Sports Streaming Shakeup in the Cord Cutting Era

The exodus of viewers from television sets to mobile devices has opened the door for new players to get involved in the sports broadcasting industry. Cord cutting is impacting how companies broadcast sports to national audiences and is creating opportunities for new organizations to take part in the action.

This is particularly visible with the National Football League, the sports league with the most fans and the highest revenue in the United States, and its expansion into live streaming across different platforms. Amazon, ESPN and Verizon are examples of companies trying to get ahead of their competition in the space. Amazon paid the NFL $50 million to stream 10 Thursday Night Football games in 2017 and ESPN and NBC Sports expanded their Monday Night and Sunday Night Football streaming rights for mobile; Verizon announced the biggest deal, a $2.5 billion non-exclusive agreement with the NFL to expand their current streaming offerings. Kicking off in 2018, the new partnership allows Verizon to stream playoff games, including the Super Bowl, and in-market games to fans on Verizon websites, like Yahoo, AOL and Go90.

While there have been a number of companies pioneering sports live streaming products, none have been able to deliver a frustration-free product that cord cutting sports viewers can rally behind. Entire games can be ruined by missing an exciting play or seeing a social media post of an updated score that beats the delayed “live” stream feed. With the largest NFL broadcasting rights with Fox, CBS and NBC expiring in 2022, the pioneers of sports streaming can further capitalize on the growing number of cord cutters, and consequently, on huge advertising dollars. They first, however, need to deliver a quality product that fans will want to tune into.

In talking about all these streaming rights deals, it’s vital to understand how sports fans really feel about live-streamed games. A recent studyfound that nearly three quarters of viewers expect bad service when they live stream a sports game. Latency – delays, poor picture quality and buffering – is the root of the issue. In fact, the study also found that 63 percent of viewers are reluctant to sign up or re-subscribe to sports live streaming platforms in 2018, indicating that streaming issues aren’t just a pesky inconvenience – they’re resulting in tangible business detriments. Thirty-four percent would even think about cancelling the services giving them issues.

Verizon has positioned its offerings for free viewing platforms – Yahoo, AOL and go90, so subscriber dollars are not a concern. It’s aiming to attract as many viewers as possible, allowing them to tune in for free, and therefore reap the advertising revenue of a large viewer-base, which comes straight from the television playbook. Even with the free offering though, the high advertising revenue won’t be possible for Verizon if its live stream has latency problems, as people will turn elsewhere to watch the game. Latency is plaguing the live sports streaming industry and even if subscriber revenue isn’t a concern, advertising dollars will be impacted.

Real-Time is the Solution

There’s still time for streaming providers to course correct – by investing in a solution that delivers real-time streams at scale. As it currently stands, if it’s live it’s too late, but real-time ensures sub-second latency, so that streams can keep up with the game. And real-time brings about greater potential for fan engagement. According to the research, fans are looking for multi-screen experiences, the ability to interact and talk with players and coaches, and feel like they’re a journalist with an insider view into press conferences. All of these experiences are possible with live streaming, but only if the sports stream is being delivered in real-time and becomes truly live. For the likes of Verizon and others in the streaming space, this means they would have more people tuning in, and more engaged, loyal viewers.

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63% sports fans reluctant to sign-up for live streaming

Phenix, a provider of global, end-to-end real-time video solutions, has released its The Streaming Wars: Sports Report that found nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of consumers (who watch sports on TV) have come to expect bad service during live games.

The study, conducted online with third party research firm YouGov, uncovered not only the consumer perceptions and expectations during live sports streaming experiences, but how they want to see those streaming experiences improve over time.

Phenix’s report found 63 per cent of sports watchers are reluctant to sign up or re-subscribe to sports livestreaming platforms in 2018, with more than one in three (34 per cent) reporting they would think about cancelling the service giving them an issue.


Latency is a clear factor contributing to the frustrations plaguing consumers and ultimately resulting in significant business impacts for the franchises, broadcasters and platforms delivering the streaming experience. During live game-time streams, sports watchers cite the following latency issues:

– 64 per cent expect buffering
– 42 per cent expect delays
– 32 per cent expect poor picture quality
– 30 per cent expect loss of service

Latency issues have the potential to genuinely impact streaming businesses’ bottom lines. Not only are sports watchers expecting streaming disruptions; they are frustrated by them, worried about spoilers, are switching services and wondering if they’ve wasted their money.

It’s apparent the ‘live’ streaming industry is fundamentally broken and latency issues are becoming a big, loud problem,” said Jed Corenthal, Chief Marketing Officer of Phenix, whose previous experience includes positions at the NFL, AVP Pro Beach Volleyball and more. “Sports is always going to need to be watched in real-time, but outside traditional broadcast mediums, the industry is still unable to offer it at scale, as evident by recent issues during livestreams of major sporting events.

