Sports streaming 2020: Moving through the gears

September 15, 2020

By Richard Mansfield, Director Streaming & Delivery, MediaKind and David Symons, Director, EMEA Sales Engineering, MediaKind

2020 has been a challenging year for many different reasons, and live sports have proved no exception. The significant impact of the global health crisis has been felt by sports fan bases worldwide, subjected to local lockdown and shelter-in-place conditions. With many live events being subsequently postponed, leagues and championships across all sports have been impacted.

With sports and other live events temporarily off the schedule, audiences turned to Video On Demand (VOD) streaming services, leading to a significant surge in usage around the world. The global content streaming market is now expected to grow significantly this year, largely due to the impact of lockdown orders. At the height of the lockdown, streaming services added 4.6 million new subscribers in the UK alone, according to a report in the Guardian.

Thankfully, in the past few months, live sporting events have returned to our screens. Players have taken to the pitches, courses, and courts, while drivers and riders have returned to their seats and saddles. Soon, fans themselves will begin returning to stadiums – albeit in reduced numbers. This entire period has demonstrated the paramount importance of delivering quality live sports experiences, whether through the traditional TV main screen or mobile devices. And as the growth of VOD has demonstrated, one of the most effective ways of doing so is via live streaming on over-the-top (OTT) platforms, or through a content owner’s own managed TV service.

The time is now to experiment with new innovations and find alternative approaches to help overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic. Content owners, broadcasters, and operators have a unique opportunity to drive viewer engagement and boost fan relationships, helping to ensure that when a sense of normality does return, the live sporting experience continues to push the boundaries of invention.

Shifting expectations

Watching live content typically relies on specific broadcast chains leveraging high quality dedicated infrastructures (such as broadcast, cable and satellite). However, changing user behavior, faster and more reliable internet access and the desire for more flexible viewing experiences are diversifying the chain to leverage internet-based adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming as the delivery mechanism for this content. This method typically goes over the top of an operator/ISP’s network, but increasingly the operators themselves are using the same technology for their own managed TV services to end-users.

Live services that leverage internet based ABR streaming enable sports broadcasters to reach a vast number of device types both in and out of the home. They also reduce the barriers to entry, enabling new entrants to offer their own live sports offerings.

Delivering high quality streaming for sports content

Sports hold a special place in the heart of fans all over the world. Whether it’s the Tour de France, Super Bowl, Olympics or World Cup, viewing these major sporting events in the highest possible quality is absolutely vital to audiences. To ensure this high-quality live streaming experience, a number of key metrics must be applied. They include:

  • Picture quality and latency – How can OTT delivery be improved to reach broadcast-quality levels?
  • Reliability and scalability – How do you ensure that today’s streaming platforms have the necessary redundancy and reliability built in across the entire end-to-end chain?
  • Total cost of ownership ­- How do you achieve the ideal balance between absolute best picture quality and bandwidth-efficient delivery techniques
  • Stream enhancement, blackout and advertising – How do streaming services ensure blackout or substitute content is delivered when rights are not available to deliver specific content to subscribers?
  • Going beyond the main view – How can broadcasters captivate and immerse sports fans and provide unique, alternative perspectives from the event?

The opportunity and future

At a time when sports broadcasters face their greatest competition for audiences, it is essential to not only provide the best picture quality but also to marry this with bandwidth-efficient delivery techniques. My colleague Steve Payne discusses this in his recent blog, looking at how innovative technology solutions are improving workflows. The shift to digital and streaming services has seen the advancement of technology and innovation, with business models rapidly evolving as players in the market continue to jostle for position to engage their fans.

There is a real opportunity today to achieve genuine, high quality sports streaming that outperforms and delivers leading picture quality and reliability, while also controlling costs and providing personalized fan engagements. The question is – with the dearth of advanced technology available who will be ready to capitalize on this opportunity?

In MediaKind’s latest application paper ‘Sports Streaming 2020 – Moving through the gears’, we explore the challenges and opportunities in live sports streaming, the demands against content owners, broadcasters, and operators today as well as what the future might hold for the industry. We also explain why an end-to-end live sports content delivery workflow can best address the need to optimize every step within the video pipeline – from contribution, encoding, packaging, delivery and playback.

Download the application paper to find out more about our work in this segment.

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