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The State of Live Video 2017

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But what Peters is really waiting to see is what ESPN does now that it’s working with MLB Advance Media spinoff BAMTech. Look for ESPN to put together its own HBO GO-type subscription service, one that’s complementary to its cable offerings. The product needs to be differentiated, but ESPN is an innovative company.

“I think that really everyone’s going to see how ESPN are able to assemble a direct-to-consumer offering, and that’s really going to determine how all the others will fit in next year,” Peters says.

Sappington also sees big changes coming to sports streaming, but he sees the leagues taking charge. Declining broadcast ratings and cord-cutting means that ESPN isn’t as profitable. That spells a long-term risk for the major sports leagues, which they’ll attempt to solve with their own direct-to-consumer offerings. Going direct also lets them serve fans in other countries, including areas where they don’t have a broadcast partner willing to pay for rights. Going direct lets the league get something out of those markets instead of a big fat goose egg.

While concerts are also streamed live online, they don’t have the same live appeal as sports. With concerts, replay value is more important. Will consumers warm to watching other types of events live online? That’s an area Parks Associates has studied, Sappington says. Live online events appeal more to young viewers. Older viewers prefer to attend the event in person.

“That speaks to a generation of people that’s happy watching things on their phone rather than being there in person, particularly for events that they’re just not able to or couldn’t afford to be there in person,” Sappington says. “I think that there’s some demand for that, but our survey showed that the vast majority of people would rather be there, to be there in person for a concert or for something like that if it’s at all possible.”

Twitter experimented with live video in 2016, and those experiments will continue into this year. The platform simply hasn’t found a natural footing with live video yet, Peters says. While the NFL Thursday night deal was an interesting attempt to attract an audience and provide a social experience, it wasn’t hugely successful. Peters isn’t sure Twitter has a future as a live sports destination. Other platforms offer a more natural fit. He thinks troubled Twitter will keep scrambling as it searches for direction.

On the other hand, with its global reach Twitter is able to aggregate disparate fan bases across the globe, Sappington points out. By using that power, it could leverage the appeal of less popular sports and draw in advertisers looking for scale. There are many sports that don’t have a strong U.S. appeal, but that have fan bases across the globe. Twitter has shown interest in streaming live sports and is one of the few platforms that can unite a global audience.

“I think the NFL deal was a bit of a test case. If you couldn’t be successful with the NFL in drawing eyeballs then you’d be hard-pressed to be able to make a case for doing sports that were less popular in North America,” Sappington says. “It’s a competitive market. Now, the thing working in their favor is advertisers are looking for audience and they’re looking for something that’s novel that they can tie their brand to. This certainly helps with that. It also attracts young consumers, which is a very important demographic to be able to reach. It’s becoming more and more difficult for advertisers to be able to reach that audience segment. This provides a way for them to be able to do that.”

Twitter’s Periscope will survive the year, Peters believes, but he doesn’t expect to see big growth from it. Periscope’s niche is with hyper-local content and hyper-local marketing. Its value is as one component among many in large and well-orchestrated pop-up events. That’s fine to keep Periscope going, but it’s not going to evolve into a destination for major live events.

Sappington is a bit more positive about Periscope’s future, but everything depends on whether or not Twitter can figure out a way to make money with it.

“I don’t think Periscope is gone away by any stretch,” Sappington says. “I think right now it’s clearly a showdown between Facebook Live and Periscope for who is going to be able to figure out the best monetization. Who is going to be able to drive awareness and use in the market. I think both of those are critically important. If they can’t figure out how to make money off of it then it really becomes a problem.”

With the growth of skinny bundles, live linear streamed content started to get some attention in 2016, but the area was simply too complicated. When DirecTV Now launched, for example, it only offered live linear local stations in some areas (and not for CBS at all) depending on whether the local affiliates are owned and operated by the parent networks. While subscribers would love to see the area simplified, Peters thinks it will only get more complicated in the short-term.

“I think that the industry generally needs to clean up a lot of the legacy around live linear and certainly now with a reduction in the number of cable providers through acquisition and mergers, I think that there is an opportunity to see some of that, especially given perhaps more competitive skinny bundles from the virtual operators,” Peters says.

Sappington sees huge growth for skinny bundles and live linear in 2017. Besides Hulu and YouTube jumping in, he notes that CenturyLink is expected to launch a service. So not only are we going to see more services, but more services from companies with deep pockets and deep content relationships. Parks’ research shows that local channels are the No. 1 thing consumers want in a streaming video service by a wide margin. Out of everything, access to local stations would be the hardest to give up. So if skinny bundle providers don’t start offering more access, 2017 could see a spike in digital antenna sales. Sappington sees positive outcomes for streaming services that include on-screen listings for local channels and work with over-the-air digital antennas.

The issue of latency will see advances in 2017, but ultimately the solution will come after traditional TV fully transitions to IP delivery, Peters says. At that point, it’s not a question of how much latency is in the streamed live video compared with the broadcast signal; instead, it’s making sure that all online streamers have the same amount of low latency. If all the video from a live event is over IP and all the streams have the same amount of latency, then it doesn’t matter if that amount is a half-second or 5 seconds.

To achieve lower levels of latency, Peters sees CDNs working with major publishers to optimize traffic, and establishing relationships with last-mile delivery providers—both fixed line and wireless—to enhance the full streaming chain. One company he expects to produce strong results in lowering latency in 2017 is DLVR, a cloud solution that sits between the end-user’s device and the CDN. It looks at how effectively the CDN is delivering for each particular user and provides optimizations for each network and region.

2017 will be a giant growth year for live video, as the area finally takes off. Look for new options in both creating and viewing live video, and enjoy the live viewing immediacy suddenly available on any device.

This article appears in the March 2017 issue of Streaming Media magazine.

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