Never in the history of sporting competition have there been so many existential challenges to the craft and art of sports storytelling. To win in today’s fast paced environment, sports media creators, be they rights holders, teams, streamers, production companies or broadcasters must:
Audiences are becoming more diverse and more distributed. Event-TV is a rarer occurrence as every audience member has become their own program scheduler.
Fed by increased technical innovations, audiences demand high quality, immersive, personalized experiences.
There are only so many fans of polo, kabaddi, Counter Strike, or sculling, but those that there are, are passionate about their chosen sport. Growing the number of sports covered as well as the audience for each sport will deliver greater returns.
Fans are passionate and knowledgeable about their sport. They want information and entertainment. They are also human, so they want heroes and villains, jeopardy, and tension, and of course triumph and joy. In short, they want well-crafted stories.
Sports is a big business (global sports industry revenues estimated at over $512 billion in 2023. Statista.com), but monetization remains a challenge as more sports content becomes available for free beyond the paywall.
In the face of such challenges, why is LiveU doubling down on its commitment to supporting sports storytellers with ground-breaking, IP-video, software defined, live contribution, production, and distribution technologies?
We believe the LiveU Sports Ecosystem, and the pioneering customers that use it, have got the measure of the challenges above. We’ve invited selected industry leaders and some of our amazing customers to join us in Manchester, UK, at the LiveU Sports Summit 23 to discover the answers to these big questions. They appear to require large, complex answers, however, if we look at them as a whole, it quickly becomes apparent that having a robust content strategy in place increases the chance of overcoming each and every one of them.
Rights owners Major League Baseball in the US currently stream between 2.5 and 3 billion minutes of content to fans every month. This is on top of their traditional channel delivery models (ticketed games and media network syndication). Providing engaging content, in sufficient quantity and of sufficient quality is an essential part of any robust fan engagement strategy. Those organisations that have addressed this facet of their content strategy have solved the challenge of scalability.
Paris Saint-Germain, a leading French soccer club, experienced this challenge as they looked to engage with fans over-seas. Playing matches outside of France, such as the annual PSG – Riyadh XI fixture, provided a good opportunity for such outreach, but the match logistics made it difficult to scale the event effectively across the Middle East and North African region. By using multiple LiveU LU600 portable IP-video over-bonded-cellular encoder units, live video feeds from the match were transported directly into a cloud based live production solution, in this case LiveU Studio.
From within LiveU Studio, the Paris Saint-Germain content team were able to create program feeds, complete with graphics and mixed audio, in multiple languages and multiple formats, configured for delivery direct to different digital destinations. This was all achieved in real-time, so the excitement and passion playing out in the stadium could be shared far beyond its boundaries.
Live broadcasting of sports has had many impacts on the sports themselves. UK football matches (soccer) used to kick off at 3pm on a Saturday, but TV audiences’ demand for more opportunities to watch live games quickly led to a need for more live viewing opportunities, so now the whistle blows throughout the week.
Audiences have been trained to expect more live, event-driven entertainment, and to expect it to be delivered to the screen of their choice in high quality; not just picture quality, but production quality. After all, sports are all about passion and that passion can be greatly amplified by delivering immersive experiences.
German based novel.media understand the need to meet and exceed fan expectations and were selected as the production partner for the European League of Football, the professional American Football League in Europe.
As the sport’s popularity grew, and with a requirement to deliver a high-quality program feed for every game live, novel.media needed to scale their production capabilities without scaling their costs. Using multiple LU800 field encoders, each one capable of supporting 4 frame synched camera inputs, the team could manage all their productions using a tried and tested REMI (remote production) workflow. This allowed their core production team to remain in the central studio saving time and money, with the remote deployed LU units sending 1080p/50 feeds straight to LU cloud servers in AWS. From there the team were able to use cloud live production tools, again running in AWS, to mix and produce the shows in real-time and apply commentaries in multiple languages.
Serving the content to the screen of choice for the audience was addressed using a cross-platform approach, with syndication to European broadcasters as well as direct to monetised streaming platforms. European followers of American Football we able to access their new favourite sport when and how they wanted, helping to establish the league as a firm fan favourite.
Humans have wonderfully diverse tastes; one person’s preferred pastime can often be another’s idea of abject boredom. The constraints of content choice for the consumer used to be imposed by the relative scarcity of distribution channels. According to Statista.com there were just 98 commercial TV stations in the US in 1950. This grew to 1,780 in 2016; an example of burgeoning choice. Today there a countless online channels to add to the mix, as advances in production technology have reduced the cost per hour of broadcast quality content, enabling content producers to keep pace with audiences’ growing demand for more variety.
