Advances in live streaming have paved the way for the sports industry to reach more fans, wherever they are in the world. As the demand for more live sports content grows, service providers, media companies, and sports federations are competing for eyeballs and looking for ways to differentiate their sports TV services with more relevant content.
The Importance of User Experience for Live Sports
We’re seeing a shift in consumer expectations for live sports as streaming subscriptions rise. Recent data points to qualify as being the most important factor for live streaming.
Delivering a personalized and immersive experience for live sports drives a higher level of engagement with content. It can create a sense of emotional satisfaction through optimal sight, sound, and relatable content.
User experience is now essential, and live sports are a competitive playing ground. What can broadcasters and content rights owners do to ensure that viewers and fans are getting the high-quality experience they've come to expect for live sports TV? The answer is personalization.
Regionalized TV Channels Are the First Step to Full Content Personalization
We are officially at the start of an era where content is no longer king, instead, user experience has taken the crown. With a greater capacity to gather data on subscriber and viewer preferences, streaming services can better predict viewers' behaviors and tailor content to meet viewer expectations.
The challenge for content rights owners and broadcasters currently delivering traditional live sports TV services is straightforward: how to increase viewer engagement and monetization opportunities using the same personalization techniques we see in the streaming space.
To achieve greater engagement, the traditional live sports experiences on TV needs to connect with viewers in ways that are customized to how viewers like to follow and experience sports content. One way to deliver a personalized live sports experience without having to go so far as to fully personalize content per user is the regionalization of your TV channel.
How Bally Sports Regionalizes TV Channels Using Channel Variants
What Are Channel Variants?
Channel variants are individualized linear channels segmented from a primary linear feed. Although the linear feed was maybe originally intended for a broad coverage area, channel variants make it possible to insert localized content into each different stream created from the linear feed, to give it a regional feel. Each variant can then target specific regions or groups of viewers.
Take for example Bally Sports, a renowned content provider in North America that aggregates professional sports content from multiple national and collegiate leagues. It streams content to regional sports networks (RSNs) in about 20 states, all around the United States. The RSNs then deliver that live sports content to local subscribers.
What does this mean for the end-user? A Bally Sports viewer in San Antonio, Texas receives content that includes the local baseball team game, while a viewer in Dallas, Texas is watching a local college football team play. Bally Sports uses the same linear channel to deliver different, regional content based on each viewers' location.
Channel variants provide Bally Sports the ability to deliver localized sports content that connects with viewers more personally. Although Bally Sports is not yet delivering a fully personalized experience, per household, it is providing a regionalized experience for its premium content, with hundreds of channel variants delivered to millions of viewers every week. Regional TV channels are the first step to more advanced personalization and targeted advertising opportunities.
Leverage Existing Technologies and Capabilities to Create Channel Variants
Everything you need to create a regional sports TV channel likely already exists in your video processing and delivery system. You can combine content stitching with ad stitching capabilities to change a base channel on the fly using a manifest file for different audiences. With content stitching, content is switched to an alternate live source to enforce exclusive local broadcaster rights. Then, with ad stitching, you use the same manifest file to insert local ads based on defined profiles.
Content and ad stitching are key for channel variant creation. Content stitching is driven by SCTE 224 schedules and is able to maintain frame accuracy with SCTE-35 markers. SCTE-224 ESNI handles the schedule, the audience and viewing policies. It's designed to communicate channel schedules and sophisticated viewing practices.
Bally Sports teamed with Harmonic to use a cloud-based Server-side Ad insertion (SSAI) streaming service, powered by Harmonic’s VOS®360 live streaming cloud platform. Bally Sports uses VOS360 to create a video pipeline from live source ingest through packaging, variant creation, and ad insertion. Harmonic’s VOS API controls the entire process.
The Role of the Cloud for Regionalizing TV Channels
Every industry is undergoing a cloud transformation, and the video industry is no exception. The global cloud market spending hit $142 billion recently, and if you look closer at the impact of cloud in the video market, you’ll see that 57% of media companies are already operating in the cloud or plan to do in the near future.
Cloud-based video workflows enable operators to adapt and evolve their video business with greater agility. Cloud technology is flexible, scalable, and doesn’t require heavy infrastructure investments so you can quickly launch channels with a local feel.
