Limelight Networks’ Charlie Kraus: Sports leagues are failing with digital-first generations

Charlie Kraus of Limelight Networks explains why high-quality over-the-top (OTT) content is key to creating new fans and ensuring they keep coming back.

Limelight Networks’ Charlie Kraus: Sports leagues are failing with digital-first generations

There’s no doubt that people are spending less time in front of their TV screens – and an Accenture report shows this drop is particularly significant in the sports industry with global sports viewership dropping by about ten per cent in recent years.

Some sports broadcasters have started to notice and act on this shift, with ESPN and CBS announcing plans to launch their own sports streaming services. But as more and more sports fans continue to join the cord-cutting movement – a trend that’s particularly strong with younger, digital-first generations – it seems the sports leagues themselves are slow to budge.

With complex (and revenue-driving) rights agreements with big broadcast and cable networks, the sports industry seems to be more interested in maximising profits than reaching wider audiences. But this outdated dynamic will have to change as digital-first generations take over the marketplace.

A growing number of consumers today are looking to cut ties to cable giants in favour of a greater selection of content and cost savings. To appeal to this group of consumers, sports leagues will need to not only make games more widely available via new streaming and social platforms, but they’ll need to ensure the content is up-to-par with viewers’ new quality demands – or else they risk losing viewers in 2017 and beyond.

Accessibility Gets Fans on Board, Quality Content Keeps Them Coming Back

Winning over the growing group of cord-cutters will require sports leagues to prioritise creating new fans by making games easily accessible to watch. While this might mean taking an initial pay cut from broadcasters with deep pockets, it will start to build lifelong viewers.

However, simply offering streams via new OTT platforms won’t be enough – the leagues will need to ensure their content is high-quality and optimised to keep viewers engaged. Here are three key ways leagues can ensure fans consistently have access to high-quality content.

Optimise live-streamed content for every viewer on every device

While watching the big game used to mean huddling around the TV, today’s consumers are opting to access live content from all of their screens – whether on-the-go via smartphones or tablets, or at work on a desktop computer. These different devices mean different dimensions and shapes that providers need to fit their display to, adding another layer of complexity to how this content is delivered to viewers.

To ensure “the big game” is optimised for viewing on any device, content providers will need to re-think their content delivery strategy. Leveraging automatic device detection technologies will intelligently convert the content to fit the display of any and all devices, making it a seamless viewing experience for every fan.

Reduce latency to improve overall quality

There is only one chance to get live-streamed events right. And to add more pressure to these events, today’s consumers have high demands when it comes to online video, with a recent Limelight report showing that more than 38 per cent of people will abandon a video after buffering twice – and another eight per cent won’t even stand for one buffer.

A pitfall commonly associated with live streaming is issues with latency. For the sports industry specifically, people fear hearing about the buzzer beater play via Twitter before they have the opportunity to watch it ‘live’ on their stream due to lag or re-buffering.

To ensure high-quality live-streamed events, sports leagues should consider bolstering their network with smarter ingest and delivery features that provide the backbone needed to live-stream events with low-latency. With the right back-end technologies in place, sports leagues can ensure their live streams are reliably accessed by fans all over the globe.

Implement analytics for post-event review and improvement for the next game

To continue improving on broadcast strategies for live-streamed events, sports leagues must ensure they integrate comprehensive analytics tools within their content delivery network. This technology takes in all of the performance data from the live stream and spits out detailed reports that allow executives to understand how the stream was consumed by key audiences.

Furthermore, post-event analysis helps the league and content providers work together to efficiently address any challenges during the event and determine opportunities for improvement for future games.

The cord-cutting movement is only continuing to gain steam and building loyal sports fans in the digital age will require the leagues to take a whole new broadcast approach. Moving away from traditional broadcast strategies that limit access to pay-TV subscribers, the sports industry will need to consider new distribution channels if they want to break down accessibility barriers, reach digital-first generations and create new fans.

Charlie Kraus is the senior product marketing manager at Limelight Networks.