There’s a revolution taking place in sports media, one that’s being driven by cloud-based video delivery.
While sports fans have long tuned in to broadcast games or watched scheduled highlight shows on TV, they’re increasingly streaming the action to a connected device. But such internet access is only the start. With the NBA’s League Pass, for example, viewers can pay to watch specific portions of the game, while the NFL’s Game Pass delivers dual or quad views, using selected camera angles, plus games condensed into an action-packed 30 minutes.
As one industry expert told SportsPro last year, this direct-to-consumer (DTC) approach “is the single most transformative shift in broadcasting for this generation.”
In fact, these ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) services are opening up all manner of possibilities, from live streaming and team-branded channels to coverage of niche sports (like wrestling and surfing), women’s sports and in-depth live coverage of international events. No surprise then that sports fans are rapidly turning on to these DTC offerings, and turning off conventional television, where viewing figures for live sports are generally in decline.
This swing away from linear TV to digital-first and on-demand content is also impacting the way sports organisations do business. Some are choosing to partner with online companies as well as broadcasters, or are developing their own OTT platforms to reach their audience directly. To this end, Liberty Media, the owner of Formula One, has launched its own platform – F1 TV Pro. For between $8 and $12 per month, this subscription service offers commercial-free live streams of qualifying sessions and races, along with a choice of 20 on-board cameras, plus press conferences and interviews.
After beta testing in 2018, the service is now fully live for the 2019 season and available in 64 countries. The one notable exception is the UK, where Sky Sports has exclusive rights to show F1 coverage. That said, the arrival of F1 TV Pro has seen Sky reduce the price of its F1 channel on Now TV to £150 for nine months, where last year it cost £305 for the same period.
Engaging with the fans
Like the NFL’s Game Pass or MotoGP’s VideoPass, F1 TV Pro offers a route for Formula One to promote a deeper engagement with its fans. It already has a host of deals inked in with various broadcasters, but a dedicated OTT platform provides a more direct relationship with its audience. This allows it to offer a tailored, branded service; to collect personal data; and, of course, to monetise content that Formula One has originated and owned since 2001.
In a way, OTT services enable sports organisations to have their cake and eat it. In the US, F1 TV Pro is in talks to launch on Amazon Prime, with the potential for reaching its 100 million subscribers. “We have an agreement with ESPN that allows us to exploit our own OTT service separately so we’ll definitely be on Amazon Prime,” explained head of global sponsorship and commercial Murray Barnett. “We see F1 TV as an independent revenue stream outside of the relationship with our TV partners.”
OTT: easy, cheap, convenient
From a customer perspective, OTT services are inexpensive and supremely convenient. Fans can choose the content they want to watch, when they want to watch it, and on whatever device they prefer. OTT can also deliver concurrent streams, offering a choice of viewpoints, as well as information and live data. Motorsport fans, for example, will often have a number of screens open to view multiple camera angles, as well as lap times and race statistics.
Then there’s the potential for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), providing in-stadium experiences and driven by the imminent arrival of 5G networks. “Operators have identified [live sports] events as the springboard for roll-out of a whole range of new interactive and immersive services,” said Gary Miles, CMO of services provider Amdocs. “Expect to see the first of these new services and applications rolled out in conjunction with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and soccer tournaments in Europe, among other big events in the sports calendar.”
For sports organisations, OTT provides an efficient way to engage with a fragmented fan base, no matter where they live, unconstrained by TV schedules or rights issues. By removing the middleman, it’s forcing IP holders to understand and derive value from their content. An OTT platform enables them to own and manage the entire user experience, helping to reinforce the brand while gathering valuable customer data. DTC channels are also easier to market via social media, which is often an intrinsic part of the service.
The tech giants move in
The arrival of OTT delivery has also seen many of the tech giants move to break into the live sports space. The likes of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat are all making inroads into the market, providing sporting organisations with an alternative – and potentially lucrative – new channel to their fans.
The English Premier League has been keen to attract a big-name tech company in an effort to bolster the value of its rights, and last year Amazon bought a package to exclusively stream 20 English Premier League (EPL) football games over three seasons. It’s the first time a non-pay TV broadcaster has won rights to the EPL and signals a shift in the league’s future direction.
“It was always going to be Amazon of the tech giants who made an EPL move,” said Richard Broughton, Research Director at Ampere Analysis. “Amazon is testing the water and, with all the data they collect in the three years of this deal, they’ll definitely be in a very strong position next time.”
Industry watchers say the EPL will be watching Amazon’s efforts with interest, as it mulls over launching its own OTT platform. Indeed, UEFA has already decided to launch a dedicated streaming platform this year, bringing European football to fans outside of Europe and North America.
“In my view, the Premier League has the opportunity to become a broadcaster in its own right and dwarf the revenues it currently gets,” said former Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan. “I’ve spoken about the Premier League becoming the ‘Netflix of football’, i.e., the video on demand platform that controls its own product. If you had 100 million subscribers on ‘Premier League TV’ like with Netflix at £8 a month, you’d be bringing in £10 billion a year, not £8.7 billion every three years like the current deal does.”
Clearly the arrival of DTC services is transforming the face of sports media, and while it’s not sounding the death knell for traditional TV coverage just yet, it does signal a huge shift in power.
By employing a cloud-based media management platform, such as Imagen, sports associations, federations, leagues and even individual teams can store and share collections of live and on-demand footage online themselves.
This enables content owners to realise greater value from their content, to strike better partnership deals, and ultimately to provide a better service to an engaged, tech-savvy fan base that are becoming disillusioned with traditional TV.