Op-Ed: Satellite Protocol Brings Innovation to Live Sports Delivery

There is nothing more universally captivating than a live sports game. It is incredible to see entire nations tuning in to watch their favorite teams and athletes competing on TV. With access to more live sports content than ever before, audiences around the world expect to enjoy their favorite live sports content in high quality, low latency, and across multiple screens and devices. Yet the increasing demand for live sports experiences that match modern TV expectations is placing a major strain on broadband bandwidth and slowing down internet speeds, often resulting in substandard viewing experiences.

One of the major benefits of satellite TV services has been access to high-quality premium sports content. With the development of a new industry protocol, SAT>IP, the benefits extend to not just viewers, but also to satellite operators, service providers, and broadcasters, as well as other industries such as hospitality and travel. SAT>IP enables a totally seamless multi-screen TV experience, including 4K content, without the need for a high-speed home broadband connection. The technology works by taking a conventional satellite TV signal and converting it to an IP-based data stream. This can then be transmitted across a standard wired or wireless IP network in the home, and viewed on multimedia and IP compatible devices, such as smart TVs, PCs, tablets, gaming devices, and smartphones.

With more than 600M homes worldwide expected to have a UHD TV by the end of 2023, the vast majority having a 4K capable screen, according to Strategy Analytics, there is a huge opportunity for satellite service providers to demonstrate their compelling advantage over their OTT competitors. OTT services are still restricted in their ability to deliver premium, linear 4K content due to the lack of Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) and other high-speed broadband technologies. Even in North America, the average broadband speed is only 11.6Mbps according to research from Akamai. This makes satellite, with its downstream bandwidth of up to 500Mbps, an appealing option for delivering 4K premium content to sports fans worldwide, irrespective of their local broadband availability.

Today, around half of pay-OTT subscribers in the US purchase multiple subscription services, according to research from Parks Associates. Meanwhile, satellite TV services are commonly based on a per-household model to delivery of a bundle and require a STB, cabling and HDMI enabled screens in each viewing location. This restriction can make satellite unavailable to the 30% of sport fans that rent homes, or to those who are unwilling/unable to take a long-term satellite pay TV subscription.

Using SAT>IP will enable operators to move subscriber authentication into the device so they can offer flexible, personalized subscriptions. This could include offering individual subscriptions in a housing development or office, or to temporary rental properties such as Airbnb. Another alternative would be offering personalized access to content for different family members — for example, a kids TV bundle on an iPad, premium sports for the big TV in the living room. By moving to an IP/DRM based approach satellite providers can unlock this potential for 2nd screen based subscriber options.

SAT>IP enables satellite service providers to make the best of premium sports content rights. For example, the English Premier League is carried by 80 broadcasters in 212 territories worldwide, with an average game being watched by over 12 million people. The vast majority of these viewers are watching live via satellite, which offers the best experience for content at true 4K quality. However, these same consumers also crave the modernity of modern services that allow flexible viewing options across a range of devices. Grabyo’s 2019 Sports Video Trends Report found that smartphones are now the most popular means of watching sport, with more than half of regular sports watchers opting for smartphones, followed by laptops and desk computers. SAT>IP enables operators to offer high quality multi-screen experiences.

The hospitality and travel industries can also take advantage of SAT>IP, as they are able to offer premium sports content much more easily. The technology can help 180,000 hotel operators differentiate themselves to potential guests, especially in the face of the rival 10 million properties now listing on sharing economy services such as Airbnb. One of the ways that both groups can increase guest comfort is through improved TV services that offer a ‘better than at home’ experience. Access to high quality, premium sports content has been a major benefit of satellite TV services, and with SAT>IP, hoteliers now have a simpler way of increasing the reach of these services to guests own personal devices such as laptops and tablets.

The protocol is supported by the SAT>IP Alliance, which brings together world leading satellite operators, manufacturers, broadcasters, and service providers to promote the use of SAT>IP technology as the best way for satellite TV providers to deliver live content to any TV screen, smartphone, game console, or tablet. The SAT>IP Alliance membership (Arcadyan, Eutelsat, HISPASAT, Irdeto, MaxLinear, NAGRA, Panasonic, SES, Verimatrix and Zinwell) has created a whole ecosystem of easy to deploy, flexible solutions from over 40 manufacturers. SAT>IP can be delivered using satellites covering 95% of the globe, potentially reaching over a billion viewers.

Combining satellite with an in-home IP network offers service providers, operators, and broadcasters the best way to deliver low-latency sports content across any screen or device with ease. This enables satellite providers to guarantee true 4K quality across multiple screens in the home or in a commercial facility and allows them to clearly differentiate their 4K offerings — especially when compared to OTT services, which cannot guarantee 4K quality over broadband networks.

Thomas Wrede is the president of the SAT>IP Alliance and VP of new technology and standards at SES Video.