NAB 2015: How Sports and Gaming are Driving Live Streaming

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John is a millennial who spends one to two hours a day watching Twitch, and he watches more on weekends if there's a tournament. He watches free ad-supported content to follow his favorite players and is notified when they go live. Once in a while he also supports streamers by paying $4.99 per month for exclusive access, which removes the ads and includes chat room access. He's making advertisers and publishers very happy.

82% of live online video ad views are now tied to sports and eSports, according to data presented at an NAB panel earlier this week called "Now Playing: How Sports and Gaming are Driving Live Streaming." Live sports streaming gives viewers an uncensored, authentic experience that engages in ways no other content can. "When you're watching VOD, you may find out what happens from the title, or a spoiler," says John. "Live is not just the game itself, but the player backstory and the community around the content."

John is an actual person, and he represents a significant but often under-recognized demographic within the online video audience. It's a demographic that skews younger, and advertisers have to walk a fine line if they want their attention.

"We live stream lacrosse games and ultimate Frisbee championships to 14 to 24-year-olds," said Brian Selander, executive vice president of Whistle Sports Network. "Then they want to watch the content 7 or 8 times and comment. Their take on ads is if they looks like ads that are trying to drive purchases, they get dismissed. Ads that entertain get noticed."

"This is an interactive platform," said Adam Ware, senior vice president and head of digital media for Tennis Channel. "if you can have a transactional relationship with your audience you can build value. I don't think the 14 to 24 demographic who grew up on YouTube wants to see the TV ad replicated.

As with any online video advertising, advertising in sports and esports content delivers value via customer data. "We're capturing an email for subscription and later we realized the same people who want to watch tennis may also buy tennis lessons," said Ware. "It brings incremental value. For the first time were sitting there with the opportunity to do transactions."

Online delivery means that publishers like Tennis Channel can respond to what viewers want, adding and changing content far more quickly than traditional television.

"I can have 6, 10, or 12 courts," said Ware. "I can program up to 25 channels. We put up a Serena [Williams] channel when there was demand,. The content just can't fit on one channel. We cover as many games as we can. We see people sitting there at three in the morning watching the live match. The minute we launched on Apple TV and Roku there were people who were willing to watch through us instead of a cable service."

Is this the future of sports broadcasting? "I think sports will take the lead in driving the consumer pull," said Braxton Jarratt, CEO of Clearleap. "What's behind this pull is consumers are craving niche live sports programming they can't get anywhere else."

Perhaps unlike with other content, viewers are more than willing to sign in to get what they want. "I'm on the road and I want to watch my content," said Ware. "With live sports you want to watch, you're more likely to have credentials. 80% of sign-ins are from live sports."

What does the future look like? According to FreeWheel directory of advisory services Brian Dutt, "Someone has to take a massive risk. What does it take to scale? It's bringing the viewers in first."

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