Blog Post by Charlie Kraus
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup is underway, breaking previous viewing records around the world. The BBC reported that three of England’s matches rank in its top 10 most-watched football games of 2019. According to FIFA, France’s match against Brazil drew the largest TV audience for a Women’s World Cup match with 35 million watching in Brazil and another 16 million in France. Clearly women’s football is increasing in popularity worldwide.
Major sporting events pull interest from both fans and casual viewers alike, especially for the World Cups. The global popularity, and month-long duration, connect international viewers over an extended time period to share their interest in the sport. For the expat community, it’s also an opportunity to connect with their home team and fans even if they’re thousands of miles away.
There are several reasons for the surging popularity of watching live sports online. From the fan perspective, the ability to watch events from any device they choose, and on their own schedule, has broad appeal. Expats are especially reliant on streaming options to be able to watch their home team from abroad. For TV broadcasters holding the rights to deliver sports coverage, complementing traditional TV broadcasts with live streaming attracts significant additional audience – critical for ad monetization given the high cost of licensing rights. Other business benefits include the ability to gather data such as viewer engagement metrics, who is watching, and where they are located. This all goes to improving monetization.
As more viewers make the switch from traditional TV broadcasts to live streaming, they bring expectations for high quality video with them. There is no option to delivering anything other than the best possible viewing experience. In fact, our State of Online Video report found that if a video rebuffers twice, more than 61 percent of consumers will give up and stop watching the content altogether.
Besides video quality, another aspect of live streaming that needs to be addressed is the latency issue. Live streams will typically be delivered with a latency delay of up to a minute or more compared to the TV broadcast. This becomes problematic when someone watching a game online receives a text or sees over social media about a goal just scored, when the online viewer hasn’t seen it yet.
This latency is caused by the online streaming via HTTP protocols that segments video into small segments, called chunks that are buffered prior to delivery. Luckily this is being addressed by new technologies such as Common Media Application Format (CMAF) which can reduce latency as little as 3 or 4 seconds, and streaming, which eliminates latency inducing overhead, delivering live video in less than one second.
Based on the popularity of online streaming during the 2019 Women’s World Cup, we can expect the next major sports events to show similar increases. It is now more important than ever that broadcasters use a global private network to deliver live streams avoid using the public internet because of congestion based on time of day - increasing the risk of outages or issues with rebuffering. Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) such as Limelight that are built with private backbones have the capacity and scale to support the expected streaming traffic. Beyond capacity, another critical consideration is the ability to handle the large spikes in logins that occur when matches are close in the final minutes of play. Making investments now ahead of the arrival of the next big events will pay off by providing the best possible online viewing experiences which will lead to retaining audiences.
For several years now viewers have been able to stream content on a variety of devices. They expect to do so without any difference in the quality of their viewing experience. This requires support of multiple popular streaming formats, delivery bitrates, and protocol adaptions to optimize video delivery for varying internet connection speeds and quality. A new development we can expect over the next year is the integration of realtime data, such as statistics, with online video, providing new insights for fans into games.
Earlier this year an innovative application of WebRTC technology was tested in a sports stadium in Japan. Typically, multiple video cameras are positioned around a stadium, with control of the camera views shown to the broadcast and streaming audience done from the onsite control room. In this test, some in-stadium spectators were provided with tablets that were fed multiple WebRTC video streams provided by all the cameras via the stadium’s local WiFi. An app on the tablets allowed viewers to select which cameras they wanted to view, from split screens showing all camera views, to zooming in to a single camera angle. All of the views were in realtime, thanks to WebRTC’s sub-second latency. Expect to see more of this in upcoming events.
The ability to access sports events on different devices helps fans stay more engaged in national or international events and is likely a reason sports events enjoy such high viewership. To maintain consumer expectations for multi-device viewing, it’s important to have a CDN with the capability to do device detection and automatically optimize picture quality for each viewer’s device, available bandwidth and network conditions. Preparing for the next big sports event means partnering with CDN providers with the network capacity to support the expected streaming traffic in the regions where fans are located. As sports license holders begin to prepare for the future international events (i.e. 2020 Olympics), it's important to partner now with network providers that have the technology and video delivery services that will score higher rates of engagement and evolve fan experiences in ways that traditional broadcast just can’t compete with.