In the following article, Laura Tapias, VP Americas & Iberia at Applicaster, shares insights on the future of sports broadcasts and how platforms, screens, and even leagues and teams must design their strategies to adapt to the new OTT landscape.

When willing to watch a game, we always said: where is it broadcasted? This had been the question, and still is. Only the “where” today shifted heavily to a streaming service instead of a pay TV subscription.

Sports streamers bring back more viewers and deliver a richer, enhanced experience.

Covid-19 stopped and postponed big sports events. When the games resumed, however, viewership remained low for many live televised sports. And we’ve seen the unimaginable, like the Tokyo Summer Olympics facing the challenge of staging a global event without a crowd and in many areas with the absence of athlete star power.

Broadcast television is a 20th-century media format -a passive linear experience- that now must compete with 21st-century media that is available on demand and often features interactions. Streaming viewership globally increased 44% year-over-year from Q42019 to Q42020. The number of streaming platforms in the U.S. multiplied, including the launches or relaunches of platforms by Disney (bundling ESPN+ with Hulu and Disney+), NBC, HBO (with the Champions League rights in certain regions), and ViacomCBS (who recently added the Premier League also for some regions) at the start of or during the pandemic. The bulk of e-gaming users say that online and interactive gaming has cut into the time they devote to viewing sports. Even Olympics broadcaster NBC took steps to address this by partnering with gamer streaming platform Twitch to add its own Olympics channel.

So the audience -now users- continue with the same question, choosing “where” to watch the sports event, having more accessible and affordable alternatives to consume their favorite sports than before, with dedicated Sports Streamers as DAZN, Flo Sports, Eleven or Fanatiz as good examples of streaming services that had been prioritizing ways to help fans stay connected, both to their teams and each other. And when it is about sports, the decision is emotional, and the transactional or subscription goes to where my favorite team is.

If sports media streaming rights are expected to reach US$85 billion in revenues by 2024, symbolizing the potential future growth of this space and an overabundance of opportunities for sports brands, the question is now raised by the leagues and teams: Should I own the distribution and own my own streaming business? Leagues and teams focused their efforts on mobile devices to engage their fans, get to know them, and enrich the experience of watching. Beautiful examples of enriched events in the digital space are the NBA during the 2020 season, collaborating with Nickelodeon adding the traded green slime to the end zones of the field to attract the new young audiences, engage them and turn them into fans. Or in January, when Nickelodeon, again, aired an alternate, kid-focused broadcast of the NFL’s Bears-Saints wildcard game with colorful graphics, cartoon eyes, cameos from SpongeBob SquarePants and, of course, shooting the slime cannons to celebrate touchdowns. These actions, together with the tailored exper
iences combining user preferences and consumption, makes the mobile app a must have.

But teams like FCBarcelona or Minnesota Vikings, entities like Conmebol or even traditional broadcasters as Claro Sports are dealing with the decision of owning their own distribution, like Formula 1 have done some time ago launching its own OTT service to show races to more than 20 markets priced at US$8-US$12 per month. F1 TV offers commercial-free live streams for each race along with multi-language commentary plus access to 20 driver on-board cameras.

The barrier to entry in broadcasting your own games is nothing compared to building a terrestrial television network. Through having ownership of your own platform, sports brands can capitalize on the opportunities that live streaming, SVOD (Subscription VOD) and AVOD (Advertising VOD) have to offer as they are able to retain greater ad revenue and can also deploy different ways of monetising their content. By investing in an OTT platform, sports brands can tap into a global market that is projected to reach a value of US$86.80 billion by 2026, and cater for fans across the globe.

By creating an OTT platform for fans, sports brands are also able to effectively manage engaging content without the limits they’d traditionally face when broadcasting across live TV. Sports brands are able to package additional content within a streaming platform such as stats, highlights, replays, fan reactions, documentaries and more. This means that sports brands are building stronger fan bases by providing them with more than just the usual live sports broadcasting.

In Sports, the laid back experience on a big screen is here to stay, that’s why more and more sports brands are recovering their archive content, renegotiating their documentaries and historic games, to build a branded streaming experience where the fan feels at home. There is only a need of choosing the right platforms depending on the market you want to be in. If your focus is expanding in the US, for example, Roku and Amazon Fire are a must. And VIZIO is starting to be an important player promoting its content. Important to know that Roku is the #1 streamer in Mexico, for example. To build the right distribution strategy will make a difference in your OTT success with no doubt.