The good news is sports fans aren’t going to stand for this and have the potential to be the primary voices calling for the industry to rethink what it means to truly deliver a game in real-time. They’re considering cancelling their subscriptions or just not signing up for new ones at all next year. Hopefully, these findings will serve as a wake-up call that finally convinces streaming platforms to solve the latency issues plaguing the market.”

Capitalising on Real-Time Potential

With a number of high profile sporting events on the horizon (more than one in three, 36 per cent, of sports watchers anticipate issues streaming this year’s Super Bowl) there’s ample opportunity for the streaming industry to not only solve the latency issues it faces, but use real-time capabilities to elevate the sports fan’s overall experience.

– More than one in three (36 per cent) want to gain insights into player stats and information
– More than one in three (36 per cent) want to stream more than one game on different devices, demonstrating the proliferation of the multi-screen experience
– Nearly one in three (30 per cent) want the ability to watch in virtual reality (VR) to view the game from different angles
– More than one in five (22 per cent) want to see updates from the locker room/sidelines
– More than one in five (21 per cent) want to feel like they’re a journalist and have an insider view into press conferences
– One in five (21 per cent) want to talk to/interact with players and coaches in real-time
– 17 per cent want to engage with other viewers
– 16 per cent want access to excusive social media “stories”
– 15 per cent want to be able to participate in score/play predictions

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Facebook acquires streaming rights to sports

Facebook isn’t ready to make a high-profile bid for major sports like basketball, football or soccer in established markets, but it’s eyeing up rights in emerging markets.

One interesting example is Facebook’s move trying to convince UEFA’s media bosses to let it live stream Champions League games in countries where they aren’t shown on TV. Both tournaments are not shown on TV in Africa or countries like India and Colombia. One big fly in the ointment: Facebook wants the rights for free under the idea that it would give the Champions League and Europa League tournaments tremendous reach outside of Europe. Needless to say, UEFA declined.

UEFA cannot be seen giving away rights for free when it has a premium product for which other broadcast partners pay substantial sums. UEFA now finds itself in the same precarious situation as publishers when it comes to assessing the platform dilemma of reach versus monetization.

“It is indeed good to be broadcast on Facebook in a market where the matches aren’t shown on TV,” said the source. “But on the other hand, it could damage negotiations in the future with other TV channels.”

The UEFA pitch is curious since Facebook was willing to pony up $600 million to bring the Indian Premier League cricket matches to the more than 1 billion people who live in India and its surrounding countries.

It is unlikely UEFA’s initial rejection will sap Facebook’s appetite for the rights. With over 650 million people following an account for a sports team, player or news outlet on Facebook and 200 million of these fans on Instagram, Facebook knows it has strong bargaining power now that it is a primary destination for sports. Misha Sher, vp of sport and entertainment at MediaCom, believes it’s only a matter of time before the biggest soccer games air live on Facebook. “Rights holders will need to consider the value that someone like Amazon or Facebook can bring to the table, and explore what types of models will work moving forward without undermining any existing broadcast agreements,” Sher said.

Facebook has made no secret of soccer’s importance to its aspirations as a broadcaster. It aired over 3,500 different live sports events in the first six months of the year alone. Despite the breadth of sports it shows, from American football to college lacrosse, Facebook insists it doesn’t want to replace traditional broadcasters such as Sky and BT Sport as the home of live games. Instead, the social network has cited its deal with Fox Sports to live stream Champions League matches in the U.S. as an example of its intentions over the coming months. If Facebook were to be the sole broadcaster of the Champions League in the U.S. now, it would likely struggle to recoup the $60 million Turner Sports paid to secure the broadcast rights for 2018-2021.

Monetizing video is still a problem for Facebook, as seen by the number of soccer clubs and advertisers rethinking Facebook Live’s value alongside the emergence of Facebook Watch. Monetizing video in emerging markets, however, could be easier; of Facebook’s 5 million advertisers, 70 percent are outside of the U.S. Among the fastest-growing countries are India, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, none of which are set to broadcast Champions League matches on TV between 2018 and 2021.

But this path isn’t without its problems, said Dror Ginzberg, the CEO of video creation platform Wochit. In many emerging markets, smartphone adoption is roughly 30 percent, according to Gsma, the trade body for the telecommunications industry. This is much lower than the global average of over 50 percent. In the short term, this may mean monetization could be slow to happen in these markets, especially as premium content such as the Champions League, regardless of location, is expensive, explained Ginzberg.

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