Evolution of streaming TV

For pro teams, video access should form a key component of membership sales. But OTT needs to evolve beyond a packaged broadcast stream.

With the rise of Netflix and its cohorts, streaming TV has established itself as a key destination for video entertainment. Delivered through any device big or small, it’s often a primary channel for sporting bodies to deliver live action, replays, highlights analysis and any innovative sports entertainment concept.

This league/team approach to streaming TV (often referred to as Over-The-Top Media or OTT) was pioneered by MLB in the early 00s with access available for a monthly fee. It welcomed live action without the 'cord'.

In a world with vacant stadiums, OTT might be the ark that shelters teams from the storm.

Financial fans are the lifeblood of a sport team. The commitment provided by members and season ticket holders gives teams a platform for commercial growth. Their passion translates to full stadiums, website page views and social media commentary.

In many parts of the world membership is built around game access. With stadium access all but a pipe dream in 2020, and potentially little chance in 2021, teams need to craft membership products to provide tangible value. OTT can be exactly this.

Content is access

Today, teams and leagues (and athletes) have dedicated content arms that are the primary conduit in connecting fans to the game. With fans unable to enjoy sport in person, it's no surprise brands are producing more videos, writing more articles and recording more podcasts than ever before.

For some time, brand owned content production has been a growth area. The current pandemic is accelerating this, creating commercial opportunities allowing teams new revenue or to replace activations lost to fan free live games. The sports media ecosystem is evolving to the extent that soon video highlights will become more valuable than live rights.

Right now, the highest value content is undoubtably live match. Across markets there is huge variation in the ownership of such rights. Whether owned by a team directly, the league, a broadcaster or a commercial partner; OTT needs to become a membership product.

Aligning content to membership tiers

OTT has to evolve from a broadcast feed packaged in an app, to a digital native platform sympathetic to the user and the content being broadcast. An approach in this regard will not only help create distinct tiers of access but also provide a highly personalised experience.

Tiers that we'd often find in membership products can align with the content and platform strategies of an OTT product. As an example on the content side, all tiers could include behind the scenes and lifestyle content. Live action with specialist commentary could be available mid tier. Top tier memberships could receive additional programming that includes dedicated channels, audio experiences, bespoke highlights packages and more. On the platform side, top membership tiers could include exclusive vision (eg. VR or team centric cameras) and simultaneous device logins or enhanced video quality. Timeliness of delivery could add extra value to membership with top tiers gaining instant access to content with lower tiers having a delay before access.

Current OTT is often too generic

Current OTT offerings are delivered at a very broad level. They're either an 'all sports' platform, or produced via a governing body or league brand (ie. English Premier League, National Basketball Association , Major League Baseball). This is often tied up in commercial rights' agreements with major sponsors and traditional broadcasters, leaving little footage for clubs to deliver to their dedicated fans.

A transformative OTT experience renders it a personalised membership product rather than a simple subscription service. In turn, it better represents and caters to its customers.

Understanding the fan

Let's use music as an example of what drives sports fans. On a basic level, a football fan is ultimately a fan of sport, just like a fan of Jazz enjoys music. But with the such a diverse range of Jazz styles on offer, the underlying obsession lies in the alignment and connection to the vibe and 'feeling' of a movement.

Catering to the 'passionates'

Fans at a club level are far more passionate and nuanced than those at a sport level. They seek out a connection beyond matches, news and highlights. They want access that equals their underlying connection to the club badge. This provides great opportunity for OTT to deliver incredible value to members and build stronger emotional connections. Content, communication and user experience are essential components of the OTT platform.

The 'global' membership product

The largest stadiums in the world (of which there are few) can accomodate 100,000+ fans. Team sports played indoor average around a third of that. Teams that focus on access-based membership, serve a very geographical localised audience surrounding their own stadium. Therefore, these clubs have a hard cap in available inventory in terms of available seats and also available market. Conversely, OTT has no theoretical limitation and in turn no ceiling in the number of memberships available on offer. It is undoubtably a global membership product.

A united focus needed

There's no denying that such an evolution presents distinct challenges. Broadcasters have obligations and commercial needs. A membership base is obviously smaller than the wider all-fans market. Investing heavily in content for a (comparatively) smaller market is a hard decision given the little short-term incentive. Outside of broadcast, the league too has commercial needs. Finally, integrations are required both in terms of data and technology to fulfil the features of the experience.

This short term opportunity is significant in giving teams something sorely needed - exclusive access. Long term, post pandemic, the platform has the opportunity to create a completely new vertical of membership that supplements instead of substituting stadium access.

Financial fans are a sport's lifeblood

Ultimately, a healthy membership base underpins strong clubs. Members breed fans, fans create the market. The market feeds commercial opportunities and broadcast interest. This self perpetuating, cyclical process is the basis for financially successful clubs.

We simply can't allow the absence of fans in stadiums (and the supplementary revenue that this generates) to push our favourite sports to the brink of existence. Without intervention, and without tangible reasons for commitment our most passionate fans will become casual spectators. Now is the time for digital native content to fulfil the void and with that, OTT has to evolve.

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