UX Evolution in Live Sports Streams

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On a panel at the recent NAB NY show titled "Game Changers - UX Evolution in Live Sports Streams," Rick Allen from ViewLift, Scott Morris from Agilis Quantum, and Lawrence Chan of LiveLike discussed the state of UI and UX for live sports and engagement. They focused on the importance of low latency and reliability in streaming services, the need for high-quality streams, dynamic content, personalised experiences, and the use of VR applications. 

The 2023 Table Stakes for Live Sports Streaming

Allen began the talk by asking Morris, "As you think about a streaming service in the sports area, what are the table stakes? What do people have to bring in terms of UI and UX to satisfy fans based on current expectations?"

Morris emphasised latency as a crucial issue for creating a seamless sports streaming user experience, ideally down to five or six seconds. "That will help a lot with the real-time interactivity," he said. "Those are really the table stakes you need to have."

Chan said engaging content is another essential - people need a reason to watch a game on a specific platform. "Why am I going to this platform? Why am I choosing one platform over the other?" he said. "It ultimately comes down to which game am I watching, which show am I watching? All the things that Scott has brought up are relevant, too. You want the app to be fast-loading, you want the uptime to be right, and you want it to be consistent. But when we're talking about table stakes, we're in 2023 now, and that is the expectation."

He also said that interactivity and direct engagement with fans on the platform are essential. "When we are watching a game, we're now choosing to find our niche who we want to affiliate with. And based on that, the content provider or the platform can then find ways to accentuate that niche. I'm a US soccer fan, how do I then bring up my fandom in US soccer and help me find my community better that way? Right now, we're just watching the game, and then we're just finding our community on Twitter, iMessage, etc. And so there is a lot more that should become table stakes."

Improving Engagement on Single and Multiple Screens

Morris said, "A lot of times you'll have people my age, they'll do the dual screen, and they'll have this lean back, and then they'll be doing stuff on their phone or their computer. But [for younger viewers] like my son, they're much more engaged. My son probably only watches two football games ever on the television, whereas he watches every game on his phone all the time."

Chan addressed the issue of improving engagement for all viewers. "When we created the audience engagement platform that now helps power the likes of Yes Network, as an example, we thought about it as a combined single-screen experience," in the sense of finding ways to make engagement across multiple devices seamless enough that it seems to resemble a single-screen interaction. "Everyone is on multiple devices," he said. "How do we get more screen time across the devices?" He discussed the ways that LiveLike works with multiple platforms. LiveLike does not have its own app, but he said, "We are an audience engagement platform that sits embedded in other audience engagement platforms."

This allows audiences to interact with live sports streams in many dynamic ways. "Even if you're watching the Yankees game on TV, you can still return to the app and interact with the pick-and-play module, for example. So that's the value that we're trying to drive is providing more areas for users to come back to the experience and then stay on the experience longer. The means of how we do it would come from prediction games, trivia games, community-driven experiences such as comment boards, public chat, and influencer chat, and then giving the users the reason why, which is, 'Here's your points, your badges,' you're getting a sense of earning and a sense of loyalty that I think we are all accustomed to, whether it's at Starbucks or Marriott and rewarding fans for just coming back to the experience and taking part."

Building Community Engagement

Allen spoke of the importance of encouraging community engagement in sports that resembles in-person gatherings and capitalises on that energy and enthusiasm. "Community is incredibly important," he said. "If you think about a European soccer team, for the most part, they [are] very interested in locals, their country, television rights, and then in the stadium. In my experience here in New York, I noticed there are probably five or six Manchester United bars. Each one is a local community hub. There's a gap in identifying fans at that hub and Manchester United. They're not capturing that. They're not giving the fans any reason to sign up for anything that captures that, either. This is where if Manchester United came out with a community hub experience that gave fans a way to connect with each other on a local level, but also through a global level, giving them a place to voice their support, that then loops in all the things that they would otherwise want, which would be sponsor activations, more eyeballs, but that's because they created this place for them to show their colors as a United fan and raise their virtual scarves. That would become very powerful."

What's Needed for VR in Sports to Succeed

The panel discussed the emerging importance of VR in the live-streaming sports experience. Morris discussed the current challenges of regularly incorporating VR tech into the sports viewing experience. He said that, above all, the VR presentation and experience must be adequately compelling and unique to encourage viewers to wear a headset or use other tech they may not be accustomed to. "If it's just what I would've otherwise watched on television, it would not be worthwhile," he said. "I think television is pretty perfected as a medium. That said, when we did the French Open in VR, we had cameras at essentially ballboy level right on the court. I did not realize how physical tennis was and how high the players had to get to hit a top spin return. Imagine that thing coming into you at 130-plus miles an hour. So somewhere in the technology, we need to give you that experience to show something not captured by television. That's where I think it starts to become interesting."

Allen also brought up several possible applications for VR in sports. In auto racing, "You can be inside the car, and you can see all these things." With football, "You can be inside the quarterback's helmet, you can see it all playing out in front of them." And in golf, "You can be green side and watch them putt and see if you can make the shot. There are ways that become really interesting with VR that allow that to happen, but it will be a limited audience unless you get some unique experiences or the headsets get smaller, and it's easier to interact with people in real life and all those other fun things."

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