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The State of Live Streaming: How to Stream Events and Sports Efficiently

June 23, 2022
12-Minute Read
Vice President, Video Customer Solutions

See how media companies and video service providers that offer live streaming events create opportunities to connect with audiences worldwide, generate video business revenue, and maximize video advertising profits.

This article explores new directions the video industry is taking, thanks to cloud adoption and evolution in viewer behavior. We’ll provide examples of live event streaming and discuss the benefits of streaming live events for video businesses.

We'll also go over the important features to look at when considering streaming solutions for your live events to provide you with a clear scope of live event streaming in today’s ultra-connected world.


Overview of the live event streaming industry

The streaming market is expanding as more companies are turning to live event streaming to create new sources of revenue.

Video streaming received a supercharged boost during the COVID pandemic when a large portion of the U.S. population adopted a work-from-home strategy. As a result, video streaming has become a primary source of entertainment, and although workers are now starting to return to offices, the streaming industry continues to thrive and expand.

Growth Statistics

Cord-cutting continues to gain momentum and has accelerated over the past few years, thanks to streaming platforms that now offer the same programming that was traditionally only available on TV.

A monumental transformation of how media is consumed has begun. Younger generations are abandoning traditional cable TV subscriptions in favor of streaming platforms for news and entertainment. According to a PWC analysis, streaming subscriptions have grown to 125 million in the US alone.

Barriers separating video consumption and social media are beginning to disappear as companies take advantage of technological innovations.

Have you noticed how many social media platforms have added live video into their basic functionality? As a result, marketers are paying attention to this opportunity to reach consumers in real-time.

Strategy Analytics found that by 2024, U.S. viewers will spend more time and money on streaming video than on traditional TV. This sets the stage for streaming to become the primary type of media consumption. More specifically, live video is expected to account for over 15% of all internet traffic before the end of 2022, and the live streaming market is anticipated to reach close to $150 billion by 2026.

Advances such as 5G will likely fuel this convergence for years to come, which means the evolution of video marketing is inevitable.

Companies are recognizing this progression and preparing to take advantage of it. Investment is ramping up as brands see more comments and reactions on live streams and targeted advertising reaches maturity. Sixty-three percent of traders feel that live video marketing will be a future mainstay.

With increasing viewership and revenue numbers, it has become apparent that live event streaming is now solidly integrated into the entertainment ecosystem.


Types of live events that can be streamed

Video streaming platforms initially provided pre-recorded on-demand content when they first spawned, but many now offer live TV. In addition, live video streaming through social media outlets is gaining momentum. Today, live video streaming can encompass anything from an amateur dance tutorial to the Super Bowl.

Recent data from a survey by Parks Associates found that 43 percent of U.S. internet households have “live streamed online content.” Of those users, 61 percent have streamed a live sporting event.

Although sporting events are currently the dominant attraction for live event streaming, here are examples of various types of live streams:

  • Enterprise - João Fernandes, Founder, and CEO of DocDigitizer, conducted a live stream for a series called “RPA Master Stories” (Robotic Process Automation) in May 2022.
  • Festivals – Hulu announced plans to stream the Austin City Limits festival in 2022. Performances will be live streamed for HULU SVOD customers. Also, extra behind-the-scenes footage is being planned.
  • Galas – The Metropolitan Museum of Art live streamed their Met Gala 2022 fashion show and made it available through the Vogue and Teen Vogue websites.
  • Awards Shows – The 2022 Billboard Music Awards were live streamed to valid cable customers or subscribers to over-the-top streaming services offered by NBC.
  • Sports – NFL’s Sunday Night Football hit a record audience of 843,000 viewers across streaming platforms in 2021.
  • Niche Sports – Allied Esports Entertainment produced an UNO Championship Series Invitational Tournament live stream in November 2021. The tournament was streamed from HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas to worldwide viewers on UNO’s TikTok channel.
  • Others Unknown Today & The Metaverse – The Metaverse has an opportunity to elevate live streaming in a way that is not currently available. Augmented reality (AR) can potentially provide live streaming with a feeling of “being there.” For example, musical artists could perform at a hybrid event that combines physical performance and online participation. True hybrid events occur when audiences feel connected to the artist beyond just watching video. Participants can perceive an experience similar to interacting with a live performance.


Examples of live streaming sports

At the forefront of live streaming, sporting events garner maximum potential for record viewership numbers.

Live soccer streaming service & expansion to video on demand (VoD):

Indonesian sports provider SuperSoccer TV partnered with Harmonic to stream live soccer matches and a short-term catch-up service for subscribers with Harmonic’s VOS®360 software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform.

