Finding a winning play: Why live sports broadcasting needs innovation

June 6, 2024 by Brad Wall, Chief Technology Officer

Today’s sports fans are experiencing a golden age. We can tune in to almost any global, national, regional, and hyper-local live sports event across multiple platforms and devices. It wasn’t always like that. Gone are the days when just a few broadcast networks aired a handful of flagship events across the weekend. Now, audiences have more control over how, where, and when they consume sports content. Even within the same household, viewers can pick and choose their preferred games and matches, watching on their personal devices, fueling fan connection, and hopefully, causing fewer arguments over the remote.

The wider business dynamics of media production and video streaming are shifting. Who would have imagined that the digital-native, subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) giant Netflix would pivot toward advertising or carry NFL games on Christmas day? Meanwhile, the production spikes for TV series and films that characterized the peak TV era a decade ago have since leveled out, with a fresh and renewed current focus on producing and distributing live sports events. The feverish content production heyday that, in some instances, pushed for quantity over quality, is long behind us. As the media industry enters another phase of evolution and ushers in a new era of convergence, content owners and broadcasters understand the need to do more with less while ensuring their live content strategies engage and increase viewers.

With global viewers demanding more live sports content than ever before, it’s a great time to be a sports fan and a smart time for media companies to stake their claim for audience share by delivering premier live sports across broadcast and digital platforms. For the industry at large, more sports broadcasting means more pressure to support greater volumes of content, new methodologies to create production efficiencies, and an urgency to modernize. Yet today, many major media businesses are plagued by the same challenges they've been facing for 20+ years — and they need to address them quickly to satisfy boardroom and investor demands. It’s beyond time to innovate.

Brad Wall, LTN Chief Technology Officer

New era, legacy challenges

Live sports have an overwhelming impact on streaming subscriber engagement. Ampere Analysis’ latest consumer research showed that streaming platforms with NFL rights saw an average growth in monthly active viewers of 14% between Q3 2023 and Q1 2024, compared to 10% growth across SVoD platforms as a whole. Meanwhile, recent Kantar data found that football drove 40% of SVoD sign-ups in Q3 last year. But as major platforms invest heavily in live sports rights to increase subscriber count and viewing time, complexity in live sports broadcasting is causing many rights holders to incur unsustainable costs and inefficiencies. Let’s take a closer look.

Disparate live event production and transmission teams that are deeply entrenched in traditional broadcast methodologies need support enhancing and streamlining their workflows for the distribution of digital-native live events. Many of the legacy traffic, scheduling, and ad enablement systems that served a purpose for broadcast environments weren’t designed to support digital-only live events — let alone deliver the scale required today for a modern, multi-platform distribution model. Think of it like this: media businesses that are entangled with complex hardware requirements driven by outdated satellite distribution workflows are trying to win a wrestling match with one arm tied behind their backs. Conditional access systems and decoding infrastructure drive complexity, cost, and operational inefficiencies, while a lack of understanding and automation around ad enablement leads to missed revenue opportunities and suboptimal monetization.

Broadcasters are sitting on a lot of advertising inventory, which isn’t used effectively. Outdated and siloed technologies for ad sales, metadata insertion, media operations, and playout fail to give ad buyers the visibility they need to make data-informed decisions. Media companies are looking for connective tissue to help unify fragmented business systems and production processes for digital distribution, ultimately helping them create more compelling targeting capabilities and propositions for ad buyers. Media companies know that they can no longer afford to treat linear broadcast and their digital platforms as completely separate islands consisting of disparate teams and separate business systems and technology.

Finding a winning play

Modernizing live sports broadcasting workflows is critical. Rights holders need more cost-efficient ways to reliably produce, monetize, and distribute live events across broadcast and digital platforms. With digital ad revenues slow to fruition and production and rights costs increasing, rights holders either need to streamline operational costs or enhance their monetization strategies — ideally, both. Typically, initiatives to do more with less can lead to quality degradation. But Tier 1 media distribution is a different ballgame. In a live sports scenario, video quality is non-negotiable for rights holders, the leagues and consumers. Media companies need to increase productivity while ensuring consistent or increasing levels of quality. The best way to do this is by automating processes you might have never imagined possible.

IP-based distribution over a fully managed network drastically reduces the hardware requirements and operational pressures on media companies delivering live sports. New technology empowers rights holders to automate processes like ad signaling and metadata insertion while enabling key source switching and monitoring workflows and complex business rules directly within the transmission network. This was inconceivable to most even a few short years ago. Meanwhile, one broadcast operator can manage 20 channels today with the right tools and intelligent distribution capabilities. IP technology is creating game-changing efficiencies that alleviate resourcing pressures, drive productivity, and help businesses direct time and resources toward enhancing the live viewing experience.

Future-ready live sports broadcasting

Automating production and monetization workflows is critical to a future-ready sports broadcasting strategy. Today, we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. Emerging artificial intelligence (AI) use cases are helping create production efficiencies that streamline resourcing and operational challenges. Beyond the growing adoption of services like automated captioning, it’s exciting to consider where innovation in areas like AI-driven scene recognition to help accurately trigger commercial breaks in live sports will lead.

Live sports broadcasting is ripe for innovation — partly out of necessity and partly due to the fast-paced nature of the industry. We’re a long way into the transition to digital-first consumption and IP-centric workflows, but there’s still plenty of work to do as businesses and as an industry to look for interconnected technologies that can navigate hybrid environments and underpin revenue-generating live events across all platforms. As broadcasters tackle a busy summer of high-value live sports events, it’s all to play for.

Find out more about future-proofing your sports broadcasting workflows with the power of automation and IP technology here.