Live streaming sports events were fairly uncommon on “over the top” (OTT) platforms up until the last few years. Major sport leagues and teams were holding out, forcing viewers to remain tethered to their cable subscription.
For years, purchasing news, entertainment, and sports together through cable packages was the only way to watch your favorite team. That gamble is no longer paying off, as more than 1.3 million homes dropped traditional cable or satellite TV service in the second quarter of 2020. Meanwhile, streaming and OTT platforms have soared in popularity during the last few months.
Live streaming allows the sports industry to sustain revenue in a time when ticket sales to stadiums, and the reality of a season to follow at all, remain a question mark. Quarantine and lockdown didn’t minimize the need for live sports entertainment, and broadcasters filled the void with digital-first channels. It’s increasingly clear that for all sports, live OTT content is a viable path forward.
Live streaming for us is great. It allows the customer to connect directly to the sport all over the world.
Peter Tomlinson, Founder, endurance sports TV
Sports coverage is changing. The rise in OTT subscriptions aren’t just limited to the major players. Consumers are jumping to sports OTT platforms, too. Even as cable companies begin to unbundle sports packages, thereby cutting costs for consumers with specific interests, OTT sports streaming has been laying the groundwork for future success.
The need for streaming services continues to climb, as are the creative ways to stream live sports content. Player Q&As, user-generated content, fantasy leagues, and esports are just a few examples of how live sports OTT channels are pivoting to provide content for their audiences.
Live streaming sports statistics and trends
It’s been a busy few years for OTT sports streaming. Whether you followed a local home team throughout their last season, or cheered for your home country in the World Cup or Winter Olympics, viewers have been flocking to live streaming platforms. In fact, the 2020 Super Bowl streaming audience is predicted to increase by 23%, up to 7.4 million.
With 5G networks rolling out more and more, sports broadcasters and viewers will have new experiences to create and consume content, too. Matt Stagg, Director of Mobile Strategy at BT Sport, agrees. “5G-connected cameras will mean we see new content that will give fans a whole new perspective on sports broadcasting,” he said in an interview with IBC.
And the interest in live sports OTT will only gain momentum. As industry giants like YouTube TV, Amazon Prime, and Hulu partner with major sports organizations to produce live sports coverage and content, audiences are getting accustomed to live streaming sports events wherever they are.
Is OTT sports streaming sustainable?
To put it simply, yes — but you’ll need to develop your audience and rely on data to develop content that attracts viewers to your sports OTT platform.
Outside of the sports vertical, here’s what we’ve seen from OTT channels at Vimeo in the last year:
- A 260% increase in hours viewed
- Almost 20x more new net OTT subscribers and
- 5x the number of channels created
The takeaway: It’s a great time to launch an OTT subscription network.
The shift to OTT sports streaming
Live sports was one of the last remaining industries to transition to online streaming and OTT services. But the landscape is changing, and the sports industry is now embracing OTT as a new source of increased revenue and viewership. There is no clearer indicator of this shift than the renewal of the $130 million deal Amazon made with the NFL in April 2018 to stream 11 season games to their Prime Video service. In 2020, that deal is worth more than the previously negotiated $130 million —but the actual amount hasn’t been disclosed.
According to a report by ReThink TV, streaming will allow sports media rights revenue to hit $85 billion by 2024. And that’s only one portion of the sports industry.
Growing a sports OTT platform and developing content has created new business models and revenue opportunities for sports streaming channels. Video content through OTT is packaged differently than broadcast TV. Live sports streams and integral sports content like stats, replay, and fan reactions are available on a single application.
Better analytics with OTT
Analytics also play a huge role in understanding the sustainability of sports live OTT streaming. Compared to traditional broadcasting, an OTT platform provider has access to a wealth of data and metrics about your viewers. For sports organizations looking to grow the audience for their digital video content, this means interpreting data to establish what content resonates with viewers, and why. Vimeo’s OTT platform not only allows you access to the exact number of people viewing your content — you also have answers to the who, where, and when of your audience.
Real-life example: ISC Sports Network
Niche OTT sports streaming is also a profitable market. Indiana sports production company, ISC Sports Network, took the local high school sports fan to sports live OTT. To power the shift from going to the local game to streaming it from wherever you are, ISC Sports uses Vimeo Livestream and Vimeo OTT to offer live and video-on-demand (VOD) streaming services. Thanks to the quality, reliability, and ease of using Vimeo’s platforms, ISC never has to worry about the online streaming side of its service; it can simply focus on delivering a quality broadcast to their community of sports fans. Which is a critical factor of ISC’s success, considering 70% of viewers who stream live sports actually expect a bad experience, according to a report from StreamingMedia.
By covering sports in small, rural markets, ISC Sports offers a top-of-the-line product that serves a dedicated audience that grows with each season. Its success speaks to the arrival of live streaming and over-the-top (OTT) media services as mainstream content delivery systems.
Anyone who’s ever been in video production on the local sports side knows that there’s a lot to do, a lot to worry about.
Greg Maish, President, ISC Sports
How to live stream a sporting event
1. Pick a streaming platform
When choosing a streaming platform, you’re looking for a partner who can assist with content design, distribution, and support you through growth.
“Vimeo allows us to stream in full HD across any of our platforms to anywhere in the world,” says Peter Tomlinson, founder of endurance sports TV. “The content we have, some of it is so beautiful, we didn’t want it to be corrupted by a platform that wasn’t capable of supporting it.”
