Large Audiences flock to OTT live sports

OTT viewing is making a drastic shift from being focused on video-on-demand (VOD) content to live, including large amounts of viewing for flagship events. This puts additional pressure on network technology as well as origin servers. At the same time, the content is destined for the cloud – which is one reason why cloud-hosted workflows are such a natural fit, and the market is evolving so quickly to support live demands. From the commercial perspective, content availability and service launches of live video are driven by many significant factors, especially:

  • Millennial audiences prefer no-contract subscriptions and wide device access, and can only be monetized through appropriately structured video packages.
  • Mobile carrier’s OTT relationships are a good place for launching consumer-oriented, rather than household-oriented packages
  • “Superfans” may be willing to pay premiums for access to deeper content, more intimate experiences with the stars, and better rights windows
  • International distribution opportunities can be undercapitalized; use of owned distribution platforms may take slower time to market with higher levels of profitability.
  • Residual and undercapitalized sports rights speak to the superfans while enabling direct broadcaster to consumer offerings at higher gross margins on undercapitalized rights.

From a consumer standpoint, modern consumers today believe that “television” must be available on any network, on any screen, and ideally at any time. Additional elements which content service providers must think about to meet customer expectations with new service launches include:

  • Content availability may not be 100% on par with broadcasting platforms, largely due to complex rights agreements, but being consistent and clear on content rights is critical.
  • Equivalent experiences are expected by consumers, which implies service providers must put an emphasis on quality of experience, high-quality advertisements, and low-latency feeds
  • Device Access should be as wide as achievable – fragmented device access, from rights and technology issues, is seem as very limiting.
  • Richer content expectations include more demand for interactivity and multiple camera angles.

From a technical standpoint, this VOD to live transition comes with extensive technical increases in complexity. Some of the key areas where live content complexity is greater than VOD include:

  • VOD asset availability generally preceded the release window, allowing non-deterministic video processing as well as time for QA processes.
  • When playing VOD assets, latency can be traded off for quality of experience (QoE), creating only a significant challenge around start-up times.
  • Ingesting live content reliably requires reproducing broadcast workflows on top of cloud technologies.

The business of live TV also brings significant complexity into ad workflows, including personalization, monetization, audience shift between services, event promotion capabilities and audience aggregation. Amazon Prime Video’s engagement with the NFL’s Thursday Night Football offers a great showcase of the massive live OTT opportunity; This platform delivered content to viewers in 187 countries, with about 21% of viewers tuning in coming internationally. This helps the NFL gain exposure, and get a foothold into monetization of international audiences – a key growth area for a sport known around most of the world as “American football”. All in all, it appears the cloud-based OTT workflows have achieved the reliability to reach large audiences (1.8 M viewers peak for one game), handle complex ad insertion workflows – delivering content with rights relationships not just between multiple broadcasters but also in multiple geographies and language feeds, and increase international distribution for a league – with about 375K international viewers tuning into multiple language feeds. A more complete version of this blog is published as a white-paper, sponsored by AWS Elemental, available here: