Viewpoint: Sports Streaming - Getting Better ROI

It’s not quite game, set, and match for traditional broadcasters when it comes to sports, but the writing is certainly on the wall. At a time when content has become commoditized, meaning the old adage of “build it and they will come” has never been less relevant. How should OTT providers respond?

With lower barriers to entry resulting in new market entrants and SVOD services cropping up seemingly overnight, standing out with content alone has become an impossibility – even when it comes to sport.

In theory, sports rights grant access to a captive and engaged audience, success isn’t guaranteed like it once was. The status quo has been disrupted by entirely OTT streaming players that recognize the value of using live sport to attract customers to their broader offerings, eroding what has traditionally been seen as the last bastion of defence for pay TV at a time when their revenues continue to be hit from all sides.

So, when content is no longer the be all and end all for attracting subscribers, how can live-linear OTT sports providers or innovative pay TV operators stand out in what is becoming an overly crowded space? And how have consumer expectations shifted in line with this change?

The answers to these questions lie with overhauling the user experience. For live sports, this has the potential to be both an engagement driver and a tool for securing new revenues. Before we can establish how this works in real world environments, though, we first need to consider how the industry arrived at this point. And that starts with the evolution of SVOD.

Future of OTT sports has foundations in VOD

OTT content delivery has an inherent benefit over traditional broadcast in that it’s able to offer consumers a much deeper level of interactivity and inclusion. This can be hard to match with linear TV and is a key component to the success of streaming services, but it’s not the only deciding factor for success.

Viewers have different preferences when it comes to interfaces. The more information an operator has about the viewer, the better the personalization can be made.

Viewers have different preferences when it comes to interfaces. The more information an operator has about the viewer, the better the personalization can be made.

Instead, successful VOD platforms from around the world all have three things in common. Firstly, they recognize that viewer personalization needs to go beyond algorithmic recommendations. Secondly, they know that getting the user experience right is intrinsically tied to the platform’s overall success. Finally, and where we’ll start, they design their services from the ground up to be device agnostic.

Offering device flexibility

This third consideration is an important foundation for the success of any streaming service, but particularly a sport offering, as today’s consumers expect to be able to watch the content they choose, when they want, and on the platform that’s best suited to their needs in that particular moment. This depends on having multi-device support. After all, it’s no good trying to force your audience to use a web browser to stream sports content if they’re after a lean-back experience in the living room via Android TV. In a highly competitive environment like live sports, they’ll simply go elsewhere.

DAZN is an OTT provider that delivers on this in practice. It reaches millions of consumers by offering a highly targeted sports-only service that also comes in at a price point that undercuts pay TV alternatives. As important, though, DAZN recognizes the value in tailoring the user experience to the needs of its fans, with a platform that’s not only available across devices but also has a host of built-in benefits to help personalize on the fly.

They’re able to do this because they have a strong understanding of who’s watching and engaging with the sport content they provide, which brings us to our next consideration for designing a successful sports OTT platform – segmentation.

Who’s watching your content?

It’s important to remember when it comes to sports that no two fans are the same. Sure, you could say the same about SVOD viewers, but the value of user segmentation is much more pronounced when it comes to the success of a sports streaming platform.

Each viewer has their own motivations and drivers for what they want to get out of the service they’ve opted to use. Take the casual fan in a football setting as an example. They will tend to engage more with live tweets and commentary on a second screen while having a regular view of the sporting event on their main screen. In contrast, a die-hard fan will want access to instant replays during periods of non-play and the chance to swap between multiple camera angles while the match is taking place.

Finding success in an environment like this, then, depends on having a much deeper understanding of the audience than with linear TV or regular OTT content distribution. Since the foundation of this depends on knowing what segment each viewer falls into, it’s a job for advanced data analytics.

