Sportel Summit Puts Focus on Revolution of Sports TV

It’s all about reaching fans wherever they are, on any device

The revolution in watching sports was the focus of the opening session at the Sportel Summit in Miami. The event, a first for Sportel, was intended to offer learning and discussion to high-level industry executives. Topics covered by the first panel dealt with the future of TV viewing, OTT services, and more.

At Sportel Summit, SportBusiness Group’s Simon Cory-Wright (far left) moderated a panel with (from left) Eurosport’s Laurent Prod’homme, Telstra’s Anna Lockwood, and deltatre’s Jeff Volk.

Jeff Volk, SVP, head of business and revenue, Americas, deltatre, said that, at the end of the day, the revolution comes down to content-rights holders’ reaching the people who matter wherever they are and that it is important to remember that consumption on both TV and other devices is rising.

“TV is fine,” he observed. “If you had a chance to watch last night’s NBA game on an iPhone or TV, which would you prefer? What has changed is the choice of games: consumption on both the TV and digital-content side is growing. The result is an opportunity for new rights and different models of OTT services that include free, subscription, hybrid model, and more. It will continue to evolve.”

Anna Lockwood, head of market development, broadcast services, Telstra, cited Perform Group and its decision to deliver make many more WTA matches available via OTT as an example of the increased stickiness offered by meeting the needs of all fans, not only those who follow the superstars.

“It’s an exciting project for us,” she said. “For example, I am a big fan of Johanna Konta, and now I can watch her play, which means a much higher level of engagement and a personalized viewing experience.”

One of Telstra’s key goals is to work with customers on delivery of second-tier or niche sports, and online platforms are a key part of that, especially in Asia.

“That is where we are seeing accelerated growth, and, as we look to Asia and its younger demo, online is a must,” Lockwood explained. “But there are no easy answers as everyone is experimenting and testing [OTT services], and there is a lot of dynamism and opportunity in that environment.”

Laurent Prud’homme, SVP, rights acquisitions and syndication, affiliates coordination, and IOC Media and Media Services,Eurosport/Discovery, pointed out the change in the landscape. Six years ago, his punchline was that TV was king and OTT or streaming was a princess.

“Today,” he added, “the princess has become a queen: there were 330 million people who watched the Olympics on TV and 260 million who followed the games on digital.”

An organization that he said is doing a solid job with an OTT service is MotoGP, whose offering gives fans the chance to watch the race from any of the onboard cameras mounted on the bikes. That gives them ultimate control in an experience that brings them right into the heart of the race, because they can watch the race from the viewpoint of any racer.

“It’s an ideal mix between linear TV and OTT,” he pointed out. “And, while MotoGP is pushing hard to have linear and free-to-air coverage of their races, they have launched an OTT offering that is available everywhere in the world.”

Volk cited UEFA Champions League as an example of a provider of a quality OTT service.

“They are doing an incredible job, as they have so much content to be consumed, whether live or VOD,” he explained. “They have been able to do targeted content and also use data to drive people into stadiums and to buy merchandise. Often, we talk at these sorts of events; we put topics like live streaming or big data into different buckets. But there is so much to unpack about those topics, and they are all tied together.”

Data innovation is also extending into the venues and the live fan experience. The Telstra Tracker, for example, captures data related to athletes’ performance (distance run, speed, etc.), and it is now being delivered to in-venue screens.

“There is a lot of opportunity to innovate with our partners,” said Lockwood. “We just have to listen and be proactive to reach their fans and viewers in the best way possible.”

The OTT revolution is also filling coverage gaps that the traditional TV platform has not yet filled. Volk pointed to PGA Tour Live, the PGA’s live-streaming service, as a timely example of how OTT and streaming can meet the needs of hungry fans.

“Last Thursday or Friday morning, if you tuned into the Golf Channel [for coverage of The Players tournament], you would see talking heads,” he said. “PGA Tour Live had live content on Thursday and Friday morning, so people could be sitting at their desk at work and either working or multitasking and watching [The Players].”

Lockwood noted the hyper-evolution being offered by esports, which is quickly impacting the way people watch sports. OTT sports-provider Stadium, for example, announced last week that its service will be available on Twitch.tv, the online esports portal at the center of the media-consumption universe for millions of esports and gaming fans around the world.

“We are also seeing a mixture of traditional broadcasting with esports and gaming. Fox Sports Australia and NEP recently did an ELeague series with FIFA,” said Lockwood. “The FFA [Football Federation of Australia] came on board for the 10-week series, and, while most of it was online, the final and highlights were on Fox Sports. And, over the course of the 10 weeks, there were 2 million unique viewers, and FFA was happy with the results because it also meant more interest in the teams in Sydney and Melbourne.”

The revolution is also extending to the productions themselves. Prud’homme pointed to Eurosport’s coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics, its firsts, and the innovation offered by The Cube, a studio environment that immersed the on-air talent in a totally augmented-reality environment powered by Vizrt.

“It allowed the analyst Bode Miller to look as if he was in the middle of the slope, where he could explain things with his body and hands, making the complicated simple and the sport more understandable,” Prud’homme explained. “If we can make a sport understandable, people will care about it.”

One factor that will open up even greater opportunities for OTT services is the deployment of 5G cellular services, which will allow delivery speeds of upwards of 10 Mbps. Telstra’s 5G innovation lab, for example, has been testing things like latency, ping time, and stability over 5G links between Sydney and Queensland.

“We are doing more trials on 5G to see how it can help live sports, and we are working with Akamai around issues like latency and security,” Lockwood explained. “Those are huge issues for the Australian horse-racing industry, and, as we move to new technologies like 5G, there is excitement around the development in those areas.”

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