OPEN MIKE BY LUKE GAYDON

Viewers Want More From Streaming Sports

Features like AR and VR, social media integrations with synchronized streaming options and personalization are key to capturing fans’ imaginations and driving more active, engaged consumption.

The way that sports are consumed is changing. We are seeing a fundamental shift in viewing habits as audiences move away from linear consumption and towards content delivered on their own terms.

There is no doubt that COVID has accelerated this transition. The sudden halt to sports in 2020 left room for viewers to alter long-established behaviors. With major sporting events canceled, the demand for gamification, documentary formats, archive compilations and detailed analysis increased dramatically.

When matches returned, audiences retained an interest in supplementary viewing and additional features. This increased awareness of new ways to interact with sports content has led many consumers towards the OTT platforms capable of delivering more engaging viewing.

The video industry is growing, and OTT is booming. OTT media revenue is expected to reach more than $167 billion by 2025. But with this growth comes a more discerning consumer, expecting a dynamic user experience (UX) from the services they subscribe to.

Having witnessed some gaming-changing innovation over the past 12 months, here are features likeliest to be most critical to sports video services attracting and retaining viewers.

Interactive Features

BRAND CONNECTIONS

OTT services are exploring opportunities to give viewers the opportunity to become fully immersed in sports content, using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) features.

VR may have roots in the gaming industry, but the technology is just as relevant for live sports. At the same time, the inexorable rise of esports is further driving consumer demand and expectation for more enhanced and immersive experiences. The demand for tickets to live events post-COVID will certainly exceed supply, and it seems likely there will be restrictions on the number of fans in the stadium for a while.

VR opens up opportunities for every fan to enjoy a front-row seat, providing content owners the ability to sell premium experiences directly to their subscribers. Sports leagues are looking at ways to implement the technology, with Facebook planning to recreate the NBA’s courtside seats in VR and Major League Baseball exploring AR offerings to create interaction around statistics.

AR features let users pull out key insights during matches using interactive overlays. This is particularly useful during fast-paced moments in a game or during races where it can be difficult to keep track of action that’s happening simultaneously. This technology can also be used by sponsors to encourage viewers to interact with product graphics through gamified AR. This delivers better brand awareness and allows sponsors and content owners to maximize the value of their partnerships, such as this collaboration between Golden Road Brewing and the L.A. Dodgers, which asked fans to “Raise a Can to the Champs.”

Social Features

The consumer’s relationship with media has changed immeasurably in recent years, and a two-way conversation around content has become the norm. Social interaction is an intrinsic part of sports’ appeal. Many fans have missed watching a game with friends during global lockdowns and social distancing.

Commenting on key moments and discussing the action is crucial to building a shared experience. Forward-thinking OTT services are looking to replicate this collective experience through social watching. This is particularly relevant during key events such as the holidays, where friends and family might not be able to spend time together physically.

There are now many services that let users connect over content and discuss shows in an integrated messaging space, so this approach has huge potential for sports viewing. By leveraging short-form sharable content, sports service providers can take their OTT brand into a messaging space and creating a new conversation between fans.

With synchronized streaming options such as Watch Together from Eleven Sports, users can create a “room” to make sure they watch the action simultaneously with their friends. This allows everyone to celebrate that crucial goal, at exactly the same time.

Informative Features

Analytics play a key part in helping fans understand events as they unfold and predict what’s likely to happen next.

Viewers often use second screens to track stats and access data on players during a game. But what if these insights were an integrated OTT feature that allowed audiences to find out information seamlessly during play? Providing fans with detailed background statistics on their favorite player or the likelihood that they will score during that particular game creates a talking point that feeds into social watching. But it also retains audience attention and keeps them interacting with the service, which is the main goal for all providers.

Personalized Features

Consumers now expect tailored services in all aspects of life, from shopping to viewing, and therefore sports OTT offerings need to deliver the same level of personalization.

The appetite for sporting content is huge, and audiences are keen to engage with teams and events in new ways. It’s important that content providers aren’t sticking to the same formats. By diversifying the offerings, OTT services can deliver a mix of short and long-form content, analysis and live events, as well as features that allow users to delve into the detail of their favorite teams and players.

By tracking users’ viewing habits across different content formats, services can incorporate these usage analytics to build curated feeds for each user, which are as unique as their preferences. This in turn offers valuable insights that can influence future content development and maximize long-term engagement.

Perhaps more than any other type of content, sports inspire loyalty. With OTT platforms, there is an opportunity to develop that relationship and deliver sports in new formats that capture fans’ imaginations. Audiences want to be able to engage with sports in innovative ways rather than passively consuming them.

By taking inspiration from sports broadcasters such as ESPN, Fox Sports and the Athletic and continuing to experiment with formats, service providers can understand how to best serve their super fans and the rest of the audience. Technology can ensure that the path to experimentation is frictionless while augmenting the content’s value.


Luke Gaydon works at Accedo in business development, sports.


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