NAB 2019: Streaming Summit Paints Big Picture of Sports Future: D2C, Mobile, Social, Personalized

Panel of provider and user execs explore new models for reaching sports fans

Should direct-to-consumer and streaming models drive product strategy for sports leagues, broadcasters, and OTT service providers? Or is the wholesale model of value creation, including the global ecosystem of broadcast and pay-TV distributors, still generating the best economics to drive strategy at the top and bottom lines?

Streaming Summit panel: (from left) Moderator Brian Ring, NFL’s Blake Stuchin, FloSports’ Mark Floreani, L.A. Clippers’ Scott Sonnenberg, and AAF’s Erik Schwartz

That is how the discussion was framed at the Streaming Summit, produced by Dan Rayburn, at 2019 NAB Show. Moderated by market analyst Brian Ring, the panel featured Blake Stuchin, VP, digital media business development, NFL; Mark Floreani, CEO/co-founder, FloSports; Scott Sonnenberg, chief global partnerships officer, L.A. Clippers; and Erik Schwartz, who was just off a wild ride at the now-disbanded American Alliance of Football.

Discussing the role of OTT at the NFL, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, Stuchin was clear: TV today, streaming tomorrow.

“Our media strategy has always been to put our content where the largest number of our fans can access it,” he said. “We aim to do this in a way that is best for our fans and for our business partners. TV remains the most popular way for our fans to watch games. As media continues to evolve, we’re adapting with it, offering fans an increasing number of choices to watch games in the ways that are best for them. With the NFL app, our direct-to-consumer product NFL GamePass and our partnerships with Verizon and Amazon, we’re making it easier than ever for fans to watch the games they want.”

Floreani, who started FloSports with his brother, $10,000, and a makeshift production van, emphasized the company’s editorial take on covering the mid and long tail of sports.

“A lot of these sports just can’t live on traditional TV platforms, because they won’t generate live audiences in the tens of millions. But that’s also the opportunity. We go deep with our coverage; we are all about fan engagement 24/7. We don’t dumb it down. We have a passionate audience base, and that’s how we approach this from both a programming and a business-model perspective. Our motto is that we want our viewers to ‘feel the sweat.’”

He also noted that, by focusing on radically reducing production costs, the company can achieve economic viability with many more rights in the coming years. According to the firm, more than 250 rights deals were signed last year.

“Cyclocross is a great example,” Floreani noted. “There’s a lot of gripping content there, especially in heated competitions when these guys are jumping off and on their bikes. We don’t think there’s any particular factor holding back almost any sport from being really exciting.”

Sonnenberg introduced Clippers CourtVision, a brand-new experience that amounts to a sneak peek into Steve Ballmer’s vision for the future of sports media. Rolled out in collaboration with Fox Sports and Second Spectrum, it recently added Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a partner.

Leveraging slick AR overlays, multiple cameras, and a choice of audio feeds, Clippers CourtVision is personalized basketball viewing available via Fox Sports in addition to a private beta.

“When Steve first bought the team,” Sonnenberg said, “we talked with a range of partners like Second Spectrum and Fox Sports, and we laid out a vision for giving consumers, fans, more choice when watching the TV broadcast. They said it would take a lot of time and money. Steve said, ‘When do we get started?’”

Sonnenberg also discussed monetizing the experience going forward. In-arena activations involving free-throw contests and Chick-fil-a, for example, could easily be extended and expanded with the Clippers CourtVision product in what it calls Mascot Mode.

“Mascot Mode is a lot of fun for kids and would be a great way to expand these in-stadium activities,” he pointed out. “We are continually looking at this and asking, How else can we connect fans more deeply to the experience in the way that works best for them? This is just the start.”

Next Topic: Graphics
Stuchin elaborated on the NFL’s Twitch component. “We worked with Amazon to bring top Twitch creators to co-stream the games live on their own Twitch channels and interact with fans while watching. Top Twitch stars like Ninja, GoldGlove, and TimTheTatMan not only broadcast themselves watching the TNF games but also talked directly with their fans about the game by reading and interacting with the thousands of comments that were posted on their channels.”

The AAF, even without a full season, pushed the bar higher in sports-video metadata, data visualizations, and personalization.

“There are many ways to accomplish these experiences,” said Schwartz. “Going forward, we’ll see more innovation in this space and, particularly, in using digital overlays instead of real-time video graphics to deliver the next-generation user experience.”

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