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The State of Live Video 2016

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The battle isn’t over just yet, and networks need to do more to reduce latency and improve last-mile delivery. 2016 will be a time for CDNs to make their systems stronger.

“At the end of the day, there are three major areas to get the signal to the end user,” Peters says. “There’s the entry point and how effectively from the particular event that signal can be pushed into the CDN; there’s the ability for the CDN to propagate across their network; and then there’s how effectively the CDN provider has either negotiated terms or provided interconnection agreements with the last-mile provider—the MSO, or cellular, or service provider —for the final leg of the journey. If you consider those three areas, what we’re seeing particularly is significant investment by the CDN operators to most effectively propagate and get that signal across their network with the lowest possible latency. That really helps.” Faster downloads lead to less buffering.

For anyone who thought there was a lot of live video available in 2015, that was just an early experimentation phase. Moving forward we’ll see it in abundance, and the reason is the wealth of viewer data it provides.

“We’re going to see more professional sports,” Peters says. “I think we’re going to see more music events, concerts, and live events online. We’re seeing the dipping of toes with these one-offs that will be done. For free events, what’s really critical is the analytics. Using digital platforms, particularly when sign-in is required and when there’s a user profile behind the request, you can pull together analytics and data about the viewers that was never available before. That data is incredibly valuable and that will motivate more events to look at live streaming.”

But don’t marketers already have a full file on every one of us? What more could they learn from live video?

“You’ve got male and female, age, geographic location, language preference, so you take that data and then with the stream, the service provider, what bit rate the stream was delivered, how long the engagement was, how many times it was paused, how many times rewound,” Peters says. “If there are multiple camera angles or multiple stages at a live event, you can see how the user moves from one to the other. You can see the impact on a promotion, so you put some graphics on the truck and you can immediately see the impact as users use their digital devices to perform navigation functions. It enables not only optimization of the way the event is broadcast, but also valuable insights into the behavior of the viewers.”

As for what we’ll be streaming live in 2016, expect to see more of what we’ve seen in 2015 but on a bigger scale. Before that can happen, the business models will have to take shape.

“I expect there to be more live sports. Some of that, I think, is going to be predicated upon existing deals like the NFL streaming game that happened last October [with Yahoo],” says Vincent Moy, an entertainment industry analyst with the NPD Group. “I expect them to expand, but it depends on how much they’re going to get compensated. Those are attractive ad revenue generators. The business model is still being developed for live streaming. If they can make more from their traditional tried-and-true method, I think they’d be likely to stick to it.”

While football, baseball, and basketball will get more attention, the growth potential for live sports is with niche offerings, matches that aren’t aired now.

“Personally, I’m a tennis guy, and I know that there are lots of games on tours that aren’t necessarily covered by the major networks,” Moy says. “I think there’s an opportunity to have niche sports that may not get as much broadcast time find an audience streaming. That is a less-popular avenue that doesn’t get broadcast time because the numbers don’t work.”

Speaking of sports, 2016 is a Summer Olympics year, and the action will take place in Rio de Janeiro this August. The streaming world loves to show off new technologies at the Olympics, and the summer games get a lot more attention than the winter. No doubt this will be the biggest live video event ever. NBC will again stream the games in the U.S., no doubt offering viewers the chance to view multiple live streams at any one time.

“Given all these events are going on simultaneously that gives them the ability to have multiple streams go out from the swimming pool, from the track and field, from the gymnastics pavilion, and so on,” Moy says. “I think swimming and gymnastics are popular, but they have to give the other sports their airtime. I would be surprised if they didn’t have some sort of streaming-parallel viewing opportunity.”

As big as esports is now, look for its live streams to grow exponentially in 2016. Peters thinks we’ll see a 50 percent increase both in the number of viewers and the minutes of gaming streamed live.

“Esports is huge, so we’re seeing YouTube, Twitch, Red Bull Media House, all investing heavily in esports, and I think we’ll see more,” Peters says. “It never ceases to amaze me the [enormousness] of the numbers these events attract. I get it. I’ve seen some myself and it’s strangely addictive to watch these professional gamers. I think that we’re only seeing the start of an explosive curve here in this area.”

While linear broadcast and cable channels are seeing a decline, Peters sees a big year ahead for live linear streaming. It will do so well that established properties will launch targeted niche channels.

“What we’re going to start to see is what we call digital side channels, which is really these alternate or additional linear programming with perhaps a slightly different focus, start to appear,” Peters says.

Several side channels are in production now, Peters says. Look for providers to experiment with subscription models to see how many OTT subscriptions viewers are willing to take on. For now, however, the industry will focus on growth.

“Initially we’re going to see a round of these new live linear and on-demand apps emerge. Then, we’ll see the problem being solved about whether or not it’s too many. Market forces will determine what ends up doing well and what doesn’t,” Peters says.

Cutting back, however, is likely a problem for 2017, and 2016 should continue to be all about growth. Keep an eye out for interesting live events, and feel the connectedness that only live video can deliver.

This article appears in the 2016 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook.

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