Technology continues to shape the future of sports. The introduction of live streaming and OTT and more recently the introduction of broadcast-quality streams on social platforms, means more fans than ever will experience live sport away from the TV.
IP and cloud-based delivery solutions are driving this evolution in digital content viewing – providing sports broadcasters and rightsholders with a flexible, low-cost approach to content distribution and live production. The future of TV is the internet… and this means lots of things need to change.
The challenge for sports properties looking to activate mobile, social audiences is that traditional broadcast infrastructure isn’t designed to meet the demands of real-time production across a huge number of platforms and devices. The mobile, social, viewing experience is different from linear television – creating content that takes advantage of the social, interactive nature of these platforms is a challenge.
TV production is optimised for 50-inch screens and lean-back viewing; social video is personal, watched on mobile or a tablet screen and, instead of a slow build-up to the main event, it may be just the first few frames that determine the crucial ‘thumb-stopping moment’.
The common assumption is that video produced for mobile and social viewing can be lower quality, that audiences won’t care about production values
The common assumption is that video produced for mobile and social viewing can be lower quality, that audiences won’t care about production values for something that lives on your smartphone and not on the TV.
Yet recent developments from the major social platforms suggests the opposite is true. Premium social video offerings such as Twitter Live, YouTube Live and Facebook Watch require high-fidelity streams and broadcast-quality redundancy and support. These are high-profile events driving core video advertising revenues for the digital platforms.
This shift to quality was highlighted by Facebook’s announcement in September that it will now support higher-quality 1080p streams across the platform, something YouTube has offered for some time, and provide production tools for publishers that mimic the setup for TV.
The trend towards higher production values and resilience becomes increasingly important as Facebook and Twitter have begun to establish themselves as media rights buyers. Exclusive rights ownership is good for user engagement and revenue growth, but with this comes higher expectations from consumers.
This comes alongside the launch of social video on TV screens, such as Twitter Live on Apple TV and Facebook Video on Amazon Fire – lean-back viewing for video discovered in your newsfeed. The definitions of ‘what is TV?’ are shifting quickly. Such rapid change is challenging for partners too. Our team at Grabyo has invested hard this year in upgrading our cloud-based platform for premium live broadcasts, with supports for high fidelity (8Mbs/1080p) live stream outputs and multiple levels of redundancy.
Three years ago, social video did not exist; today publishers and platforms want services that equate to the best of OTT
Three years ago, social video did not exist; today publishers and platforms want services that equate to the best of OTT. This is key for publishers looking to create shows for platforms such as Facebook Watch and Twitter Live, where consistent reliable service delivery is crucial to meet the needs of viewers and advertisers alike.
This change is as much about content as technology. Digital teams now demand independence and flexibility from their broadcast counterparts to create live programming bespoke for social and digital platforms. Traditional TV production is expensive and requires significant investments in hardware, people and fixed infrastructure. Digital teams want speed, flexibility and low costs – as well as services which bring fans closer to the conversation, audience participation is a core part of the social video experience.
Today we have OB trucks, cables and satellites; soon we will have wi-fi connections, laptops and browser-based platforms. Software has not eaten the video production industry (yet), but it will come – as broadcasters and production companies move to fully digital workflows, the focus, the speed, flexibility and data capabilities of the cloud will increase. With traditional infrastructure slow to change to accommodate the need for more social, live and mobile video, cloud production represents a shift in the way digital broadcasts are produced and created.
This move to affordable, remote production, combined with the support for high-quality streaming on social and digital platforms has enabled rightsholders and sports broadcasters to extend the broadcast length and coverage window, ensuring more sports can be broadcast and seen by global audiences.
Examples are everywhere: BT Sport broadcasting ‘Rugby Tonight’ on Facebook Live and Periscope for 15 minutes before the linear TV show begins, as well as simulcasting the Saturday football show ‘The Score’ on Twitter Live. This year the Caribbean Premier League T20 cricket partnered with social publisher UNILAD to broadcast all 34 matches live and for free in the UK and Ireland – with streaming managed remotely from London: non-traditional distribution (Facebook Live via UNILAD) with a cloud-based production workflow, a sign of things to come perhaps.
Arguably the biggest advantage of switching to cloud-based production and software is the ability to create broadcasts optimised for social and digital viewing, specifically on mobile, recognising the needs of fans who are not sat in front of the TV. Traditional 16:9 (horizontal) video is not necessarily the easiest, or indeed the best, way to watch video on mobile. This puts more pressure on rightsholders and broadcasters to produce content optimised for mobile consumption, or specifically in 1:1 (square) or 9:16 (vertical) video format. Snap understood this when they launched the vertical-only photo and video messaging platform.
With the right tools, and the right focus, broadcasters and rightsholders can deliver purpose-built shows for a social audience
With the right tools, and the right focus, broadcasters and rightsholders can deliver purpose-built shows for a social audience, including the addition of multiple live feeds, pre-recorded assets, vertical and square videos, large-format graphics for mobile viewing as well as participation features to bring the audience into the broadcast.
Recently, Grabyo partner Southampton FC produced a fan-first, pre-match show, exclusively for Facebook Live and Periscope that replicated a live TV show and seamlessly integrated live content, social graphics, and real-time fan comments on screen. The show was received positively by Saints fans with more than 20 per cent of the viewing audience leaving a comment across Facebook Live and Periscope, a testament to the fan-first, interactive nature of the show.
Ten years ago the iPhone taught us that we have the internet in our pocket and that we should stop thinking about mobile as a phone. Today the latest smartphones are powerful supercomputers with 4K screens and internet connectivity that matches broadband at home… depending on where you live in the world of course.
TV needs to adapt to meet the needs of this audience, but small can still be beautiful – and so it should be.