Harmonic set up the initial service for SuperSoccer within eight hours of the first live event. The following weekend, SuperSoccer used the VOS360 media to produce and stream ten live soccer matches successfully.

Now, SuperSoccer TV streams an average of 560 hours of live streams per month. The VOS360 cloud service was the best solution to handle this project’s quick launch schedule and complex streaming requirements.

Using the VOS360 media, SuperSoccer created a subscription service that extends on-demand content to include live coverage. The VOS360 media also makes games available for seven days as catch-up TV, opening further potential revenue for the operator.


Pristine video quality for streaming live sports at scale:

In another illustration of innovation for live sports streaming, Harmonic installed UHD HDR and 8K technology during a tennis tournament in France. Working with partners, Harmonic delivered the first-ever live 8K premium sports broadcast on a 5G network.


Live sports streaming & regionalization with channel variants:

Harmonic also specializes in deploying channel variants. You can use channel variants to offer local and regionalized sports for targeted demographic groups. As a result, you can create new revenue opportunities with little or no additional investment.

Harmonic's channel variant innovation has been a boon for Bally Sports. The company has been able to aggregate content from multiple professional and collegiate leagues and stream it to regional sports networks (RSNs) in about 20 US states. These RSNs then deliver live sports content to local subscribers. 

Bally Sports teamed with Harmonic to use a cloud-based Server-side Ad insertion (SSAI) streaming service powered by Harmonic’s VOS360 Media SaaS. VOS360 is used to create a video pipeline from live source ingest through packaging, channel variant creation, and ad insertion. Harmonic’s VOS API controls the entire process.


Olympic-grade live video delivery to worldwide audiences:

A crowning representation of Harmonic’s agility came when NBC Sports chose their software-based Edge solution to deliver live 4K HDR Olympic coverage with immersive audio to local stations. The Harmonic-enabled broadcast distribution at scale in UHD HDR spanned the entire duration of Beijing’s XXIV Olympic Winter Games.

Harmonic’s XOS Advanced Media Processor was deployed with one customer to streamline all Olympic feeds from Beijing. The XOS powered live 4K HDR broadcasts while ensuring the highest possible quality for HDR audiences. In addition, automated switches enabled seamless transitions between Olympic UHD HDR coverage and local HD news reporting.


What are the Major Challenges for Live Event Streaming?

When it comes to delivering live events, some challenges need to be addressed to provide a successful streaming solution.


Competition for viewership across multiple platforms and devices

Competition is fierce in the live streaming market as numerous players seek to gain more audience attention. To stay ahead of the curve, you’ll want proven solutions for potential pitfalls such as scalability issues during periods of peak demand, latency problems, and inadequate streaming quality for all devices. You’ll want to avoid these traps ahead of time while minimizing costs.

Challenges don’t end with avoiding service troubles. Companies are trying to stand out by differentiating their offerings and reaching global audiences to stay relevant.

In terms of live streaming, entertainment events with immediate appeal, such as awards programs and sporting events, are now live-streamed on OTT platforms in addition to traditional TV distribution.

Sports leagues such as the NFL, NHL, and Southeastern Conference (collegiate athletics) are suddenly seeing massive revenue increases from recently completed content rights agreements. When it comes to streaming, competition within and among new platforms is ferocious.

One recent, monumental deal has already shaken up the industry. Amazon has made an unprecedented licensing contract with the NFL to exclusively carry “Thursday Night Football” games through Amazon Prime video service beginning in 2022.


Handling Rights Requirements for Live Event Streaming

Blackouts are the side effect of complex domestic and international licensing contracts among streamers, sports leagues, program producers, television networks, film distributors, and content owners.

With the VOS360 Media SaaS, it’s much easier to manage the complexity of blackout rules and to replace the blacked-out game with other content that is also live, but maybe coming from a different region.

What does this mean for the end-user? A Bally Sports viewer in San Antonio, Texas receives content that includes a local baseball game, while a viewer in Dallas, Texas watches local college football teams play.


Bandwidth and the impacts of video quality on delivery, storage, and costs

Finding ways to reduce bandwidth while maintaining video quality is essential for keeping costs down.

One option to ensure high video quality with low bit rates is using content aware encoding (CAE). Harmonic’s software-based PURE Compression EngineTM integrates its award-winning EyeQTM solution with the CAE functionality to result in up to 50% reduction in bandwidth requirements, even during peak usage. With EyeQ and CAE, operators can leverage AI to deliver enhanced video quality without increasing operational costs.


