NBC’s Playmaker Media, Turner’s iStreamPlanet Combo Aims To Reshape Booming OTT/VOD-Services Market

There’s a new heavy hitter in the OTT/VOD-services market, thanks to the new partnership between NBC Sports Digital’s Playmaker Media and Turner’s iStreamPlanet. With an eye toward competing with established third-party OTT streaming vendors like BAMTech and NeuLion, the newly formed entity is looking to carve out its share of the rapidly exploding OTT market.

logo_color“This is a booming marketplace,” says NBC Sports Group Digital CTO Eric Black. “There is a lot of demand for services like this, but there are only a few established service providers in the market. When you look at the value proposition of Playmaker and iStreamPlanet, we’ve covered the largest-scale events in U.S. and international history — the Rio Olympics, Super Bowls, March Madness, to name a few — and we are now offering that same technology and footprint to third parties at what we feel is an affordable cost.”

The new partnership will focus on 30-50 strategic clients to start out and already has discussions under way with several potential customers. Says Black, “We are really looking to keep the numbers small, at least at first, and hyperfocused on the 30-50 [companies] that make strategic sense for Playmaker and iStreamPlanet and, more important, for the third party.”

Mio Babic, founder/CEO, iStreamPlanet

Mio Babic, founder/CEO, iStreamPlanet

Despite being the new kid on the block for third-party OTT services, iStreamPlanet founder/CEO Mio Babic believes, the Playmaker-iStreamPlanet combination will have an immediate impact on the rapidly growing sector.

“I believe we can bring innovation much faster to the market than either [BAMTech or NeuLion] can,” he says, “because we’re truly focusing on our respective core competencies and continuing to evolve those core competencies, allowing us to focus on what we do exceptionally well and drive the overall [platform] together.”

New Partnership Marks Evolution, Not Revolution
The Playmaker-iStreamPlanet deal is more of an evolution than revolution: the two companies have been working together since 2009.

NBC Sports Group launched Playmaker Media in May 2016 as a third-party vendor looking to capitalize on the booming OTT market thus far dominated by BAMTech (which serves ESPN, HBO Now, WWE Network, and TenCent’s League of Legends, among others) and NeuLion (whose clients include MLS, Univision, UFC, Tennis Channel, and BTN). Since then, Playmaker has driven NBC Sports Group’s live-streaming efforts, including the Rio Olympics, NFL, NHL, NASCAR, Premier League, and Triple Crown races. In addition to streaming tens of thousands of NBC Sports events, the IOC signed on as Playmaker Media’s first client to provide live-streaming support for the Olympic Channel. It also provided streaming support for NBC News’ 2016 election coverage.

iStreamPlanet, which has built its reputation on live-streaming large-scale events like the Olympics and Super Bowl with NBC, was founded in 2000 and acquired by Turner in 2015. In 2013, iStreamPlanet launched Aventus, a modern approach to live streaming using a cloud/software–based platform. Turner Sports leverages iStreamPlanet to stream its NBA League Pass, ELeague, NCAA tournament, and 2017 PGA Championship offerings; NBC used the platform during the Rio Olympics to allow more than 100 million unique users to consume 3.5 billion minutes of video over 19 days. The company was named technology partner (along with Adobe, Akamai, Microsoft, and Comcast Wholesale) when Playmaker Media launched last year.

“For going on nine years now, we have been collaborating with NBC Sports on bringing new technologies to the market,” says Babic. “From the Sunday Night Football multi–camera-angle experience to the interactive DVR timeline for big plays, to the first dynamic ad insertion, we had so many firsts working at NBC. Over the course of the years, we have really grown up together, learned a lot, and continuously found the new ways to engage consumers and fans.”

Complementary Technology Means Few Operational Changes
Both companies will continue to operate independently and serve their in-house needs — for NBC Sports, in the case of Playmaker Media; for Turner, in the case of iStreamPlanet — but will go to market for third-party bids as a single solution. Together, the new entity will provide technology and services for an end-to-end consumer experience, including signal acquisition, content management, rights enforcement, editorial workflows, live and video-on-demand streaming, advertising, e-commerce, analytics, and customized application experiences on popular consumer devices.

Eric Black, CTO, NBC Sports Group Digital

Eric Black, CTO, NBC Sports Group Digital

“Today, I don’t think [the agreement] necessarily changes anything [operationally],” says Black. “We still have a broad and diverse partner ecosystem. We are not looking to break anything that we’ve already built but rather to bring this extra piece to third parties in the marketplace and net new business for both companies. This partnership is about helping other parties create and service an end-to-end video offering.”

Both Black and Babic stress that the two companies’ technologies are extremely complementary, with each focused on different layers of the end-to-end video stack. Black cites as an example how iStreamPlanet specializes in the encoding pipeline and workflow and Playmaker excels in areas like application development and player services.

“It wasn’t just a vendor relationship,” Babic explains. “This was much broader in all parts of the workflow. We know we could do end-to-end services, and NBC knows they can do end-to-end services. But what will enable us to drive innovation to serve what we see as a need in the marketplace today? Can we individually innovate extremely fast when we have to cover everything from end to end, or can we accelerate innovation if we take five things that we do exceptionally well, for example, and five things they do exceptionally well and focus on those? That’s the mentality we are taking.”

What’s Ahead in 2017 and Beyond?
According to Black, the Playmaker-iStreamPlanet combo will target not only high-profile sports properties looking to launch OTT offerings but also smaller niche organizations with passionate fan bases. He notes the success of the NBC Sports Gold platform, which live-streams the Tour de France and other cycling events, as well as the fledgling but growing fan base for cricket in the U.S.

“It’s not necessarily just about these large content aggregators and rightsholders. It’s also about the smaller niche markets; we see a lot of opportunity there as well,” he says. “I don’t think you need to have a service that is necessarily millions of subscribers; it could be 50,000-100,000 very passionate subscribers. You’ve seen that for cycling and cricket for years, both of which have incredibly passionate U.S. fan bases. These are events that we would like to service and see growth opportunities.”

One thing is certain: the live-streaming OTT and VOD market for sports continues to expand at an exponential rate, and, as sports-content owners look to make their programming available for fans on as many platforms as possible (although there are some signs of saturation). Playmaker Media and iStreamPlanet believe they are now in prime position to capitalize on the OTT onslaught.

“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that what we have seen over the course of the last couple of years is just the beginning,” says Babic. “The experiences for sports today are far from what they could possibly become and will be. Netflix is the only company that has come close to having that seamless, contextualized, personalized experience that’s cost-effective and very much relevant to their users. And, when you look at the sports world, the amount of data that comes with the sports world is even richer. Over the coming years, you’re going to see all that data contextualized in a way that’s going to create richer experiences that are relevant and more personalized to you as a fan.”

This article follows up on SVG’s original breaking-news story published on Jan. 9.