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Why it's time to embrace cloud in sports broadcasting

(Image credit: Image Credit: Massive)

In the last few months we have seen the introduction of a number of new Over The Top (OTT) streaming platforms, including the unveiling of both UEFA’s and Manchester City’s. These platforms are designed to give viewers further access to live and on-demand video content and is a move to help reach viewers from across the globe.

This is a move that makes sense as sporting audiences continue to change, with younger viewers wanting the ability to access content online from anywhere, at any time. These platforms are the latest developments in the changing face of sports broadcasting, which has traditionally been delivered live and exclusive through one distribution channel.

These changes have moved the balance of power even further away from the traditional satellite providers and will see IT become even more important to broadcast businesses. IT is now seen as a really fundamental driver of revenue within the industry, not just the department of “turn it off and on”.

It is of course great to see this continued investment in engaging more customers and ensuring as many viewers as possible are able to access content. However, the industry really needs to begin understanding how technology can be used to solve internal servicing and marketing issues which are currently broken. There is a huge potential for the industry to do this and streamline internal processes moving forward.

Internal processes are reaching breaking point

The sexy side of the industry has understandably received the most attention in recent years, with customer engagement and commercialisation being the main focus. This obviously makes sense as these are the money-making functions for the industry, but now is the time to revamp internal processes.

Although internal processes might not be as exciting and lucrative, they are the backbone of the industry which enable innovation to take place. If the industry fails to get these right, as it is currently doing, it will not be able to keep up with the changes in content delivery and other technological advancements that are taking place.

The two examples discussed are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the great advancements we have seen in content delivery. The advent of VOD and OTT have created far more complex services than we have seen before, requiring bigger teams and more expensive hardware.

This is happening at a time when the budgets of rights holders are smaller than ever before and struggling to keep up with demands. This has left linear servicing to the broadcast industry – the real back bone – completely broken. It is time the industry embrace the efficiencies of technology internally and fix this problem.

Struggling to keep up

There are a number of reasons why the industry has failed to innovate internally, but one of the main things holding it back is large long-term contracts. Contracts that have existed for years are just accepted as the normal and disruptive challengers are unable to enter the fold. This has completely stifled innovation. People are battling on with outdated project management tools such as WeTransfer and spreadsheets, and if this isn’t addressed soon we will see a big crash.

Rights holders are also stuck using outdated tools and hardware, making project management an arduous and laborious task. These outdated tools are leaving rights holders in the dark, unable to have complete visibility into projects, leaving them exposed when talking to their clients. The industry can use technology to overcome this vulnerability by ensuring projects are available in one place and easy to access at all times. This will mean rights holders no longer have to jump from system to system to try and track down assets and instructions.

The modern world moves faster than ever before and this is particularly the case when it comes to advertising. Advertising campaigns need to keep up with this fast-moving world to stay fresh, topical and punchy, or viewers will become bored and disillusioned by a brand.

Outdated hardware has made this difficult and the industry has really struggled to keep up, with file management and delivery taking up to two weeks for changes to be made to advertising campaigns. This is far too long and leaves rights holders unable to meet the demand of advertising campaigns, leaving them feeling stale and generic to the viewer.

Time to embrace the cloud

It is great to see how far cloud based services have matured and been embraced by the broadcast industry, and tools including Microsoft Media Services enabling high-quality video content production at a reasonable and attainable price. The advent of cloud technology has also made it possible to produce and deploy professional grade al grade cloud-based live video streaming and editing quickly. This enables the delivery of content instantly across web, social and mobile efficiently and cheaper than ever before.

These developments have all improved external processes such as content delivery, but the industry has yet to make the most of cloud technology in improving internal processes. It is time to understand that cloud services can finally assign the current archaic linear processes that are used to track and deliver projects to the dustbin of history. The benefits to this are endless: efficiency, speed, and real-time visibility, all absolutely vital to the industry.  

Fully clouded solutions will also enable the introduction of up-to-date advertisements, as they will provide rights holders with the necessary scalability and power to access files as quickly as they need them. This will allow them to launch advertising campaigns in just 48 hours and campaigns can be as current as topical as possible.

Anytime, anywhere edits

Cloud and the data centre environment will also allow customers to really benefit from a “pay as you use” model, which provides greater flexibility and cost-efficiencies. This won’t just benefit the big-ticket events such as football and rugby, but also help more modestly distributed sports such as judo and handball.

The industry will also be able to turn its back on the outdated in-stadium edit suites, which are expensive and time-consuming. The cloud will enable rights holders to carry out edits “near live” and produce highlights and other supporting media as the game progresses, all whilst sitting in their own home. No longer will rights holders need to be transported from country to country, which costs money and damages the environment.

Craft editors will be able to log into the cloud from anywhere they like and spin up a remote edit suite, with absolutely no loss of quality in an infinitely burstable environment. This will allow for quality distribution globally whilst being serviced locally.

The future looks bright

We are also seeing a new breed of sports broadcaster being born as a result of technology and digital disruption. The combination of camera phones and YouTube has made it easier than ever to create content, which has helped boost the exposure of more niche sports.

This is definitely providing greater access to these niche sports, but advances in technology and the change in consumer behaviour have also presented numerous opportunities when it comes to major sports as well. We have seen big name technology players like Facebook and Amazon entering the market and really disrupting the landscape of incumbents.

Digital sports broadcasters like DAZN, which has recently added Eurosport channels to its OTT platform, are also challenging incumbent broadcasters and this presents opportunities for rights holders all over the globe. These opportunities include a direct connection to fans, further gathering of data and the ability to engage with fans in a more personalised manner.

All of these developments are exciting for the industry, but if it wants to embrace them it must first fix its broken internal processes.

Matt Bowman, Director, ISG Connect

Matt Bowman is a Director at ISG Connect.