Sports streaming providers would be wise to take a leaf out of Netflix’s book when it comes to this and not rely too heavily on standard demographic insights. A user’s favorite team, gender, and age can all be supporting factors. However, when it comes to live sports, and to make profitable business decisions that’ll secure a strong ROI on the up-front investment into content rights in the first place, a more sophisticated approach is needed to spot and identify trends.

It’s important to track user engagement to build a picture of likes, dislikes, the features that different fans grow to rely on the most, what they do pre- and post- match, and how it fits together to identify what type of viewer that represents. Each time they click play, tune in or tune out, or swap streams before the end of the event, also contributes to this picture and feeds into what a particular viewer may want to see when they sign in next time, giving an OTT player valuable cues for how they should tailor the service to different fans.

Tailoring the experience for different viewer segments

Once fans have been segmented based on their viewing habits and associated insights, their user experience then needs to be tailored on a deeper level through the UI.

Regardless of the sport, all events have a common rhythm that can be capitalized upon in this regard. By tailoring and adjusting the UX in the anticipation stage pre-event, during the event itself, and also for the post-event analysis and catch-up stages afterwards, OTT providers can manage the ebb and flow of engagement and excitement in a way that will create a more memorable experience for the viewer.  For example, different content modules can be hidden or promoted to the front of the UI depending on what’s important to that segment of viewer at that particular moment in time.

OTT providers could manage this themselves. For years, content schedulers and marketing personnel have relied on engineering teams to make manual UI changes, to highlight content when it arrives on the platform, and to make other business-critical changes when necessary.

Achieving this in real-time and cost effectively with manual alterations, though, is a challenge as cost of ownership in the media industry has become a huge stumbling block in recent years. Particularly when it comes to UI/UX design, and the operational costs associated with requesting those changes be made by engineering teams each time a new feature is required, or bespoke, editorialized content needs to be promoted.

A different way to tackle this is to put a content management and user experience platform at the heart of the streaming service. There’s no right or wrong way to approach tailoring the UI and UX like this, but more advanced content management systems offer a range of benefits for making this easier that also extend to driving the bottom line.

An advanced content management system can enable an operator to create a custom UI tied to the viewer’s habits.

An advanced content management system can enable an operator to create a custom UI tied to the viewer’s habits.

Secure better content ROI with a sponsored UI

Having flexibility to make changes to the UI on the fly, and in real-time, opens up new opportunities when it comes to enhancing the bottom line through relevant advertising and capitalizing on the upfront investment into content rights.

The most notable example of this in practice for live sports is what’s referred to as a sponsored UI. Here, more advanced UX platforms can make it possible for content owners to sell the premium real state that is their UI to brands and other players in the sports ecosystem. Sponsored rows, backgrounds, categories, and landing pages can all be used to customize the user interface for different types of viewers.

It’s an important shift, too, as the rise of Netflix has almost entirely eroded consumer willingness to sit through pre- and mid-roll ads, even in the sports arena that’s relied on this as a fundamental revenue driver for years. However, with the flexibility that OTT delivery offers, sponsored UIs have risen up as a valuable avenue for driving revenues and getting a return on expensive content acquisition rights in a way that doesn’t interrupt the viewing experience.

Design the UX for future growth

It’s clear that the future of OTT sports sits with making it easier for fans to follow their favorite teams and engage with live-linear content in the way they want to. OTT platforms and services need to compete on exceptional user experience in order to succeed in the crowded streaming arena, which means being able to personalize content feeds based on individual user habits and behaviors.

Making this a reality depends on streamlining user experience management. It’s a case of putting the power back in the hands of those on the front line, such as content schedulers and marketers, to manage what the user sees – thereby making it possible to tailor the experience in real-time using individual preferences and other data points.

Through adjusting content feeds based on user habits and behaviors, and through altering the UX pre-game, in-game, and post-game to enhance the emotional journey at the heart of live sport, OTT players stand to attract and retain the most loyal followings that’ll bolster their bottom line and open up new routes to drive the ROI on their content investment too.

Ron Downey,  CEO Massive Interactive.

Ron Downey, CEO Massive Interactive.

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