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Opinion | How to embrace the digital landscape for the next generation of sports

Lu Bolden, chief revenue officer at Verimatrix, on the tools that the sports industry needs to thrive in a world of demanding digital natives and the security solutions needed to protect stakeholders.

29 April 2021 Guest Contributor

While it has been a tumultuous year for sports, the move to digital distribution and the changes in content consumption have been slowly shifting for years.

Future generations consume sports media in vastly different ways. Gen Z and millennials look for highlights on social media rather than tuning in for the entirety of a live event, and they largely follow individual players rather than teams. If not properly addressed, these consumption behaviours can send shockwaves to a traditional business model built around linear TV.

Just a short decade ago, security for content distribution was such a concern that Verimatrix chief revenue office Lu Bolden remembers a major network declaring “We will never license content for mobile devices!” Hindsight is 20/20, and while it is impossible to predict what will happen next (and after last year, who would want to?), one thing is certain: digital is here to stay. The future belongs to those who realise that digital is not a competitor, it’s a way to augment and extend the reach of existing products and fan bases.

The challenge for broadcasters, leagues, and rights owners? Investing in the next generation while being respectful of existing ecosystems and monetizing the opportunities created by the digital landscape.

Transparency, trust and visibility of usage

New business models have created a fragmentation of viewership and a disjointed ecosystem for content distribution – both of which raise security concerns. The digital landscape and the unbundling of sports media gives consumers choice, but it also results in the loss of insight into consumption behavior that can help build long-term relationships with fans over time. This can lead to lost revenue.

With the right security solutions that protect content end-to-end, it’s possible for leagues, rights owners and networks to regain control and restore revenue security to a central authority. This also allows for easily accessible consumption data to drive better business decisions and streamline reporting.

Solutions that enable you to automatically identify problems affecting the viewer experience will reduce churn and maximize engagement. An analytics platform will help you get to the root cause of any QoE issues and resolve them before your users are impacted. Visibility of usage and easy access to detailed data is the first step to correct and respond to latency issues, preventing viewer dissatisfaction and costly subscriber churn. 

Frictionless barriers to entry

Gen Z viewers are less likely to subscribe to traditional linear TV models. They expect immediacy and frictionless digital experiences for log in, viewing, and payment. It is critical to deploy strong security in digital assets for sports media – and it’s just as critical to ensure that these assets are easy to use. Security is key to protect premium and live content, but security barriers could be detrimental for business.

Elegant distribution and security solutions will help dissolve the hassle of forgotten passwords, clunky transitions from device to device, and a plethora of bandwidth issues. 

Safeguarding the entire business model

The traditional linear TV business model was fairly straightforward – rights holders entered an agreement and paid a fixed set of fees to broadcasters, and other than the threat of piracy, they didn’t have to worry about what was happening with their content. As the business model has expanded with the proliferation of digital content, streaming apps and the revenue they generate, the attack surface has exponentially increased.

Live sports streams and the apps they are viewed on need comprehensive security – content is no longer the only valuable asset that broadcasters need to worry about. User information and payments must be protected, and data privacy regulations must be met.

Sports content distributors who wish to maintain their profitability must improve content security and optimize digital distribution. But any content security approach is only as good as its weakest link. Embracing the digital landscape requires comprehensive security to protect the entire business model.

Digital rights management (DRM) is a must to protect the content workflow from filming to delivery to the users’ devices. But once a live stream of a game or other premium, high value content is displayed on a user’s screen, it can still be pirated at the point of delivery, putting the entire business model at risk. The solution is to install a well-rounded, end-to-end approach to premium sports content security that takes advantage of all available solutions – including DRM, forensic watermarking technologies, analytics capabilities and application protection.

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