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Sports broadcasting, on-demand viewing and the future of content distribution

By: Anna Cotton

We’ve seen some dramatic changes and innovations in sports broadcasting during 2022, driven by an explosion in the number of streaming media services providing on-demand content for fans and the new technologies required to deliver them.

Changing sports media consumption habits by fans have undoubtedly been a significant contributor. Viewing times have fragmented, and a tidal wave of digital content has led to new viewing behaviours. Younger generations of sports fans often shun traditional broadcasts in favour of short-form highlights, behind-the-scenes footage and on-demand archive material. And they want this content before, during and after matches, cementing the idea that consumers can cherry-pick their entertainment and watch it when they want. 

The sports broadcast industry has been steadily introducing technology to meet these viewership changes. Think multiple and automated camera systems, all capturing a slightly different view of the action on the pitch; advanced statistics that provide insight and analysis to enhance the big game experience; and technology for greater interactivity, like augmented reality. 

Whilst these innovations have created enormous opportunities for sports federations, leagues and clubs, they have also created new challenges. Crucially, how do you quickly, safely and efficiently distribute this vast amount of content to streaming or over-the-top (OTT) channels?

The challenges of content distribution to OTT platforms

Thanks to the diversity and complexity of OTT platform requirements, multi-platform distribution is an ongoing challenge for rights holders and content producers. The need to output in different variants at pre-set data rates and resolutions can cause headaches for media managers and cause a significant bottleneck in workflows. 

In addition, adhering to the specifications of each OTT channel is time-consuming. It introduces the prospect of human error, potentially compounding costs at a crucial stage of the production process. 

Indeed, human error – or worse, bad actors – can disrupt the whole value chain, especially around leaks of confidential material. Ensuring exclusivity is a crucial part of the distribution, a fact that attackers are well aware of and keen to exploit, whether to hold the media rights owner to ransom or to resell the digital content to the highest bidder. Security and secure processes – especially in the delivery network, where data in motion is often easier to compromise rather than when securely encrypted at rest – are critical in protecting contractual obligations, partnerships and trust in the brand. 

Overall, the secret to successfully addressing distribution challenges lies in two key benefits for end users (whether consumers or business users) – speed and scalability. 

Improved technology performs a key role in enabling scalability. The central premise is to establish repeatable, near-frictionless workflows that can semi-automate the process of ingesting content, optimising it, and then transmitting it to as many (or as few) OTT platforms as needed. 

Tools such as automated workflow management enable the various parameters for each platform to be either manually set or entirely automated. This means that vital requirements such as resolution, framerate, bitrate, subtitles, metadata and aspect ratio can be tweaked seamlessly – a process that can take considerable time when done manually. This also removes much of the human error, which makes a real difference when working at speed to distribute content across multiple OTT platforms (as well as a host of other channels). 

Read our short Infographic: The 3 key challenges facing OTT content delivery.

AI and security key touchstones

Extrapolating further, the use of AI or ML automation can deliver significant benefits, especially in areas such as metadata generation. What were once bleeding-edge technologies – such as logo recognition in live feeds and facial recognition – are now practical in various scenarios and are rapidly gaining traction. These increase the possible automation and offer new monetisation opportunities and more granular control over creative content – a win-win-win by any standards. 

Last but by no means least, security must be a central concern for businesses of all types in the future. This is especially true in the world of sports, where rights management is the very lifeblood of the business. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that the basics are in place – industry-standard HTTPS browser security for all browser applications, proper encryption procedures for assets at rest and rigorous watermarking procedures. Inevitably this dovetails with proper authentication processes, such as company-wide Single Sign On, and potentially moves towards Zero-Trust environments as actively espoused by US Government organisations. 

Verified Market Research claims that the sports online live video streaming market is set to grow at 21.26% CAGR up to 2028. Establishing solid, scaleable OTT distribution processes for sports organisations will ensure that this increasing fragmentation can be managed incrementally and seamlessly. The future is bright, and 2023 will be the year when content is flexible, multi-channel and on-demand.

To learn more, download our Report: How to solve OTT Content Delivery Challenges with Imagen.

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