Sports OTT Forum: How Traditional Broadcasters Thrive in a Streaming World

Adjustments need to be made to satisfy both modes of consumption

Throughout the years of any form of production, content has been and always will be king. The saying still holds true in today’s society, but now, the question is how viewers are consuming it. At last month’s Sports OTT Forum, executives who are immersed in the decision-making process for the major television networks discussed their methods of adapting to an audience that sees digital as the go-to option.

Shaka Arnon, Eric Black, Stephanie Lone, and Steven Thorpe discuss the linear-digital relationship at the SVG Sports OTT Forum.

Being in the Know: Keeping Fans Updated to Drive Social Commentary
In an age of instant gratification, the average fan wants to be up-to-speed on the latest news, scoring plays, and action throughout the day. As fans sit down on their living room couches to enjoy a broadcast, they want to be involved with the material that they’re ingesting. Shaka Arnon, head of U.S. operations, WSC Sports, has created a tool that allows fans to sift through the data and select footage that they want to interact with.

“There is so much content, and so many people to deliver that content to. Everyone has their own separate preferences. Our platform analyzes and identifies everything that happens, so there is this firehose [of content] that is made into little glasses of water for everyone to drink,” he says. “A lot of fans right now are not enjoying being a passive viewer for a three-hour game. They’re trying to tune-in at the right moment, share that great play that just happened, and have conversations about these things that are trending.”

For example, streaming services are developing a queuing system that prioritizes critical plays into a comprehensive list for fans that may have missed the start of the game.

“Imagine this scenario: you had a long day at work, you just came home, and it’s the third quarter of your favorite team’s game, but you want to see what happened before to catch up,” he continues. “On YouTube TV, and hopefully soon to be launched with other partners, you have all the key plays that you are interested in as a list and you can choose what you want to see. Every two minutes during March Madness, we created a game recap [of the events that happened].”

Old Dog Learns New Tricks: Tinkering the Approach With New Ideas
The OTT community is beginning to adopt practices seen in other sectors of the industry. As considerable strides are made with artificial intelligence in media management and storage, the streaming community is embarking on their own quest to use machine-learning as well to enhance their product.

 “These are areas that we’re really interested in exploring,” says Steven Thorpe, VP, video platforms, Fox (Sports, News, & Entertainment). “If you’re at the very early days at what we’re going to do with machine-learning and the cloud, it’s really going to be about how you provide that customized user-experience for the teams that you’re a fan of or the sports that you’re really engaged with. [It’s about] how you encapsulate those best moments, so whether its personalized highlight reels, or through push notifications. I don’t think we have it anywhere close to solved, but it’s one of those things that is really exciting.

Despite the development of new tactics, the age-old battle against piracy still rages on. For all three participating networks, it still seems like an uphill battle with an uncertain result.

“We have a long way to go, especially in the United States because if you look internationally, we’re seeing a lot more content protection in Europe and Asia,” says Eric Black, CTO, NBC Sports Digital. “What we need to start doing immediately as an industry is [using] studio-grade DRM [digital rights management]. Going beyond that towards the next step is section-based watermarking, so as we start getting into subscription-based services, I can now tell the source of the pirated content.” 

Two is Better Than One: Digital and Linear Teams Unite
In some cases, many bystanders may believe that the battle of people’s attention is cut in dry between choosing television or mobile viewing. Rather than placing the two entities as combatants against each other, networks ought to use each platform’s strength as a tag team to sweeten the pot for the modern-day sports fan. For Stephanie Lone, SVP, engineering, CBS Sports Digital, she used her network’s teamwork during Super Bowl LIII as a real-life example.

“I think one of the things that we’re probably the proudest of was the collaboration between our broadcast and OTT team,” she says. “Either the traditional or classic broadcast network and their digital teams are typically separated in their day-to-day [operations] and their workflow, but this was one of the opportunities where we could bring the teams together.”

Whether it’s on television or the small device that fits in the palm of your hand, the content will continue to remain on the throne if the product is available to as many eyes as possible.

“If you’re able to hook [viewers] on some portion of the story, they will want more. If there’s a close match that is about to end in just 10 minutes, they’re [also] tuning into the next game as well,” says Arnon. “Sometimes the time zones [of events] make a difference. During work hours, that OTT or mobile experiences really connects you that time, and then when you’re home, you have leeway to watch it on a big screen.