As In-Market Streaming Barriers Are Lifted, RSNs Look To Serve More Live Content to Fans

Custom fan experience, sports betting drive many efforts

In recent years, the MLB, NBA, and NHL have inked authenticated in-market streaming deals with nearly all the regional sports networks in the U.S., allowing the RSNs to connect with local fans on a whole new level. As a result, the walls between linear- and digital-production teams are coming down, with RSNs looking to become more efficient and distribute content across an ever-growing number of platforms.

From left: NBC Sports Regional Networks’ Deven Persaud, NESN’s Theresa Spencer, and KSE Digital’s Matt Williams discuss growing RSN activity in live streaming.

At SVG’s RSN Summit earlier this summer, digital leaders from NBC Sports Regional Networks, NESN, and Altitude Sports discussed best practices in designing a live-streaming app, enhancing fan interactivity, differentiating the digital experience, and riding the on-coming wave of legal sports betting.

Customized Stream: MyTeams by NBC Sports App
Last October, NBC Sports Regional Networks launched MyTeams by NBC Sports, a team-focused mobile app that provides fans customized, all-in-one access to live game streaming and other content featuring their local teams from the 25 NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB teams covered by NBC RSNs. Fans select their favorite team or teams — with no limit and in order of preference — to create a customized content offering that matches their passions, priorities, and interests.

“In our research, we found that most of our users and our fans were team-specific, not regional-specific,” said Deven Persaud, director of product, NBC Sports Regional Networks. “Somebody in the Bay Area might be a huge Warriors fan, but they don’t care about the Sharks, and vice versa; we found that across the board in all of our regions. We took that information and, using the backbone of the streaming products that the [NBC Sports] national side creates, made sure that we were presenting streams to help mitigate a lot of the confusion around authentication and geographic blackouts to get fans into the streams that they want and are credentialed for as quickly and as easily as possible.”

The Peacock digital team’s efforts paid off. Three months after launch, the MyTeams app had exceeded its annual download goal for the first year. Persaud believes that a major factor in its success was his organization’s commitment to invest in digital and give the MyTeams app time to be built correctly.

“Invest in digital now because these things take longer than people realize to build,” he advised. “One of the big barriers that I’ve had to break down in my career is the thought that, because it’s on the internet, you can build it quickly. That is not the case. Make sure you invest in it and give it time to build. You might be able to get something up quickly, but it’s not going to be scalable, and it’s not going to function properly.”

NESN Teams With Playmaker Media, Sees Success With NESNgo
NESN launched its NESNgo in-market streaming app in 2017 to live-stream Red Sox and Bruins regular-season games within its regional footprint. Last year, it relaunched the streaming service and moved it onto NBC Sports Group’s Playmaker Media platform.

“Since we were on the forefront, there weren’t really industry best practices to go off of [in launching the app],” recalled Theresa Spencer, digital technology manager, NESN. “You’re working internally with a limited knowledge base and resources from a technical perspective. I always come from the mindset in digital of you don’t know what you don’t know so everything is possible. We just brought the expertise from our team. Then, ultimately, we found a third-party partner, NBC Sports, to bring a strong technical stack and backbone to fill in the gaps and make us competitive and help with audience adoption.”

In the two years that NESNgo has been available, the RSN has seen 80% distribution among its MVPD partners — making for ultra-quick audience adoption — and its in-market streaming analytics have trended similarly to their linear-TV metrics.

“Phase 2 for NESNgo is definitely going to be looking at how we integrate data onto the screen,” said Spencer. “Do we have maybe different announcers during the games, giving our mobile viewers on the go a different experience on their phone vs. when they’re watching in the home. Ultimately, I think addressable TV ads are something else that we’ll be paying attention to in the near future.”

Altitude Goes In-House for AltitudeNOW App
Last October, Altitude Sports & Entertainment launched AltitudeNOW, its in-market, live-streaming service featuring Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and Colorado Rapids games and additional Altitude programming. Altitude/KSE Media Ventures worked with numerous vendors and its in-house engineering team to produce the app from scratch.

“We spent a lot of time putting it together, and we took on a huge part of the project ourselves,” said Matt Williams, VP, KSE Digital. “We have a great group of engineers at Altitude who we worked really closely with the past two years. Solving the puzzle without having a blueprint was really challenging. Looking back at it, there was so much that we didn’t know and discovered along the way, which was an exciting project. But, as far as the time it took, it was a lot greater than we expected.”

Although the launch of the app proved a heavy lift for Williams and his team, the efforts paid off when both the Nuggets and the Avalanche advanced to the Playoffs and the app logged an all-time–high 200,000+ streaming views during the month of April.

“We really just built the foundation to add on to. What we do next is to be determined,” said Williams, “but the foundation was the difficult thing to build, and we’re excited to have it, Layering on top of it now will be much simpler. I think the next obvious phase for us would be authenticated VOD content, so we have a plan in place to put that together.”

RSNs’ Digital Properties To Help Lead Sports-Betting Charge
No topic dominated the conversations at the RSN Summit — or throughout the entire industry, for that matter — than the rise of sports betting. With the Supreme Court’s May 2018 ruling having paved the way for states to legalize sports wagering, many RSNs are looking to capitalize on the expected revenue boost. NBC Sports Regional Networks has been a trailblazer in sports betting and predictive-gaming telecasts: NBC Sports Washington produced eight Predict the Game alternative telecasts for Washington Wizards games last season, and NBC Sports Philadelphia produced betting-focused alternative broadcasts of Philadelphia 76ers games this season.

“The unique advantage that you have on digital [as opposed to linear TV] is that you don’t need to find an alternate channel to air the [sports-betting feed] on,” said Persaud. “You just [launch] another stream, and it’s available for your users. You don’t have to try to get them to find your secondary channel on a cable guide. We’re starting to explore and see what works best for these alternative streams, with overlay graphics and data around betting. The beauty of it for us is, it’s a lot simpler to present to your audience than it would be on linear.”

Meanwhile, other RSNs have launched wagering-focused studio shows, including NBC Sports Regional Networks’ live video simulcasts of The Daily Line and the addition of VSiN’s Follow the Money to NESN’s weekday-morning programming slate.

“We’re definitely having those initial intense conversations about what sports betting is and how we can integrate that into our [digital] product,” said Spencer. “It’s definitely on the table and in our roadmap for the future.”