The production efficiency gains, especially in genres that require live video production, like news, current affairs, and of course, sport, have accelerated in the last 2 decades. This efficiency ‘dividend’ really started to materialize with the advent of viable alternatives to satellite and bespoke cabled content acquisition solutions. The ability to transmit high quality, low latency video over bonded cellular connections, using protocols like the pioneering LTR™ (LiveU Reliable Transport) enabled visual storytellers to avoid much of the time, cost and complexity traditionally involved in capturing content in the field.
With the ability to deploy smaller crews to locations, and the freedom to operate without costly satellite or fibre arrangements in place, the business case for taking sports storytelling to niche sports became much easier to justify. Coupling this with the new creative possibilities opened up by being able to place cameras anywhere, without needing to worry about line of sight, radio frequency availability or length of cable runs, allowed niche and developing sports like Women’s Football and the Ski Mountaineering World Cup to reach new fans via accessible live video.
Whilst it is true that audience sizes are reducing as viewing choice expands, it is possible to gain fresh attention by serving more niches, thanks to the increase in live production simplicity, repeatability and sustainability, and the very tangible reduction in production costs.
From the excitement on the pitch, to the drama in the locker room, sports storytellers can bring fans closer to the action. Great sports storytellers enthral their audiences with high production values, insightful analysis, polished on screen graphics and strong story-craft. To do all of that in real-time, while keeping your eye on the ball, is no small task. For this reason, it is important to generate space and time to allow the production team to focus on creativity. The LiveU EcoSystem provides this space by allowing crews to shorten their workflows by removing complexity and reducing the effort required to acquire, produce, and distribute immersive content.
The Savanah Bananas are a great example of using an advanced ‘ground-to-cloud-to-crowd’ workflow, powered by LRT and LiveU, to craft powerfully engaging stories and share them with audiences swiftly and easily. These stories have all the production qualities of primetime shows, but also the production efficiency to enable them to be reliably repeated city after city, show after show.
As the Savanah Bananas demonstrate, having a clear understanding of where the revenue streams are and in which direction growth lies is vitally important. From using free-to-access content across social media and clip stream services to grow brand awareness and drive ticket sales, to delivering exclusive content to their own subscription service to drive value to, and revenue from, the super fan, the Bananas are knocking fan engagement out of the park. And, as the proponents of BananaBall have found, a well-crafted content strategy can lift your merchandise sales all then way up the league table.
Acquiring content with a field unit like the LU800, refining it and turning it into a packaged story in a cloud production service, like LiveU Studio, provides a solid foundational basis for any content-centric business model where producing more live video for less cost, time and effort is essential. The final challenge then rests on overcoming the frictions inherent with distributing the created content to the audience.
These frictions can include the issues of convenience, discoverability, complexity, and cost. The Volleyball World Federation overcame these issues by using LiveU Matrix to reduce the cost and set-up challenges normally associated with distributing their program feed to station ‘takers’ via satellite and last mile fiber. LiveU Matrix delivers low latency, high quality video distribution at the click of a mouse, giving sports storytellers direct access to a ready-made market of over 5000 potential syndication partners for discovery and revenue generation.
LiveU Studio can also solve for the triple challenges of convenience, complexity, and cost. It’s easy-to-use tools make it simple for anyone to produce professional program feeds in real-time, thereby avoiding much of the cost and time associated with post -production activities. LiveU Studio was designed with digital workflows in mind; it has the ability to feed up to 30 different digital channels simultaneously at the push of a button, making it even easier for sports brands to deliver content direct their audience’s screens.
With many industry experts predicting that sports content consumption will continue to grow as more specialist and niche sports connect with their fans via live video streams, audience fragmentation and interest diversity will also expand. At the top of the market, tier 1 sports rights are likely to continue grow in valuation, driving the need for rights holders to find new ways to maximise fan engagement and therefore value exchange. In the mid and lower tier markets, relevancy and saliency will play powerful roles in earning and retaining the attention of a richly served audience. Whether sitting back to watch the Super Bowl with friends or leaning forward to catch the winning goal in the local parish’s Hurley match, audiences expect the same things.
They want high quality sports storytelling that feeds their fandom. Today’s content-creators must continue to push their suppliers to deliver meaningful answers to the challenges they face. Just as IP-video over bonded cellular, cloud live production and remote production or REMI workflows have enabled the rapid evolution of sports media creation to date, innovations such as private 5G and network slicing, AI enhanced metadata automation and ever slicker integrations between best-of-breed workflow component providers will power the next.
At the core of each of the responses to the challenges discussed above sits the ability to create more content in an increasingly efficient and sustainable manner. The relationship between fans and the sports they support must be rivaled in vibrancy by the partnership between sports storyteller and their technology providers. When the latter matches the energy of the former, customer and supplier together can combine to delight audiences the world over. And when that happens, every game is beautiful.
Written by Steve Wind-Mozley