Op-Ed: Addressing Latency Is Key to Ushering In a New Era of Viewing Experiences

Sports have an unparalleled ability to bring people together, whether that’s friends inviting you over to watch a game, attending a match in-person with family, or uniting an entire nation when a home country is playing. During the pandemic, technology played a pivotal role in ensuring the social nature of live sports wasn’t lost while teams played behind closed doors and when the number of in-stadium fans was limited. Now, with fans back in stadiums, broadcasters must fuse the best elements of technology and the in-stadium experience to produce the most immersive and compelling match-day.

The latency challenge
The live sports industry has completely changed after the inability to watch games in person left broadcasters and streaming providers alike being forced to innovate quickly in order to meet the accelerated demand for more immersive experiences that replicate the compelling match day experience and maintain the social nature of live sports.

Real-time streaming is essential for live sports broadcasters wanting to introduce greater interactivity and boost fan engagement. Yet latency is one of the main hurdles to overcome with live sports streaming, and fans have been less sympathetic to broadcasters if their stream experiences delays and bufferin. Technology that provides sub-second latency (i.e., time behind live of under one second) for live streaming is the foundation of interactive global online experiences. Broadcasters, rights owners and sports teams and leagues must have real-time streaming capabilities in place if they want to deliver more compelling live sports experiences in the stadium and to people’s homes.

Delivering ‘fan first’ experiences
Removing issues such as increased latency gives broadcasters and OTT platforms a fantastic opportunity to address some of the emerging use cases that have become essential, such as real-time video, interactivity, and gamification. The NFL, for example, uses a co-viewing experience to create a personalized fan community of friends and family that lets users invite up to three friends to join a split-screen video chat displaying a synchronized live stream of a game. Even as fans return to stadiums, interactive features such as this will make fans feel like they are watching the game together regardless of where they are in the world.

Sports broadcasters are constantly looking for new ways to increase user engagement through unique fan interactions, and real-time streaming technology that provides sub-second latency (i.e., time behind live of under one second) opens up new product opportunities that previously weren’t possible. By changing the nature of how content is delivered, fans can compete with friends or interact with live and archive games through predictions, polls, trivia. Additionally, allowing fans to take advantage of multiple different camera angles while in the stadium or at home as well as project AR overlays create the ultimate on-screen or in-stadium experience that directly engages sports fans.

Enhancing the in-stadium experience
When live sports was being played behind closed doors, technology became an essential part of the live viewing experience. However, even fans are back in stadiums for the majority of tournaments, they still expect technology to supplement the match-day experience, regardless if they’re cheering from the stadiums or the stands. A great example of this is the 2021 Super Bowl LV which introduced in-stadium 5G solutions for fans who attended in-person in Tampa, delivering immersive and interactive viewing experiences. During the match, fans could use the NFL Mobile app to engage with seven different camera angles in the stadium and five angles at home while projecting AR overlays of the NFL’s Next Gen Stats for players onto the livestream.

The future is interactive
By prioritizing ultra-low latency, broadcasters, sports leagues, and content owners can rethink business models by merging real-world and at-home viewing experiences. The benefits are endless, and having fans feel as though they are part of the action will keep them coming back for more. Interactive features will become a key differentiator for broadcasters looking to reduce churn and minimize the risk of customers switching to a rival service, which will unlock even more monetization opportunities because the service will be more attractive to advertisers.

Earlier this year, it was estimated that the NFL alone lost almost $4 billion in revenue as the pandemic cut into ticket and concession sales. As a fifth of fans aren’t yet comfortable returning to full-capacity events, sports teams and leagues can substitute some of their in-stadium revenue losses with features such as live betting, which will provide fans with the option to “play along” with a game and wager on a play-by-play basis.

Making live sports truly “live”
Few things capture audiences like live sports, and as broadcasters race to push the limits of immersive viewing experiences, there is a real opportunity to make great leaps forward by investing in real-time streaming technology. In doing so, forward-thinking broadcasters can remain ahead of the competition with new applications and features that maximize fan engagement, reduce churn and create additional revenue streams. Elevating the user experience is the secret to genuinely breaking new ground, and once broadcasters do this, we will see a new era of immersive and interactive experiences for live sports fans, regardless if they’re watching at home or the stands.

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