OTT, the Rising Star for Cable Television Companies and Local Sports Leagues

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The broadcasting domain is being transformed by over-the-top technologies, and the sports broadcast doesn’t stand aside. OTT video streaming technologies have influenced traditional sportscasts and viewing experiences. Sports fans have taken the innovation at its worth, which led to the growing demand for sports content easily accessible through OTT. With the changing habits of consumers, more fans are opting to watch sports on mobile devices, while on the go, or in front of TVs through OTT platforms. On the one hand, this has increased market competition, making cable TV operators adapt to the changing dynamics and ongoing demand by moving their infrastructure from cable TV to OTT. On the other hand, OTT platforms may be an opportunity to reach a larger community of fans for minor sports leagues.

Why cable TV is no longer enough for sports fans

Before the appearance of OTT, broadcasters had a limited number of broadcasting means, including radio, on-air, and cable television. OTT expanded them by allowing broadcasters to add TV channels to the over-the-top environment. Still, sports fans, especially those watching live events on cable television, were dependent on the broadcasters’ schedules. So, if you were a fan of two leagues and their games were broadcast at the same time, you would have to choose. Soon the OTT gave cable television providers another option to engage fans. They offered on-demand sports streaming through OTT platforms, which saved them from a painful choice.

So, why should cable operators go to OTT? It’s primarily because sports fans would now prefer OTT, and the main reasons include the following:

· They tend not to be limited to cable operators, as everything they need is an internet connection to watch a live match broadcast or its recording on an OTT platform, without buying any additional hardware.

· Sports viewers often prefer mobile devices to watch the match on the go. Otherwise, they may use them as companion devices while watching matches on big screens, for example, to bet on who would win the game.

· OTT ensures a more immersive experience for sports lovers, for example, by enabling them to choose the viewing angles and enjoy behind-the-scenes moments. This personalization becomes one of the predominant reasons for watching sports on OTT.

· Users don’t have to depend on the pre-planned schedule of a traditional broadcaster. They can view sports matches at a time that is convenient to them.

· Users also don't depend on the locations, as they can watch and continue watching from anywhere and from any device.

· OTT capabilities provide wider opportunities for high-quality broadcasting driven by adaptive streaming, which is vital for sports fans watching live matches.

· Due to easier metadata management practices in the OTT environment, sports viewers are more engaged with the event. They can now enjoy the best moments with their favorite team or goals scored.

How local sport leagues can expand awareness on a national level

With the introduction of OTT, broadcasters and content aggregators obtained new streaming options to meet a growing demand for sports live streams. Aiming to satisfy more fans and engage more loyal viewers in OTT platforms, they are purchasing media rights for broadcasting the sports events of big brands such as the National Football League (NFL) or the National Basketball Association (NBA), leaving niche and minor leagues with traditional coverage options like being broadcast on local or regional TV channels.

Big sports brands see OTT streaming providers as another source of revenue because they depend on media rights purchases. Still, smaller sports competitions might not be the target of OTT content aggregators as they are not likely to bring a huge audience compared to premium ones. However, for smaller leagues, streaming services may serve as a good way to increase awareness and expand their community on a regional or national level. What might be the way out? Their own OTT platforms may be a step towards generating new fans, not limited to a certain region, and here’s why:

· There’s no limit on the number of online video apps that scale an OTT viewing experience.

· A team’s or league’s content is not rejected because of lower audience potential.

· Fully owned OTT platforms give niche leagues more control over the content schedule and monetization models.

· OTT technologies reduce broadcasting costs due to a simplified infrastructure and streaming process. For example, for live match streaming, there’s no need to apply a TV mobile unit for multiple cameras, build relay stations, or deliver television signals through satellites as streaming is now available for any device and location through the internet.

OTT platforms can also add value to the leagues’ regular training process. For example, data management best practices may be a source of valuable insights for trainers to learn from players’ errors captured by cameras and rewatch the matches to analyze the strategy and improve it in the future.

Finally, OTT platforms are not just online streaming solutions for minor leagues – they are the foundation for creating a dedicated fan community platform not to be lost on huge OTT platforms like YouTube.

What factors lie behind a successful sports content distribution strategy

Technical excellence

What technical issues are causing viewer churn? One of the most challenging things within sports streaming is ensuring high-quality broadcasts with low latency. Sports streaming is rather specific – a viewing activity is rising at certain times, e.g., during live matches. To be able to support the increasing load, sports streamers need to ensure the optimal infrastructure capacity. For example, cloud-based infrastructures provide extra flexibility to broadcasters during peak loads. They can request extra server capacity for a short period. This also saves costs as you don’t need to handle the infrastructure that isn’t permanently used.

Using the perceptual quality metric and adaptive streaming technologies can help you deliver the best quality stream, no matter what device or where your viewers are watching the game. By applying real-time performance monitoring, broadcasters can react instantly, for example, by optimizing server consumption or network routing.

Multi-screen approach

The variety of devices used by sports watchers enabled the rise of demand for OTT platforms supported by multiple devices. To build a comprehensive multi-screen strategy, it’s vital to know your sports fans’ preferences – which platforms and devices they would use to watch the sports content you stream. For example, some fans may prefer to enjoy live game broadcasts, while the brightest game moments are perceived on mobile with greater enthusiasm.

But is multi-screen coverage enough to gain the loyalty of picky sports viewers? Sure, it isn’t. And here comes a user experience: intuitive, engaging, and interactive.

Outstanding UI/UX experience

Sports fans are a very special category of viewers, and sports content aggregators and creators should deeply understand what they really need and want. It’s crucial to ensure the feeling of an immersive experience, as if they were in the field. Here are the three must-haves for sports OTT solutions:

· Multiview capabilities. The multiple camera setup is not new in sports broadcasting, but OTT has enabled broadcasters and content creators to make the most of it and given fans the freedom to choose which sports action to enjoy at the very moment. For example, viewers can observe their favorite team’s preparations before the match or follow specific team players during the game. Motorsport fans often have multiple screens open to view the race from different angles.

· Companion devices. To achieve a deeper engagement of sports fans, it’s becoming the norm to complement a sports viewing experience with multiple apps. The abovementioned motorsport fans can also open a companion screen to observe the race statistics. Football or basketball fans may vote for the best player using a mobile device during the game.

· Metadata management. A comprehensive approach to organizing the metadata of sports streams gives sports content aggregators diverse opportunities for improving a viewing experience. By adding tags to the stream, for example, you can offer fans a chance to watch the highlights of the game or the most exciting goals.

On a final note

OTT provides new avenues for the whole sports domain, while for some market players, the technology is a chance to withstand market competition or spread the word about themselves. The sports fan community is a sophisticated audience, and OTT is the technology that can satisfy their needs by providing apps for streaming on multiple devices, interactive UI/UX functionality, and high-quality streaming as if they were sitting in the front row of the sports arena.

Alexey Zaberezhniy is a Video Solutions System Analyst at Oxagile.

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