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The State of Live Streaming 2022

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Many sports governing bodies still refuse to embrace betting services for reasons of integrity and because of social concerns about gambling, but the MediaKind report predicts we'll see an explosion in revenues for sports betting, with fantasy and gaming applications increasingly integrated into sports content platforms. It cites the NCAA's March Madness Bracket Challenge as providing "an attractive template for how something like predictor games can become integral to a D2C service, and arguably its main attraction."

Competing sportsbooks include FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, and Caesars Sportsbook, which launched in August 2021. Sports broadcasters are not being left behind. The Wall Street Journal reports that ESPN is seeking to license its brand to sports betting companies, with a price tag of at least $3 billion over the next several years.

All of the leading U.S. sports leagues and broadcasters are also trying to work out the most effective strategy for partnerships. In July 2021, MLB began to operate live streaming of games on the DraftKings app to give fans one free, live game per week, while the NHL and NBA have agreements with other sports betting companies for live broadcast offerings.

Dan Pozner, NBC Sports' director of gambling content, says that his chief focus will be on the development of betting-centric alt-telecasts of live sports for fans who want to watch a game and have the TV presentation with their same betting perspective, along with graphics and commentary. "The eventual next step is likely the convergence of the bet-placing and viewing experiences," Pozner predicts.

fuboTV Shoots for Global Domination

Live-streaming subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service fuboTV is among the most aggressive in the space. It has launched its own sports betting product (Fubo Sportsbook) as a lynchpin of "a holistic and hyper-personalized betting experience," according to co-founder and CEO David Gandler in a Q2 2021 earnings call. "The launch of our own sportsbook is an important driver of the strategy as we aim to develop a flywheel, turning passive viewers into active participants, defining a new category of interactive sports-entertainment television."

fuboTV's stated business strategy recognizes the intersection of three business trends, according to Gandler: "the secular decline of traditional television, the shift of TV ad dollars to connected devices, and online sports wagering, a market opportunity which we believe complements our sports-first live TV streaming platform."

The fuboTV app has a Watching Now feature that uses data from its streaming service to sync the wagering app with what a user is watching on fuboTV. "Leveraging fuboTV's first-party user behavior data to understand consumers' viewing preferences and recommend relevant bets, the company intends to turn passive viewers into active, engaged participants," fuboTV notes in a press release about Fubo Sportsbook. This marks "an industry-first integration."

There is a lot of investor excitement about the New York-based firm, which has quickly amassed more than 1 million paid subscribers and an enviable average revenue per user (ARPU) of $75. It built its sportsbook by acquiring betting platforms Balto Sports and Vigtory and plans to use computer vision technology from Indian startup Edisn.ai to create a more interactive and immersive live-TV experience "through better play-by-play identification and frame-accurate video-data synchronization," according to the press release.

The vMVPD bills itself as a cable replacement service and offers more than of 100 channels in different markets, including major league sports games. In a November 2021 podcast for SportsPro, Gandler said, "DTC is really hard; it's a grueling business. The fact that all streaming companies talk about global subscribers tells you it's very difficult to launch and develop in the U.S. It's highly unlikely that these businesses will be successful, and there'll be a point in time when analysts and investors will say ‘enough is enough—show me the profits.'"

Gandler added, "The best businesses in the world are aggregators. We're taking our time being smart, and I think in the next 5 to 7 years, this is going to be a pretty large business. I'm a very simple guy with a one-track mind: global domination."

Stability at Scale Is Crucial

As streaming becomes the primary means of content delivery, glitches in the live OTT fabric must be addressed. Or, at least, rightsholders need to be assured that their valued content is going to be served to the scale, quality, and latency of broadcast.

"Despite tremendous technological advances, there is still concern among many rights-holders about how a streaming service would stand up when faced with a high volume of concurrent live streams," Media­Kind states in its report. For those sports rightsholders surveyed, the stability and scalability of a platform remained fundamental. Ultra-low (sub-1-second) latency will also be critical for the adoption of betting services, according to MediaKind, and could be powered by edge compute and 5G connectivity.

COVID has undoubtedly shifted the perception and adoption of IP and cloud as viable technical solutions where on-premise video workflows once held sway. The spin-up/spin-down nature of cloud-based delivery infrastructure means it can offer a unique level of flexibility. Users can set up an environment for a day or a one-off event with minimal overhead and then scale as needed. Unlike traditional broadcast infrastructure, IP solutions are adaptable environments that often don't require proprietary hardware. Therefore, proof of concept can be achieved with minimal outlay and low commitment from potential customers.

Speaking to an audience of sports technologists at SVG Europe's Sport Production & Technology Summit 2021, Net Insight CTO Per Lindgren said, "In the move to cloud, we need reliability, quality, and security, as well as better synchronization of data, video, and audio. But I think the bigger shift is not one of technology, but one more related to business models. Vendors have to offer more flexibility on price and move towards software-as-a-service business models because that is what customers want."

The point is that this is not confined to major league sports, but is applicable to any sport and any broadcaster as never before. Cloud and OTT have reduced barriers to live production by eliminating the need to contribute video over traditional satellite or fiber, while enabling staff such as directors, switchers, and camera operators to work at a central location or from home with little impact on their workflow and no noticeable effect on the quality of the end-user experience.

Grabyo's Capon believes smaller rightsholders will move to this model first, "as the revenues for tier-two sports properties will decline more precipitously in the broadcast market than the leading properties such as the UEFA [Union of European Football Associations] and the NFL."

Scaling 8K OTT

Finally, Intel, Japanese broadcaster NHK, and Brazilian broadcaster GloboTV announced plans to stream high frame rate, High Dynamic Range (HDR) 8K, and even 16K, at the Paris Olympics in 2024. "We are way beyond proof of concept," says Ravindra Velhal, global content technology strategist and 8K lead at Intel, in an Intel-sponsored article for VentureBeat.

Following tests conducted at the Tokyo Games in 2021, Intel affirmed that 8K live streaming at scale can be done. Delivery to the open internet is managed using Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP) and TLS or RTP and HTTP Live Streaming (HLS). The round-trip latency from venue to screen of the 50Gbps input signal encoded to produce a 200–250Mbps contribution and 80Mbps distribution signal for OTT was just 200–400 milliseconds.

Velhal concedes that, right now, the ISP cannot handle distribution of more than 100Mbps. "Basically, we're delivering 8K on the existing 4K infrastructure," he says, although he predicts that this issue will be resolved in 2 years. "For the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games, Intel technologies will continue to push pixel frontiers to even live 16K, multiple 8K TV channels or 8K with 120 frames per second over 5G.

"The work we're doing is the future of Olympic broad­casting, the future of sports broadcasting, and the future of live entertainment broadcasting," Velhal adds. "We are preparing the world for the democratization of 8K using open Internet."

[Editor's note: This article first appeared in the 2022 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook.] 

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