaken up the content rights market. Sports rights accounts for roughly 40% of programming costs paid by TV networks. CBS, Fox, ESPN, NBC, and Turner have paid billions of dollars for the content rights to distribute NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB games. Streaming providers will need to invest in content rights if they want to compete.
- Unify OTT and broadcast workflows: If you’re delivering live sports event coverage via broadcast and streaming, unifying the workflow can greatly simplify your operations. Through a single video delivery platform, you can deliver live sources to any screen. There’s no need to have two separate sets of infrastructure for broadcast and streaming.
- Decide whether SaaS or on-prem makes sense: There are different infrastructure approaches you can take to deliver a live sports streaming service. Software-as-a-service (SaaS), for example, has emerged as a popular approach for media processing and delivery. SaaS places the workflow in the public cloud so you can scale rapidly and launch channels quickly. The sports world is fast-paced, and SaaS allows you to quickly respond to viewership peaks and adeptly handle sports tournaments that might only last a day or a few days. You can also choose to go with an on-premises approach. On the one hand, you can run media processing software runs in your own private cloud. This may be the route you take if you own a private data center and have dedicated staffing resources. Or, you can build a hardware-based solution from the ground up with dedicated servers, which is a more traditional approach.
Live sports streaming is shaping the industry
Sports fans want to watch high-quality live sports on every screen. But research shows that rights owners, and in particular sports federations, need to transform their business model if they want to see growth and meet the demand.
One way to increase fan engagement and drive revenue is to launch a global sports streaming channel. According to recent studies, 65% of sports fans don’t live near their favorite team. Being able to deliver high-demand streaming sports to viewers worldwide can be your next big opportunity, especially when reaching audiences that otherwise would never be able to watch your content.
Personalizing live sports services is also a great way to get attention from a worldwide audience. Beyond delivering personalized content, you can make the live sports streaming experience more interactive by offering unique features:
- Viewer leaderboards
- In-app merchandise purchases
- Live stats
- Targeted ads
- Multiple views/camera angles during the game
Social media and gamification can also be used to boost fan interactivity. In the future, eSports, a form of sports competition using video games, is also expected to have a significant impact on the live sports streaming market. Empress Intelligence has its 24/7 esports channel, ESR, on the streaming platform STIRR. The platform now includes esports content, such as tournaments, live events, match highlights, docuseries, reality shows, and talk shows.