By Peter Gallagher, VP Global Operations and Services
The global pandemic has made it a challenging time for everyone. While many of us have been confined to our homes, the widespread availability of streaming on-demand content has helped us cope while in isolation. Combine this with the introduction of multiple new streaming platforms at the end of 2019, and it's not surprising that streaming usage has surged this year.
But one area has suffered dramatically: live sports. While content owners have pushed archive footage and content in a virtual magazine format to keep fans engaged, with no live sports to watch, fans have questioned why they're paying for something they can't experience. In fact, many subscribers have canceled or paused their live sports subscriptions. How quickly they return will depend on a number of factors.
We are starting to see sports leagues – such as the Bundesliga in Germany and the NBA in the U.S. – return where it is deemed safe, yet not always with fans in the stadium. But without fans at the game, the role of live sports broadcasters becomes more important than ever. Crowds play an important role in contributing to the atmosphere of live sports either as background or when capturing spectator reactions. This loss of sights and sounds will almost certainly have an impact on the experience of someone watching on their favorite device.
While the absence of in-venue crowds will undoubtedly change the live sports experience, there's an opportunity for broadcasters to demonstrate their creativity by finding new ways to keep sports fans streaming the game fully immersed in the action.
This is where OTT stands apart because the underlying technologies naturally allow for a more interactive experience. OTT providers could offer some form of sentiment capture such as "likes" and comments, which is fed back into the broader viewing experience. This is similar to how popular mobile live streaming apps communicate viewership and popularity back to viewers during the shared experience. Another possibility is for OTT providers to give viewers the option to allow their device's camera to be used to capture and share their reactions to what's happening on the screen.
At Super Bowl LIV earlier this year, multi-angle playback powered by Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband network enabled the viewer in the stadium to see the game from any number of angles. Features like this also have the potential to dramatically enhance the in-home viewing experience.
How we watch live sports
A few months ago, Verizon Media launched research that analyzed live sports consumption viewing habits, and what fans want from services that let them stream live sports. One of the big takeaways was the demand for tailored content packages. This becomes increasingly important as leagues restart and increasingly occupy the same time slots as other sports (the NBA will resume play July - October, directly competing with the NFL and MLB, which could also make a return come July). With competition for eyeballs at an all-time high, ensuring you're able to provide sports packages that ensure viewers feel like they're getting value for money will be more important than ever.
To find out more about the steps you can take to keep your viewers engaged in the coming weeks and months, as well as the clear demand for 4K Ultra HD live sports content, download the Leaders Special Report – Viewing Shifts: How we watch sport for free.