Will the Change in Sporting Events Promote OTT as Man of the Match?

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Despite the changes seen in OTT over the last few years, it is still regarded as broadcast’s much younger sibling. Rarely treated as its own production, OTT has simply become a byproduct of broadcast for those who cannot watch ‘traditionally’. 

Recent months have proliferated changes to the way content is consumed. And, despite lockdown measures easing across the UK, these changes aren’t expected to ground to a halt any time soon—even with some stadiums potentially reopening in October—presenting an exciting opportunity for OTT providers. 

Across a range of industries, we’ve seen a whole host of experiences turn digital or virtual. For example, many West-End theatre companies announced in June that shows will be suspended until 2021 and Glastonbury Festival urged festival-goers to make the most of its virtual entertainment programme for the first - and hopefully last - time. 

In the world of sport, announcements were made at the start of the pandemic to alert eager fans that the majority of sporting fixtures will be held behind closed doors for the foreseeable future, leaving many fans disappointed at the thought of not being able to get the ‘real’ experience for quite some time. Recent news shows that some stadiums will potentially be able to reopen this year, but with limited capacity to ensure social distancing measures can be applied, many fans will still not be able to see their favourite team play live. This marks a big turning point for the sports industry, which has historically relied on big crowds and avid supporters to create the atmosphere expected at any sporting event; whether it’s Wimbledon, Formula 1 or the Champion’s League. Where else can they go to get his experience? Enter OTT.

With more fans and viewers flocking online to get the content they’re missing out on, how can OTT rise to the challenge and give both the season ticket holders and the one-off attendees the experience they’re craving? As a result, will OTT begin to be taken more seriously? 

By learning from industries already at the top of the league, to layering camera angles, adding metadata, examining fan interactivity and asking the big revenue question, how can OTT providers put the right strategy in place to gain the upper hand? Which sports, and different industries, will provide valuable lessons for OTT to learn from as it tries to take the reigns? 

Can the Crowd Still Go Wild?

Whether it’s a racing track, football stadium or tennis club, when a fan books a ticket for live sport, they do it for the experience. Regardless of if it’s the silent crowd at Wimbledon or the football chants at a Premier League match, the incentive to buy a ticket - often at a very hefty price - is to get the experience that they couldn’t get from watching the match at home.

So how can OTT providers replicate this experience? Furthermore, with no or fewer fans in the stadiums or venues, how can the normal atmosphere be created that even the viewers at home would expect to hear?

Many football fans were shocked to hear the usual cheering and chanting when Manchester City's Raheem Sterling scored the first goal of the restarted Premier League season. Made possible by EA Sports, who provided Sky with around 13 hours of audio for a range of different scenarios, the decision has been well received by fans. 

But sounds are just one part of the equation: OTT providers also need to consider camera angles and the devices the content will be viewed on. Would-have-been match attendees will also have the opportunity to watch the match on broadcast, so how can OTT offer something different? Can they give viewers the choice of ‘moving’ between different seats to get the optimum experience, and can viewers watching a match on their mobile phone get the same perspective and experience as someone watching on a far bigger screen? 

Data is key for OTT providers; not just from a technical standpoint, but for the user experience too. OTT providers have the ability to offer viewers additional insights that broadcast simply can’t - either specific data about the past performance of each player on aspects such as goals scored, quickest lap times, best serve, or even integrating with the world of betting and showing odds on each player or team with a data overlay. 

Data is everywhere, and displaying this level of insight will only make viewers hungry for more content, leaving them feeling like they are getting more than an ‘average’ experience.  

Learning From the Heavyweights 

Using technology as an advantage is one way that OTT providers can storm ahead, but the issue of revenue still remains. How can OTT providers make money in the same way that broadcasters are able to?  

The fact is that this situation will not go away anytime soon. Even with stadiums potentially reopening in some capacity in October this year, there is still a waiting audience for OTT providers to capture with their content and bridge the revenue gap. By exploring ticketing options, advertising and sponsorships, OTT providers can step up to the podium and monetise their service. 

After all, we’ve seen boxing execute this successfully. Regardless of the price, boxing fans will pay a high price to watch a match online; the higher profile the boxers are, the higher the price. It’s all about the exclusivity and the ‘hype’ that is created. If viewers know they can only get that experience from a specific provider, and they truly want to be part of it, they will be willing to pay the associated price. In turn, the bigger the audience and the following of the event, the more likely that sponsorship opportunities will start appearing, adding another layer of monetisation.  

OTT streaming service DAZN is one successful example of this, with the launch expected in coming weeks. The global OTT service will showcase DAZN’s international rights to various fightcards through tie-ups with Golden Boy Promotions, Matchroom Boxing USA and GGG Promotions. DAZN will be able to support the live boxing content with archive fight programming, athlete features and original programming too, using this content to further engage and entice viewers.

Furthermore, success has also recently been seen in New Zealand with subscription-based streaming service Spark Sport, which has secured an exclusive broadcast rights deal covering the English national cricket teams’ home internationals for the next four years. This all shows that monetising OTT services can be done, but with Pay-TV broadcasters fighting hard to keep the rights for sports, it makes it difficult for streaming-only platforms to compete. Typically, broadacast rights have the most value in the home-market only, presenting a large opportunity for OTT providers in other markets, if they can be sure the demand is there.  

Climbing the Leagues 

Content is king, and in the race for OTT providers to gain their share of eager sports fans, this certainly rings true. OTT providers have an opportunity to provide a content-rich experience with behind the scenes footage, exclusive interviews, data overlays and a whole library of additional content to complement the viewing experience.  

Almost 5 million British households have signed up to streaming services since the coronavirus lockdown began in March, paving the way for significant changes in content consumption. OTT providers have been given a chance to step up and stand in the spotlight, so now is the time for data and technology to work together so that OTT can win Man of the Match. 

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