S06E06: Game of Streams (Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.)
Our Media Solution Specialist, Magnus Svensson, is sharing his reflections on the online streaming industry in this post. This is part of a monthly series so make sure to follow us here if you do not want to miss an episode.
Just the last weeks we have been reading about streaming services taking over more and more sports rights. The latest example where Apple and Major League Soccer (MLS) announced that the Apple TV app will be the exclusive destination to watch every single live MLS match beginning in 2023. And this is most likely not the last sports deal that will be made by Apple, Amazon, or any of the other streaming giants.
We are getting close to the real tipping point for the traditional TV packages, as sports has been the final reason to keep the cable subscription. When sports can be found elsewhere, even exclusively, the cord-cutting will accelerate which will in turn make the business case for the remaining channels even worse.
However, moving to streaming will not solve the decline in interest observed for many of the traditional sports, and it will also introduce some new. With live streaming comes challenges as scalability, reliability, latency as well as piracy. As a streaming provider you need to build a platform that can scale with large events where most viewers start watching at the same time. And you do not get a second chance to deliver a quality experience for a live sports event.
Latency suited for your needs
Latency in streaming is a topic that has been discussed for many years. The situation is getting better for many services, but we can still see 30 seconds and up to a minute in latency in some cases. Compared to traditional distribution, which normally are 7–8 seconds behind, this could be seen as unacceptable and create problems for some events.
But very few viewers and subscribers are prepared to pay extra to get lower latency. So, any improvements in this area must be handled as part of the normal budget. This means that you carefully need to assess your latency needs, not all use cases and event have the same needs. All improvements of latency will come with some cost and limitations.
Reaching latency on par with traditional distribution can be done tuning the standard adaptive bitrate settings with smaller segment sizes and reduced buffers. Reducing the buffer further, around 2–3 seconds, will require the low latency variants of the adaptive bitrate protocols. For interactivity and real-time betting, you would need to use for example WebRTC.
Sports streaming more engaging
Still, the biggest challenge for sports and sports streaming is to attract the younger audience. Up until now, sports streaming has been a mimic of sports broadcast. Apart from price, access, and delivery technology the experience watching a sports event is the same. And if this does not change, how would the declining trend in viewership improve?
A decline in viewership that not only hurt the subscription and advertising, but also the growth in the sports itself. Compare this to TikTok, that is one alterative that attracts eyeballs. TikTok has 1 billion monthly users, users that spend nearly 90 minutes a day on the app. It is a direct competitor for sports eyeballs, more engaging and addictive.
Sports and sports streaming must adapt and make themselves more engaging. This includes being more accessible outside of the games and event, being more personal. Live games must be complemented with behind-the-scenes access. Getting to know the stars and athletes outside of the games. Possibilities to interact with the athletes as well as between the viewers.
The viewing experience must be personalized. Some viewers like the lean-back viewing experience, others would like a more personalized experience. It could be camera angles, different commentators, and possibilities for interaction.
“Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.”, Michael Jordan.
To watch out for the coming months…
NFL Sunday Night Ticket football rights will be decided very soon. Disney, Apple, and Amazon have submitted bids and are waiting to find out who wins. Regardless of the outcome, it will likely mean that streaming will take additional steps into sports. The NFL Sunday Night Ticket rights are expected to go for between $2–3 billion a season.
Magnus Svensson is a Media Solution Specialist and partner at Eyevinn Technology. Eyevinn Technology is the leading independent consulting company specializing in video technology and media distribution.