Streaming is transforming the viewing experience of sports fans – enabling access to more content, on more internet connected devices, affordably. It is also creating seismic shifts in the ecosystem that brings the coverage to them, and gives the content owners terrific bargaining power.
Faster, affordable access technologies, like 4G and fibre to the consumer’s home, have played a critical role in the growth of streaming services. Although less obvious to the outside world, so has interconnection; that is, the private data exchange between multiple parties within ecosystems – content providers, broadcasters, Internet service providers (ISP’s), networks and cloud providers, for instance.
Established sports broadcasters are looking over their shoulders at the likes of Apple, Netflix and Facebook, and with good reason. Change is afoot – last year Amazon struck what was described as “a ground-breaking deal” to the rights to stream the coverage of 20 English Premier League matches a season, to its Amazon Prime customers. This was a precursor to its recent foray into the world of tennis with live and on-demand deals now secured through to 2023 with ATP.
In the zone
New dedicated OTT sports providers have also emerged. DAZN (pronounced Da Zone, by the way) is a great example. It launched in 2016, initially offering services in Japan, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and now has rights covering Italy, Canada and the US. By August 2018, it had provided 20 million hours of live content from 300 sporting competitions, according to Forbes, and is frequently described as ‘the Netflix of Sport’. Unlike Netflix, most of DAZN’s content is watched live, leading the service to offer free samples of live access, to entice new viewers. However, as many subscription media companies have found, there’s a balance to strike between how much content is offered for people to sample, without devaluing the product.
An alternative trend on the rise is content owners going out to market directly. UEFA caused a stir when it launched a free-to-air streaming platform, UEFA.tv, in June, which the organisation says, “is aimed at giving viewers greater access to live and on-demand video content from a variety of competitions”. It emphasised that UEFA.tv will not compete with TV channels but complement them.
Satisfying user experience
Once broadcasters (of any kind) have secured the content, the next hurdle is end-user experience. This is critical to streaming services — viewers are intolerant of anything less than a perfect picture, on whatever device they chose to use, no matter where they are. This means OTT providers need to process the streaming feed as close as possible to their audience(s) or ‘eyeballs’ (as they are commonly called) to minimize latency, using an edge compute approach. This enables an uninterrupted and consistent viewing experience.
These are all reasons for companies like DAZN to partner with Equinix. Our global footprint of more than 200 data centers offers direct access to over 1,800 network providers and ISP’s. The speed and power of the network mean production could be achieved almost anywhere. This allows DAZN to establish connections between all relevant parties in their ecosystem, with the added flexibility of utilizing software-defined interconnection via Equinix Cloud Exchange FabricTM, which supports the ability to manage peaks in viewing demand. This means DAZN can increase capacity as required, optimizing costs, but with inherent resilience. And this scalability is key for DAZN – in June 2019, they announced revenue growth of 950% year-on-year!
Day-to-day operations aside, this level of global coverage also means that when DAZN or any OTT provider wants to launch into a new market, they can rapidly scale their business, and with greater certainty.
This has been made even easier with the recent launch of Equinix’s Network Edge services, providing any company with the capability to deploy virtual network services closest to users, clouds and networks – at the digital edge – in minutes.
Don’t forget 5G
There’s another big change to factor in — 5G. As the technology matures, it should improve the quality of over-the-air signals within grounds and bring technologies like augmented and mixed reality into the spectator mix, as shown in the current BT/EE TV advert for 5G.
Speaking at Digital Transformation World in May, Jamie Hindhaugh, COO at BT Sport, explained how 5G network slicing (a virtual private network with guaranteed, low-latency – or as Hindhaugh described it “air fibre”) would transform outside broadcasting. The 25+ cameras typically required to provide coverage at a football match, will no longer be tethered to unwieldy transmission cables attached to huge trucks equipped with generators. Fewer cameras will be needed – again, saving money and optimizing logistics.
Media technology company Amagi, provides a live broadcast solution for sports and other live events, combining a web-based live orchestration platform and a playout platform. The solution can be used by large TV networks, sports broadcasters, and OTT sports distributors, to deliver live-linear sports or live event streams, time-shifted streams, or video on demand (VOD) assets.
We will see more grounds suitable for broadcasting from – encouraging the showing of lower league games and a much wider range of sports. And of course, the same applies to concerts and all sorts of other public events, which could soon be streamed from the edge of a network near you.
A more agile approach
This transformation has led to a number of innovative companies entering the ecosystem, to support the industry with more agile business offerings.
BASE Media Cloud (BMC) uses Equinix’s London facility to support their growing managed cloud services business. Equinix enables BMC to offer private multicloud solutions to their customer base, on-demand and with no egress charges. This collaboration helped COPA90 to migrate their media archive of over half a Petabyte of content to centralised cloud storage, as well as improve workflow efficiencies for file sharing, encoding, media asset management and global video content distribution.
And in April, at NAB 2019, eluv.io introduced their Content Fabric – an open high-performance software network for managing and distributing large form video, in ways never before possible, without requiring the traditional route of a content delivery network (CDN).
All of these companies are using an interconnection-based, digital edge strategy that allows them to scale their digital business, find new growth opportunities and keep pace with shifting markets. There will no doubt be further changes on the horizon for the broadcasting and streaming world – coming to a screen near you!
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