Resiliency & Scaling

Scaling streaming services for high volumes of consumers on the fly is also one of the biggest challenges the industry faces.

The cloud has proven to be incredibly robust for live streaming, thanks to cloud-neutral solutions that can run on any of the major cloud platforms, simultaneously.

The cloud also unlocks the power of geo-redundancy, so no matter the size of the event, your service is always up and running.

SportsMax, a leading sports channel in the Caribbean, uses Harmonic's VOS360 SaaS to deliver premium sports events worldwide.

Harmonic’s VOS360 provides an end-to-end solution for media processing and delivery with real-time CDN path selection and with high availability.

Thanks to the VOS360 Media SaaS, SportsMax can dynamically scale channel lineups based on sports schedules such as La Liga, NBA, Caribbean Premier League, Women's Tennis Association, and the English Premier League while providing exceptional quality of experience (QoE) to fluctuating numbers of viewers.


Current live event streaming context & were the live events streaming industry is going

In today’s ultra-connected world, the live events streaming industry is advancing on some of the following key aspects that impact the viewing experience:

  1. User Experience
  2. Engagement & Interactivity
  3. Personalization & Advertising

User Experience

An integral element of video streaming that will always be used as a benchmark to measure industry success is the viewer’s experience. Every content distributor's goal is to meet viewer expectations and provide a personalized experience.


Ensuring High Video Quality While Keeping Delivery & Storage Costs Low

Most viewers still believe quality is one of the most important aspects of live streaming. Video quality and perceived QoE must remain high to deliver an immersive experience for viewers.

During live sports, content providers aim to preserve video quality from contribution sources all the way to the consumer to deliver an immersive stadium-like experience for viewers watching on any type of screen.


Multiple Language Options for Global Audiences

Advances in live streaming enable a global reach. As the demand for live sports and live events streaming grows, service providers, media companies, and sports federations are looking for simple ways to deliver their content to a larger, global audience base. Features like subtitles can open the door to a whole new world of business opportunities.

Sports is not the only sector looking to expand to worldwide audiences. Your live and on-demand content could become a potential revenue generator for global viewers looking for more diverse content or even large communities of ex-pats that want to watch TV shows that they would typically only be able to watch from their home country of origin.


Engagement & Interactivity

Social Sharing & Watching

During the height of the COVID pandemic, a shift in how we watch video emerged. With the help of social media, viewers now watch sports, favorite shows, and movies together, but in different locations. Dubbed “Watch Together,” this developing experience allows you to watch events with friends and family, get their reactions, and comment in real-time, no matter where you are.


Advanced interactive features

Integrating interactivity into the video experience is also a rapidly growing trend. Many service providers are implementing more interactive experiences into live sports content with score alerts, simultaneous game action, multi-views of the same game, and real-time stats to provide viewers with a more engaging and enriched experience.


Personalization & Advertising


Regionalized TV channels are becoming more common and bring viewers closer to full-content personalization.

Video service providers can now deliver different, regionalized content over the same stream with channel variants. Channel variants are individualized linear channels segmented from a primary linear feed.

Harmonic is paving the way for service providers to propel the evolution of television and streaming with more personalized sports and live event experiences on screen. The VOS360 media currently powers over 2,500 events per month for some of the major sports content providers worldwide.


Ad Tech Acceleration & Monetization

Advertising has always been an essential business component in the video industry and a reliable source of monetization. Global TV advertising is expected to reach $159 billion in 2022 and the evolution in advertising technology is helping to accelerate new trends in content monetization.

Programmatic advertising is one example. Programmatic advertising automates buying and selling of ads. It can completely replace traditional negotiation, interaction, and scheduling of ads in your channel lineup. Programmatic ads use metadata to collect and assess information about program content and consumers to determine the most appropriate and effective ads to be automatically scheduled.

Combined with Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI), which leverages server-side ad insertion (SSAI), programmatic advertising can allow advertisers greater operational agility. It can also impact user experience, since viewers now prefer more personalized content. Those positive viewing experiences lead to better engagement with ads.

Harmonic’s VOS360 media integrates advanced targeted advertising and content personalization capabilities. This combination can enhance your content monetization, and even accelerate your service launch by using a single platform for video processing, delivery, and ad insertion. This simplifies operations and provides more straightforward support from a single partner.


What is enabling the growth of live event streaming?

Cloud Momentum

The cloud has emerged as a resilient infrastructure for streaming and we are seeing adoption of cloud-based video solutions accelerate.

