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COMMENT: Redefining sports broadcasting in the Covid era

By 24th August 2020 No Comments

Greg Burns, head of business development solutions, Arqiva, comprehensively examines how the industry will never be the same again.

Covid-19 triggered a major setback for sports broadcasters, who faced a huge, daily challenge to offer a premium product that would keep viewers engaged and stop them from unsubscribing. Since then, we’ve watched as both leagues and production have slowly begun to resume. However, things now look different in the era of the ‘new normal’.

Looking to simultaneously manage fan expectations and minimise operational disruption, broadcasters have redefined their strategies and leveraged new technologies and channels to keep fans engaged and future-proof their business-models.

The adoption of cloud technology and IP-based infrastructure has accelerated to avoid the challenging aspects of traditional transmission. IP contribution means companies can, at scale, deliver live content via the internet and natively integrate with the cloud-based systems designed for remote operations.

This virtual approach also allows for a quick set-up time and the ability to deliver to multiple locations – keeping overheads low. Crucially, IP and cloud workflows are ideally positioned to allow people to react quickly in a crisis, with set-up times measured in days and hours, rather than months and weeks.

With content being manipulated and processed in the cloud, the adoption of greater levels of automation will likely be next.

Machine learning algorithms can drive the production and publishing of content in real-time and after events, to make operations even more efficient. This next wave of technology development is only possible once the content is in the cloud and organisations are ready to embrace the opportunity for innovation.

Tackling the risk of a subscriber exodus became an unprecedented priority for both broadcasters and rights holders, who had to enhance the fan experience through new and innovative ways.

Interactivity has improved and shows no signs of slowing post-lockdown, as live interviews and chats between players have found an ideal channel through social media.

Liverpool FS’s Connect Initiative has gone one step further to set up virtual tea breaks between socially isolated fans and players – broadcasters, clubs and sporting organisations now need to consider to what extent audiences, having experienced something new, will demand a continuation of these kinds of programmes once sporting schedules return to normal.

The world of esports and traditional competition collided as sports stars and celebrities alike took to their consoles. When live events were pulled, Formula One, Formula E and NASCAR were quick to plug the gap with video-game versions.

Formula One’s esports equivalent tapped into the power of social media and live-streamed the likes of One Direction’s Liam Payne, professional golfer Ian Poulter and six-time Olympic Gold medalist Sir Chris Hoy as they took to the virtual tracks.

With live sport on hold, archived content was used to hold the attention of fans. Many platforms took this one step further by leveraging new channels to forge closer connections with audiences.

Emerging platforms like Twitch were used to facilitate direct communication between players and fans.

Traditionally associated with esports and video games, Twitch’s hook – allowing direct, real-time interaction between broadcasters and audiences – has been adopted for sports in the Covid era, with the NFL now using it to provide alternate Thursday Night Football coverage.

As we navigate our way through the pandemic, broadcasters will need to reengineer how fans interact with their teams and consider how they can deliver new digital experiences that can substitute for a physical one.

With sports fans as part of a connected digital ecosystem, those organisations that consider the wider opportunities will win out.

Navigating how 5G, internet-of-things, augmented reality and dynamic personalised content enable greater fan experiences should become a key objective for the sports media sector, whilst remaining focused on the importance of privacy and social responsibility.

As we navigate the return of live sports in a post-lockdown world, it’s becoming clear that the industry will never be the same again.

The pandemic has revealed weaknesses in digital roadmaps, and unlocked a number of untapped opportunities.

As the sports industry continues to reinvent itself, innovative technology may just stand out as its saviour. The real winners will be the teams and rights-holders that are prepared to act differently.

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