With SportsPro Live just two weeks away we asked some key personnel at this year's event for a small preview of the kind of insight delegates can expect at the Excel in London on 11th and 12th April.
In the second edition of our roundtable Q&A Series, SportsPro Live's experts in over-the-top (OTT) services: Chris Wagner, co-founder and executive vice president of NeuLion; Simon Trudelle, NAGRA's senior director of product marketing; and Samuel Gaehwiler, Levuro cheif executive, offer their thoughts.
What was the most significant development you saw in the sports industry in 2017?
Chris Wagner: Consumer demands for high quality video continue to rise. In response, sports OTT services are constantly creating new ways to engage viewers and give them an overall immersive, high quality experience for live and on-demand viewing. Most recently, live OTT streaming in 4K has taken watching sports to the next level, allowing viewers to feel as they are alongside the action with video delivered at 4Kp60.
Simon Trudelle: We are seeing a definite, massive move towards multiscreen IP, cloud and data-driven multiscreen distribution of premium content, including sports content of course. It has become especially important for operators to develop solutions to reach out to the 15 to 34 segment of the population that spends less time in front of the big screen TV set in general.
We believe that 2017 was a pivotal year for the industry, with streaming gaining even more traction and sports rights holders reviewing their strategic options in light of new market realities.
Samuel Gaehwiler: The most meaningful breakthrough we saw in the sports industry in 2017 is more and more sports organisations shifting to a direct fan engagement approach.
Indeed, with the technology available the majority of smaller and mid-size sports organisations can now afford their own OTT platform. That’s why, in order to achieve the highest sponsors' value and ROI from the OTT investments, small teams must address storytelling on social media in an efficient way, in order to achieve reach, engagement and conversion to subscription.
What problem can technology solve, or do you want technology to solve, in your sector in sport?
CW: Technology, specifically OTT platforms, have the ability to create personalised content experiences that make OTT viewing better than traditional cable and satellite viewing. The amount of innovative OTT features available are endless from favourites and watch lists to personalised recommendations and advanced content discovery, the viewing experience becomes unique to each individual. With this, users can customise their preferences based on their interest and control how and when they want to watch, rather than watching the standard content delivered on cable or satellite.
ST: We have seen a steep increase in the use of so-called Internet Protocol television (IPTV) streaming devices, mainly Android-based set-top boxes that, when loaded with a streaming app (Kodi) and pirate software (Kodi add-ons), provide access to hundreds of channels in HD quality, allowing viewers from all around the world to access top sports content without paying rights holders for it.
Because of the growing worldwide appetite for live sports, right holders are being forced to a front-line position in this war against illegal content distribution. We are now seeing the key role court injunctions are playing in the fight against piracy and how anti-piracy services must include a strong legal, litigation and forensic component in the overall security program provided to their clients.
SG: Firstly, planning and implementing a content and marketing strategy across multiple platforms is one of the value added issues that is supported by technology. Then how you create, execute and boost a storyline that fits their communication/marketing goals (eg. increasing reach, incrementing live stream views, or gaining more subscribers).
Finally, we see that many sports organisations struggle to optimise their marketing effort and build the user engagement up, especially when they have to be spread across multiple platforms. That’s why, nowadays, the conversion to subscription takes longer and requires a different marketing effort: users’ loyalty and engagement become crucial when deciding to subscribe or not, so the sports organisations need to continuously engage new subscribers by paying attention to their marketing strategies and the tools they use to manage them.
Where do you see the most exciting progress taking place in the sports industry?
CW: Fan interactive features that bring us closer to the event, content and action than ever before; whether it be immersive viewing, advanced interactive touchpoints or team/player stats and social media capabilities, these type of features create conversation and engagement around the event.
ST: From the TV viewer experience stand point, we have seen three major areas of development emerging over the past few years that benefit sports fans: augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) applications - highly appealing to tech-savvy super fans - better availability of interactive features on all screens, and broader availability of 4K UHD content, allowing for exciting large screen TV experiences.
SG: One of the most exciting areas of progress is surely relative to marketing content. The sports industry has got the most engaging content but they need to optimise it through a challenging product differentiation strategy, by customising different content according to their channels/platforms/audiences. They need to figure out where their audiences are and what can engage them the most. The fans who are following some sports organisations on Twitter expect to see different content than on Facebook or on their OTT page. Therefore, they need a transmedia storytelling strategy that may offer the right content to the right audience at the right time.
Moreover, another breakthrough which is taking place is relative to the storytelling process itself: a story can be told and boosted through several channels, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) increases its engagement while supporting the social media marketing/communication strategies and their storytelling, eg. adjusting/editing the content according to the different channels and their audiences.
What’s the biggest change you’d hope to see in sport in the year ahead, and beyond that?
CW: I would love to see more and more content delivered over-the-top with less friction across cable and satellite operators in order to broaden the reach and give consumers more content choices available to them anytime, anywhere.
ST: The availability of new internet-based content delivery and user experience technologies opens up fantastic new opportunities for sports rights holders: they can now reach any consumer in any market around the world. But to be successful, leagues and rights holders need to understand the implications, learn the new rule book and make the right strategic decisions. Among the lists of top challenges to address, protecting content and securing the business model comes close to the top.
SG: First of all, I would like to see some broadcasters and events increase in the total digital content reach, as well as the establishment of some new digital sponsoring products.
In fact, technology has been making giant leaps forward in many areas. One of those developments should be the creation of interactive/engaging and personalised teasers and highlights which the audience can benefit from, in particular in terms of participation and engagement, making them follow the organisations’ platforms, and - in the long term - convert to paid users.
Is there a session or showcase you’re particularly looking forward to at SportsPro Live? If so, why?
CW: Hearing the OTT story with the English Football League. The EFL’s new OTT service, iFollow is very exciting and offers fans internationally the chance to watch their favorite club from anywhere in the world on multiple devices.
ST: We’re excited to join “The right model for the OTT era” as we see a lot of opportunities for leagues and sports rights owners to extend their distribution to either new groups of viewers or new international markets by leveraging OTT technologies.
SG: Absolutely. The session I am particularly looking forward to is 'Harnessing OTT to enrich the fan experience'. Nowadays, it is a great issue to further study, in particular for some of the right holders who are at the beginning of their OTT projects, because it would allow them to learn from experience and make use of the new technologies now available in the market.