Sports broadcasting is on the cusp of a new era. One that will bring opportunities and challenges to broadcasters, content owners, athletes and fans. A once-simple landscape is now the territory of niche over-the-top (OTT) players and digital giants.

And there’s revolutionary technologies like virtual reality (VR ) and ultra-high-definition (UHD) to shake things up. Here we look ahead to a dynamic future, and consider how traditional broadcasters can adapt and thrive.


OTT platforms take center stage

Ofcom recorded a five percent drop in broadcast TV viewing in the UK over 2015. Mass migration to online TV is nigh. Subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) is consumers’ model of choice. Users across Europe rose by 56 percent last year.

In recent times, all-inclusive rights agreements between leagues and broadcasters have dominated sports delivery. But in 2015 OTT providers emerged as key players. This is the favored option for the cord-cutting youth who want cheaper, multi-device content. In the SVOD market, a host of providers cluster around the ‘big three’: Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime.

Social networks become broadcasters

Social media sites have pounced on the inherent social aspect of watching sport. Facebook became a media owner and broadcaster with the launch of Facebook Live last year. Twitter will soon live-stream NFL’s Thursday night games. Broadcast by NBC and CBS, this creates new avenues for in-game commentary. Verizon’s ad-supported go90 app offers mobile content across sports, music and more. All of the content is integrated with social media features.

Advances like this could render the very term ‘broadcasting’ obsolete. Fans and athletes will compete with journalists as content creators . They will provide their own editorial voice and offer a ‘first person’ perspective, from deep in the action. Viewing experiences will draw closer to the emotion and urgency of real-life events. And for all industry players, the line between competitors and partners will take time to settle.

The VR vanguard builds links with big leagues

VR traffic quadrupled in 2015, and its potential in sports is huge. The NBA has already distributed a VR game. And superstar LeBron James is set to create a 360-degree film with Facebook, the owners of Oculus. Future fans may be able to buy virtual seats in stadiums, or watch entire games from the perspective of a favorite player. Sky Sports recently created VR footage in a Formula 1 pit lane. That sounds intense! According to Forbes, “over the next three years, VR could be sports’ biggest game changer for how fans consume content.”

A new ecosystem brings new opportunities

So how can traditional service providers demonstrate value and build their own OTT services?

  • Focus on apps for on-the-go streaming. Yahoo Flurry found that US consumers spent 90% of their mobile time in apps in Q2 2015. Partner with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider to avoid the risks of in-house development. They can help design, build and maintain apps.
  • Aim for exclusive, device-agnostic content that supplements TV programs.
  • Forge stronger bonds with leagues, players and fan-bases. Create services that play to their increased power.
  • Remember that SVOD companies still need strong relationships with big broadcasters. Savvy stalwarts can carve out lucrative new roles.
  • Be willing to experiment. You must be ready to adapt at pace if a new service doesn’t take off.

Traditional broadcasters have vital expertise in delivering high-quality content. Bringing this know-how to creative collaborations with OTT players is key. CBS sports chair Sean McManus welcomes Twitter’s NFL streaming. He sees it as an adjunct to TV viewing – one that will boost profits by bringing advertisers increased reach.

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Adam Davies

Technical Leader, Engineering

Service Provider, Video Solutions