The cloud can also play an important role for operators looking to personalize their services with regional content. By using a cloud streaming delivery platform, channel variants can be created cost-effectively to provide regional and customized channels.
Monetizing Regionalized TV Channels with Targeted Advertising
Providing a flawless viewer experience and maximizing revenues are important goals for many sports content providers. Whether it’s to provide geographically relevant and relatable content or create regional channels for high-profile sporting events, channel variants and SSAI for targeted advertising create more monetization opportunities.
Let's stick with the example of Bally Sports. With hundreds of channels variants that are SSAI-enabled, Bally Sports can leverage the same linear TV channel to address specific regional markets with local ads. Not only does Bally Sports streamline its video delivery operations, but it also adds value to its content for advertisers that are looking to better engage with viewers. As we mentioned earlier, personalization is key to increased viewer engagement.
SSAI, using cloud technology in particular, enables dynamic ad insertion of ad content into a continual stream, created seamlessly. Operators can leverage the same channel but multiply the advertising opportunities with regionalization and channel variants.
Handling Regional Content Distribution of Live Sports Channels
Channel variants can provide service providers a cost-effective way to handle content restrictions due to distribution rights policies, called blackouts. In the broadcast industry, a content blackout is when a specific television program is not aired, or distributed, or made available to a certain audience.
Blackout policies mainly attempt to protect local broadcasters, specifically regional sports networks, from unfair competition from other broadcasters that serve would serve regions outside of a specific market base with that same content.
With blackout policies, viewers can only watch certain broadcasts of teams within their designated market or region. Service providers blackout broadcasts of the teams that are out of the defined market's areas. This practice is also a tactic to entice viewers to purchase subscription-based out-of-market sports packages.
In some cases, blackouts are also used to drive fans to attend live games. The game is then only broadcast in that team's regional market if enough tickets are sold before gameday. A similar policy exists in the United Kingdom (UK). A general blackout is used for soccer games broadcast in the UK between 2:45 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. on Saturday game days.
Bally Sports for example is regimented by local laws to block designated content in the United States of America (USA). Since Bally Sports must ensure that games are only delivered to authorized geographical areas, channel variants provide an effective way to distribute content in compliance with blackout policies. Without adding complexity into the workflow, Bally Sports can deliver selected content based on viewing restrictions to its RSNs with ease.
Service Continuity for Live Sports Channels
When operators focus on maximizing viewer engagement, the last thing they want to worry about is a service outage. Disruptions can be detrimental to the user experience. Geographic redundancy, or geo-redundancy, is essential for video services that require the highest level of availability, like live sports.
Geo-redundancy allows operators to have a backup service running between or among diverse geographic locations. If one location becomes inoperable for any reason, another location takes over. Geo-redundancy helps to protect video distributors from potential outages based on location-related issues.
Bally Sports for example uses Harmonic’s VOS360 platform in geo-redundancy to maintain video service availability for its premium live sports content, regionalized with channel variants.
Video distributors can also leverage a multi-cloud architecture to secure their video service continuity. Using multiple public or private clouds eliminates dependency upon a single cloud provider.
A single cloud approach with resources tied to a single cloud provider has the potential to shatter any advantages of geo-redundancy if cloud processes go down. A multi-cloud approach leverages multiple cloud platforms to increase the reliability of subscriber services.
The Path to Regionalized Sports TV Channels & Content Personalization
Channel variants are being used to propel the evolution of television and streaming by delivering a more personalized experience on every screen. Viewers in the targeted regions are more likely to remain engaged thanks to personalized content and channel variants that provide regional live sports, while the primary feed delivers content for a more general audience.
Deploying channel variants to distribute regionalized content plays a key role to improve the user experience for service subscribers. Bally Sports is a great example of how to deliver regional sports content and premium live sports events daily. The cloud enables personalization and eases channel variant creation to efficiently provide local sports content with the same linear feed.
Get in touch with Harmonic for more information about harnessing the power of the cloud and content personalization to regionalize your TV channels.
Jean Macher is Business Development Director of SaaS Solutions for Harmonic where he drives the marketing effort for next-generation video solutions in the Americas. Macher joined Harmonic as part of the acquisition of Thomson Video Networks, bringing with him more than 20 years of experience in MPEG-related solutions and digital television implementation. Macher holds a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the Institut Supérieur d'Électronique in Paris.