Opinion

How sports broadcast can thrive in the OTT era, Stuart Ferreira-Cole, Ostmodern

Stuart Ferreira-Cole Commercial Director, Ostmodern

According to PwC, the global sports industry is undergoing more disruption than ever before. In its 2017 Sports Survey, the consultancy firm paints a bleak picture, predicting that the growth rate will slow by 32% in the next three to five years.

The struggles of sports television have been fuelled by the steady shift away from linear TV, which has created an entirely new set of consumer habits and expectations. A recent study by Nielsen reveals that 65% of respondents from more than 60 countries watch some kind of VOD content, showing how pervasive OTT video delivery has become.

While sports television was once king, it has struggled to keep pace with these changing demands. Part of the problem is that sports broadcasters have traditionally carried out video distribution with a single approach, not adjusting the experience for different viewer needs or according to the strengths of different viewing devices. With young people increasingly turning away from live sport, broadcasters must adapt, or risk even more people switching off altogether.

This landscape is driving social networks and others to look to break the mould. Facebook, for example, signed a deal with the NFL to bring game recaps and highlights to its platform, while Manchester United Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward told investors he expects both Amazon and the social network to “enter the mix” for Premier League TV rights.

As more tech giants muscle in, broadcasters must adapt their offerings to remain competitive. A single feed and single narrative commentary simply won’t cut it any more. Consumers want more than a one-size-fits-all viewing experience; it is therefore vital that broadcasters embrace personalisation, intelligent recommendations and fresh approaches to UX and content discovery.

Broadcasters should go beyond just launching an OTT offering and should leverage platforms that allow viewers to browse and access multiple feeds, including point-of-view camera angles, dedicated coverage of a particular player from a given country, interviews with sports personalities and a range of commentaries.

In addition to creating an enhanced experience for the viewer, this approach drives maximum ROI for the broadcaster, gaining audiences for content that would otherwise go unseen.

However, with any change comes risk – broadcasters should tread carefully and assume a managed, considered approach to any new or updated content service. Providing multiple feeds of a sports event can be overwhelming to a viewer, who may spend more time navigating an OTT service for suitable content than actually enjoying it. According to a recent study, Netflix viewers in the US spend an average of 17.8 minutes searching for content before finding something to watch, almost equal to the length of an entire sitcom episode. In particular, this risks disengaging millennial viewers, widely considered to be time- and attention-poor.

An OTT platform, therefore, needs to allow a broadcaster to be creative with content and offer more choice to the viewer, but also to present this in a manner easily navigated by the end user. Content should be carefully curated at the back end, with a system that allows different programmes or clips to be easily grouped and categorised (and regrouped and recategorised to reflect changing viewer preferences, time of day or major events). It can also be enhanced with the addition of social media feeds and editorial articles, offering viewers a service which goes beyond simply feeding them video.

A successful sports VOD service will not only give viewers a choice over which stream they watch, but will curate and present the content so that it is relevant, easy to discover and of course engaging. For sports broadcasters, the game is far from over.