As video streaming popularity surges forward, the cloud is enabling service providers with the capacity, agility, and flexibility to handle substantial traffic fluctuations. This makes cloud services a natural fit for video streaming, and with a cloud infrastructure, you have little to no upfront investment.

The cloud has also proven incredibly robust for streaming – not just for prerecorded on-demand content but also for premier live sporting events with massive viewing audiences. The success of the high-profile live-streamed events, such as the Super Bowl, demonstrates this reliability.


Ensuring resiliency at scale

Cloud infrastructures have already become a dependable architecture for video streaming that increases efficiencies and enables a scalable delivery system. Streaming companies have found that cloud adoption offers the most efficient solution for resiliency and scaling.

With the cloud, you can stream indeterminant numbers of personalized live events to spiraling numbers of viewers without preplanned preparation. If viewership suddenly spikes, you can readily adapt with the help of cloud-native solutions.

Harmonic’s VOS360 media offers resiliency and scalability for global sports service providers such as Peacock, Bally’s Regional Sports Network, GolTV. The platform runs these services simultaneously to allow live events steaming to millions of concurrent viewers.


More Agile & Dynamic Approaches for Video Quality Management

Balancing video quality with bandwidth allocations can seem like a challenging task. Video quality suffers if we simply curtail the resolution. Instead, we can keep the highest quality and reduce congestion during heavily trafficked video demands.

Harmonic’s powerful EyeQ solution leverages AI-based algorithms that adapt to the human visual system (HVS). In addition, EyeQ delivers bandwidth savings using a standard AVC codec with no need for client device upgrades. The technology has been found to improve the viewing experience thanks to buffering reductions while at the same time lowering overall CDN and storage costs.


Live Event Streaming Requirements: Key considerations for Streaming Live Events and Sports

Optimizing workflows and simplifying operations

Along with QoE, workflow performance should be taken into consideration. Migrating to a SaaS model for live event streaming frees content service providers from infrastructure oversight as they explore ways to increase their agility and operational efficiencies to streamline workflows.


Ensuring high availability for premium content

Previous concerns about the high availability of premium content are now unwarranted when it comes to using the cloud for live event streaming. Recent high-profile events, such as the XXIV Beijing Winter Olympic games, have demonstrated successful cloud workflow reliability.

In addition, with advances in service recovery, cloud-based solutions offer the same level of high availability as traditional hardware solutions. Cloud recovery solutions for service continuity permit you to duplicate all your services in the cloud instantly and as often as needed. It’s a cost-effective, scalable, and resilient solution.

Resiliency is key to success, and although the cloud has many benefits, one major advantage is multi-cloud redundancy. A multi-cloud approach allows you to secure services with multiple cloud providers instead of relying on a single vendor. This results in an ultimate power to ensure the highest availability for your services, non-stop and worldwide.


Maximizing advertising & personalization

When consumers can relate to the ads they are receiving, it helps create a sense of personalization which boosts viewer engagement. Engagement tends to increase when an ad best matches a relevant theme at the right time.

It has become essential to differentiate your service offerings to attract subscribers. Personalized content, including advertisements, can help you provide that customized feel.

The cloud offers the agility needed to scale ad insertion workflows. A cloud-based DAI solution with manifest manipulation lets you create custom manifests per user in real-time.

If you want to take advantage of targeted advertising to increase personalization, Harmonic can help you deliver premium live event streaming services with powerful DAI solution using the VOS360 Media SaaS.


Solutions for Live Event Streaming

Live event streaming continues to increase, with one industry report expecting global video streaming revenues to reach $100 billion by 2025.

An even greater volume of live event streaming services and viewer adoption is predicted when future technologies expand into the metaverse. Live event streaming combined with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is right around the corner.

There are indications that these services will acquire critical mass: global shipments of extended reality devices are projected to grow from 11 million in 2021 to more than 71 million, including about 40 million standalone VR devices, by the end of 2025, according to CCS Insight.

If you’re looking to take advantage of this rapidly growing industry segment, offering your viewers an outstanding live video streaming experience is a must. To provide a premium experience, you need a perfect combination of cost-efficient cloud-based media processing services and exceptional video quality that scales.

Harmonic, the worldwide leader in virtualized cable access and video delivery solutions, enables media companies and service providers to deliver ultra-high-quality video streaming and broadcast services to consumers globally.

At Harmonic, we continue our innovation efforts to address video quality, compression, and delivery issues. Our VOS Media Software and end-to-end solutions also leverage a reliable partner ecosystem to meet the world's changing demands for video delivery. Ultimately, we can help you keep your services up, running, and optimized at all times. Contact us for information about optimizing your video delivery with award-winning video quality.


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