Behind the scenes: What does it take to stream major live sports events?

Behind the scenes: What does it take to stream major live sports events?

By Georges Dabaghi, VP, Head of Sales, MEA & APAC, MediaKind November 14, 2022 | 4 min read
content, Live, Sports, Streaming

Delivering large-scale live events through streaming platforms is a considerable – if not the most daunting – task for broadcasters, service providers, and content owners to undertake. Consider the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar as an example: despite its unusual scheduling (within the usual 4-year soccer schedule), it will remain one of the world’s most-watched sporting assets. When up to 5 billion viewers watch the tournament worldwide, billions of dollars in rights fees and sponsorship deals duly follow. But with that comes a big responsibility to ensure a smooth broadcast with pristine quality – that’s a pre-requisite. As a result, fan expectations will draw even more close attention to the innovations that broadcasters use to bring the competition to life.

So, what exactly does it take to deliver streaming content for an event on this truly global scale? Part of the challenge is the varied nature of its distribution: the broadcast must maintain standards of picture quality and reliability across different networks, countries, and even continents. Consumers will judge the quality and reliability of a service by its performance with live events; there is a reputational stake at hand as well as a financial one. The pressure involved in delivering extremely valuable, premium, and much-loved content (by one of the largest audiences in broadcast history) calls for a renewed outlook on the tools and technologies working behind the scenes.

Live streaming demands quality and reliability

Delivering streaming content reliably within a limited domain is a relatively straightforward task with the technologies and broadcast knowledge available today. Yet the wider the scale of distribution, the more potential for disruption. As our CPO, Boris Felts, mentioned in his blog post a few months ago, to realize a world where live streaming can be delivered without limits and at scale, we must go back to basics. “It starts by addressing how content is produced, the way it gets delivered, through to the timing of how the content is marked up and the metadata – and then through the rest of the delivery chain.”

This is why resilience and reliability are essential for mass-streaming live events. FIFA and its broadcast partners can’t hope to rely on ‘card castle’ solutions: the stream must be flexible, robust, and adaptable to meet the huge influx of fans tuning in; particularly around peak moments such as the kick-off, the final 20 minutes or even a penalty shootout. The work that has gone into building stability in the live stream may be the deciding factor that makes it a success. Today’s media landscape demands flexible solutions that can accommodate the full range of device ecosystems, service delivery options, and business models.

Irrespective of the type of media delivery, all broadcasters need to account for the devices their content is being delivered to, to keep pace with consumer hardware. IHS has reported that 60% of TV sales in major markets are now UHD, which sets a new precedent for quality. In turn, broadcasters are transitioning to predominantly 4K UHD/HDR workflows. The World Cup is no exception, and this year marks a milestone moment in World Cup coverage, with FOX Sports planning to shoot and broadcast all games in native 4K HDR. This requires achieving greater bandwidth efficiencies to meet the complexity of delivering low latency, uncompressed UHD images and enabling the highest reach of compression efficiency, whether the endpoint is a smart TV, smartphone, or projected on a screen in a bar.

Looking ahead to the big kick-off

For broadcasters, there have been two key considerations ahead of their World Cup preparations. The first is futureproofing; streaming technology is moving quickly, which means continual refinement is needed to stay ahead of the competition. Broadcasters will have to compete on accessibility (ease of use for the consumer), versatility (how many ways they can reach the consumer), and ongoing improvements in picture quality.

The second takeaway is broadcasters must be on the lookout for new opportunities to boost fan engagement. Not long ago, catch-up and video-on-demand services became ‘make or break’ features; innovations that may be equally important are on their way, and broadcasters simply cannot afford to overlook them when they arrive. Sports rights-holders want to appeal to modern fans. This means they’re interested in building direct-to-consumer (D2C) business models to serve fans who are, broadly speaking, familiar with social networks, interactive entertainment and gaming. The end goal is to create new avenues for fan engagement while seizing new opportunities for monetization. This may start from a relatively simple model, such as paywalls around certain content features, but there is scope for much more elaborate features – such as gamification or fantasy sports.

The critical component is deciding which features to promote: the capabilities of streaming technology are only useful when they are applied strategically to serve fans. This means that rights-holders must consider the user experience to ensure successful D2C streaming. A sports match may simply be one block of content from a streaming perspective but from a fan’s perspective, the most ‘valuable’ parts of a sports match may not be distributed evenly. Big moments, such as the tail end of a match or a penalty shoot-out, should be treated as distinct from the rest of the match to reflect the viewer’s experience. This could mean enabling multiple angles to view a critical moment or offering special access to data dynamically through the match to contextualize the action; like added commentary on-demand.

Reach out to MediaKind to support the delivery of your live events

As more and more content is produced for major live sporting events, it’s important that broadcasters can bring this content back to their production facilities so that they can produce their own version of the event coverage for their audience. This is a huge challenge, and it’s why MediaKind has designed its contribution encoders and receivers to enable broadcasters to leverage the internet to introduce additional content that enriches their storytelling at a minimum cost and maximum reliability. Our contribution, distribution and edge portfolio products are widely used by production partners, international distribution service providers, and several leading rights-holders. MediaKind’s work is critical in producing and delivering live events for our customers’ audiences.

MediaKind has also invested heavily in evolving our solutions to become cloud-native, which allows, for example, the spinning up of redundant resources when needed. The agility of all-cloud workflows means automating the content flow from ingest to distribution is possible. This maximizes capacity and removes the need for more expensive long-term investments. A huge amount of effort and investment is poured into broadcasting these big live events – and MediaKind is well-equipped to enable broadcasters to succeed in doing so!

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