Changing the Game: Will OTT Smash the Sports Content Arena?

Tennis fans who can’t make it to London this summer will undoubtedly be following all the Wimbledon action on the BBC. This historic relationship celebrates its 90th year in 2017, and epitomises the traditionally close—and traditionally successful—ties between linear television and live sport. The 2016 men’s singles final drew 13.3 million viewers winning a 69 percent peak audience share, and this success, combined with the legacy of live sports "on the box," resulted in the BBC renewing its host broadcaster contract with the All England Lawn Tennis Club until 2024.

However, viewing habits have changed in recent years and OTT streaming and catch-up content are increasingly favoured over traditional linear TV. The sheer volume of short-form content available online has in the past decade been expanded by premium, cinematic, long-form programming which debuts online, tempting viewers in droves towards OTT services.

This is due, in part, to the availability of cheap subscription-based services and low-cost mobile data packages. According to Ericsson’s Consumer Lab Report 2016 the average consumer watches 4 more hours of mobile content than 4 years ago, while time spent watching traditional TV has dropped by 2.5 hours per week. Even the BBC has seen a change in content consumption behaviour, with many people choosing to catch up on sporting events, like Wimbledon, through its iPlayer. Evidently there’s a change in the competition ahead, and traditional broadcasters need to alter their tactics to stay top of the scoreboard.

The Impact of Streaming

Sport has, until relatively recently, felt less of an impact from the switch to streaming. Sports rights holders have traditionally positioned themselves as B2B businesses, signing revenue-driving deals with broadcasters that locked live sports to a particular network. The NFL alone scored $39 million for a nine-year deal with four networks, due to expire in 2024. Yet even sport, that stalwart of linear viewing, is not immune to today’s TV consumption habits.

Social media is now the go-to platform for many, providing the first port of call for communication, news, and, increasingly, content. It came as little surprise then when the news broke last month that Twitter had signed a direct deal with the All England Club to live stream Wimbledon highlights. This follows the success of Twitter’s streaming agreement with ESPN to broadcast the championship’s top tennis moments in 2016.

Twitter is not the only social media giant to muscle into the sports broadcast arena: Spanish football fans can now live stream La Liga football matches via Facebook, thanks to a partnership announced in February. Whilst TV networks were once dominant in sports broadcasts, technology companies—thanks to their healthy user figures and loyal followings—are rapidly entering the field, and are spending big bucks on sport.

Amazon, for instance, reportedly paid $10 million to live stream 10 NFL Thursday Night Football games. A significant investment, perhaps, but small fry when the ecommerce giant is reaping back $2.8 million for 10- to 30-second ad spaces.

A Change in Strategy

So, should traditional broadcasters retire from play and concede to a game, set, match for OTT sports streaming? No, but there’s a caveat—traditional broadcasters cannot continue with a traditional approach to sports content. Instead, they must adopt a new strategy and use an OTT platform that can deliver on the expectations and demands of today’s viewer. This means personalisation, intelligent recommendations, and fresh approaches to UX and content discovery.

The traditional approach to sports broadcast encompasses a single feed and single narrative commentary. The viewer may be able to view multiple angles of a live sports event, but these are carefully controlled and delivered by the broadcaster. After all, the internet has vastly expanded viewers’ choice of content and service provider, meaning the modern consumer no longer expects or will accept a generic, linear, one-size-fits-all viewing experience.

Live sports broadcast is the perfect field to deliver on these expectations, and with the right OTT platform this is easily achievable for any broadcaster. Delivering content via a single feed means only a tiny proportion of content is made available to the viewer. A platform which allows a viewer to browse and access multiple feeds will wring the maximum value out of the content—for both viewer and in terms of ROI for the broadcaster.

An agile OTT platform can serve up various feeds, including point-of-view camera angles, dedicated coverage of a particular player from a given country, interviews with sports personalities and a range of commentaries, and localised events for different regions, while offering both live and catch-up content. This puts the viewers in the driving seat, allowing them to create their own personalised viewing schedule to suit their preferences.

Curation and Content Discovery

This revamped approach to broadcast aligns with the current trend of content consumption more widely. Due to the overwhelming amount of content available online, many consumers are now turning to delivery platforms that can tailor the content experience. Many have swapped the traditional newspaper, for example, for a personalised news feed, whilst music apps have long allowed fans to create their own playlists rather than have them curated into albums by rights holders. To succeed in a competitive arena, it’s time for broadcasters to up their game.

However, with any change comes risk, and as such broadcasters should tread carefully and assume a managed, considered approach to any new or updated content service. Providing multiple feeds of a sports event can be overwhelming to a viewer, who may spend more time navigating an OTT service for suitable content than actually enjoying it. According to a recent study, Netflix viewers in the US spend an average of 17.8 minutes searching for content before finding something to watch; almost equal to the length of an entire sitcom episode.

An OTT platform, therefore, needs to allow a broadcaster to be creative with content and offer more choice to the viewer, but also to present this in a way that is easily navigated by the end-user. Content should be carefully curated at the back-end, with a system that allows different programmes or clips to be easily grouped and categorised (and regrouped and re-categorised to reflect changing viewer preferences, time of day, or major events). Introducing this human element to content discovery will help overcome what is a major industry challenge and a common barrier to users’ service adoption and engagement.

Video content can also be enhanced with social media feeds and editorial articles, offering viewers a service that goes beyond simply feeding them video and instead provides a more engaging, coherent, and compelling content consumption experience.

The Future of Live Sports

Wimbledon’s return to Twitter this year will no doubt strike fear into many broadcasters. With social media rumbling even the Beeb’s historic relationships and reputation for sports broadcast, as well as numerous tech corps encroaching on the genre, now is the time for change. OTT streaming offers new experiences for viewers, but it also delivers benefits and revenue-generating opportunities for content providers.

There is clearly still a significant demand for sports content, but, as with all genres, broadcasters must adapt their delivery to changing viewer demands. This will entail not only going OTT, but creating and showcasing any new or revamped service using a platform that offers greater personalisation, intelligent content discovery, and a more creative and engaging experience. For any broadcaster, the game is far from over.

[This is a contributed article from Ostmodern. Streaming Media accepts contributed articles from vendors based solely on their value to our readers.]  

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