Instead of hiring teams of engineers, designers, and web developers — Vimeo OTT gets that done for you. Learn more about endurance sports TV’s experience with Vimeo below:
2. Determine streaming features
Know your audience. Before streaming your sporting event, think about what they want within a viewing experience. One of the major pros of live streaming and sports OTT streaming is how much you can personalize the viewing experience. Personal device preferences, targeting phones, tablets, and computers to ensure your fans can view from anywhere.
For sports, connected TV apps like Roku are proven to be the most popular for viewing.
Your OTT partner should also provide you with the ability to reach your audience wherever they are and provide a premier viewing experience seamlessly across devices. Vimeo OTT customers can easily build and customize branded apps under their brand, in which viewers’ experiences are guaranteed to be first-rate.
3. Set up your live streaming tech
Practice makes perfect, and live streaming is no exception.
Tom Gott, Vimeo’s live production team lead said it best: “Running a live stream is no different than any other skill that needs to be learned and then maintained. The more practice you have, the more confident you’ll be in the moment when you need to make that split-second decision.”
With live OTT sports streaming, having expertise in the sport you’re filming — and preparing your equipment and set up ahead of time — will ensure your broadcast runs smoothly the day of the event.
Bringing your equipment and surveying the site of the live stream days, or even weeks, before the live stream will help eliminate technical and filming difficulties. Where will your cameras capture the most action? What kind of audio equipment is necessary? Where can you run cables or put microphones without being in the way of spectators or players?
Whether your brand is just getting started with live streaming or has a massive production team, here’s a list of the best live streaming equipment for any budget.
4. Promote and distribute your live stream
With Vimeo OTT, you can select distribution, regional availability, and utilize metadata to make your event easier to find in search results. But promoting your event outside of your OTT channel and creating exclusivity around the live event comes from your marketing efforts.
Activating your social media channels and email lists to share your streaming link at least a week before your event will ensure that 1) your audience has access to the live stream and 2) they know it’s happening.
You should always include information about how to subscribe to your channel in these communications, as well as any promotions or free trials you are running. Whether someone is coming to you as a returning subscriber or a new customer, your subscribing and experience should be simple, eliminating any possible friction.
With social, it’s important to remember to stagger your event announcements and incorporate them with your other content. Social media posts with videos and images achieve 40% more engagement, so if you have the bandwidth to create a short trailer or hype video for your live stream, it could go a long way in attracting an audience.
Vimeo OTT also offers live pay-per-view, or PPV, for live streamed events. PPV is a great way to build excitement around one-time live events, and opens your distribution to people who haven’t yet subscribed to your channel. PPV as a supplement to SVOD can greatly increase your promotion strategy by opening your efforts to possible new subscribers.
5. Repurpose and re-share your content
Your OTT sports streaming shouldn’t end at the buzzer. Repurpose your content and reshare it to involve the fan base even after the event is over. With sports, that can mean anything from putting together highlight videos, producing a play-by-play analysis, or having fans interact with player stats. With Vimeo’s analytics, Greg Maish of ISC Sports Network discovered that even after streaming live sports, there was a surge in views after the events ended. Meaning that with the right fan base, live streamed content has the potential to be evergreen.
Successful OTT sports streaming tips
1. Utilize data to increase ROI
Increasing the ROI of your live-streamed content is crucial and will ensure that your live streaming efforts are worth the time and energy you put into capturing them.
ISC Sports’ global community doesn’t disappear after the final shot. Mexican and Puerto Rican baseball fans are so taken with ISC Sports’ coverage that they’ll tune back in months later to re-watch a less familiar sport, like basketball, in a region to which they had no pre-existing connection. “It’s such a cool dynamic, to know that we’ve got an international audience that watches Indiana sports,” says Greg Maish, President of ISC Sports. It’s a testament to the power of a quality sports streaming product.
Consumer data from the OTT platform can help you better understand your subscriber’s viewing preferences. Leveraging data to create channels and content that subscribers really like and continually come back to will improve your bottom line.
Maish also noted that ISC’s analytics suggested parents and student-athletes like to return home from games and watch them over again via archived broadcast — further suggesting success for the company’s subscription video on demand (SVOD) model.
2. Monetize your content
How can I sell my videos online? Great question.
Offering a live streaming service, an OTT service, or both provide myriad revenue generation opportunities for sports organizations and businesses. The most common way to monetize video content through OTT platforms is through monthly or annual subscriptions, similar to Netflix and Hulu – which sell video content online. This is also referred to as subscription video on demand, or SVOD.
SVOD is one of the most profitable video monetization business models out there, which is why it’s also one of the most popular. You make money when subscribers pay for your premium content through a recurring monthly or annual fee.
According to a study conducted by the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg, 63% of people surveyed stated they were interested in paying for an all-sports OTT channel.
3. Focus on engaging users
In a recent study by Vodafone, more than three quarters of business leaders from sports organizations agreed that improving fan engagement is essential for business growth.
Retaining subscribers requires high-quality content. Delivering an innovative fan experience in addition to your live streams will help your sports OTT channel survive in a competitive market.
Uploading clips of your live stream content to social media, creating fan competitions, or utilizing existing content and creating fan reels are all creative ways to further engage your subscribers.
Wrap up to OTT sports streaming
- Live OTT sports streaming is growing. 1.3 million homes dropped traditional cable or satellite TV service in the second quarter of 2020. OTT platforms have soared in popularity in the last few months.
- Large broadcasters aren’t the only businesses profiting from live streaming: niche sports channels are finding success from defined audiences with specific interests.
- Live streaming allows you to personalize the viewing experience and content delivery.
- Increasing the ROI of your live-streamed content is crucial and will ensure that your live streaming efforts are worth the time and energy you put into capturing them.
The OTT sports streaming landscape is expanding. Adding live sports to your streaming or content repertoire will get your OTT channel in the game.