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The State of Live Video 2019

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The nature of live TV changed greatly in 2018, but that didn't seem to matter much at the end of the day. No matter how people got their channels or what devices they view them on, live TV showed it’s still the most powerful medium around. It’s still the way to build water cooler buzz (or Twitter trending topics) and to reach the biggest number of consumers when pitching a product. Yes, live TV changed in many small ways, but in the larger view it stayed the same: It’s the medium that unites us all.

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Not that live video didn’t face challenges in 2018. In March, Parks Associates noticed a growing trend away from live linear viewing. In U.S. households, 60% of TV viewing is on-demand. But for young adults (age 18 to 34), just over a quarter of viewing time was spent on live programming. With on-demand choices increasing, and with people retaining their viewing habits as they get older, expect live viewing’s erosion to continue.

A few months later, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) pointed out that 67% of adults had streamed live video at some point. Long-form live video was most often streamed on a TV, while phones were more popular for content under 30 minutes.

The streaming industry learned that getting people to adopt live-streaming services and cut the cord is far harder than getting them to adopt on-demand services. While on-demand options are seen as inexpensive extras—ways to get low-cost access to buzzed-about shows and movies—a virtual multichannel video program distributor (vMVPD) needs to be a full cable replacement, and that means providing access to all the live channels and sports that viewers get from their pay TV services. That’s the one thing holding many back from cutting the cord, reported Adobe in October. It found 42% of pay TV subscribers believed they needed to keep their existing services to get live sports, news, and events. The streaming industry needs to do a better job of explaining what people will get when they go online. With channel access varying from market to market, however, understanding what’s available is confusing even to those who work in the industry.

Sports and Esports Lead the Way

Sports continued to be a significant draw for live video. In April, ESPN launched its long-awaited streaming service ESPN+. With a low cost of $4.99 per month, it’s an affordable upgrade for sports lovers, but the company was quick to explain that it’s not meant to replace cable, only complement it. The service offers a variety of sports ESPN doesn’t have room for on its many cable channels, including tennis, rugby, boxing, cricket, and college games.

In April 2018, ESPN launched its long-awaited ESPN+ service, which at $4.99 per month is designed to complement the cable version of the network, not replace it.

One of 2018’s biggest live events was the World Cup from Russia. The BBC said it received 66.8 million total streaming requests, 56.3 million of which were for live streams, and that demand far exceeded the one from Brazil 4 years prior. Fox, which had the U.S. rights, said it served 558 million views across its properties, for 3.6 billion minutes of video. In March, MLB and YouTube made news when they announced they would continue their partnership for two more seasons. That deal included YouTube TV being a presenting sponsor for the 2018 and 2019 World Series, and it brings the MLB Network to YouTube TV subscribers. In June, Amazon bought the rights to stream 20 English Premier League matches per season for 3 years. Later that month, the NFL and CBS extended their streaming agreement through the 2022 season, bringing all NFL on CBS games to CBS All Access, a deal that included Super Bowl LIII.

One of 2018’s biggest live events was the World Cup, for which the BBC said it received 66.8 million total requests, 56.3 million of which were for live streams.

Many of the year’s biggest sports streams weren’t for traditional sports. Esports continued to grow at a fast rate. In June, Goldman Sachs published a report saying esports viewing would soon surpass that of Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. The area was poised to attract a monthly audience of 167 million in 2018. By 2022, it will have a monthly audience of 300 million, the company said. Looking at the reasons for esports’ growth, Goldman Sachs credited improved infrastructure, the growing popularity of live video, and rapidly growing prize pools.

Although consumers watched a lot of live-streamed video in 2018, they were aware of its limitations. Sports streamers knew their online feeds were well behind broadcast, and checking their Twitter feeds could spoil the experience. In October, Phenix, a company that sells a WebRTC-based live-streaming solution, released survey results showing that 27% of U.S. adults who use streaming services don’t think live streaming is worth paying for. They’ve been burned by poor experiences, including latency and buffering. The report also said live video has a discoverability problem, with 24% not even sure if the OTT services they use include live streaming. Latency and buffering were hot topics at industry conferences. While there was no shortage of proposed solutions, the problems persist. Will latency and buffering finally be conquered in 2019?

Live in the Enterprise

Many businesses latched onto internal live streaming in 2018. While live broadcasting was previously used for the occasional corporate address or all-hands meeting, its use expanded. A January report from Brandlive said training retail associates was the top use for live video, as 56% of the companies surveyed had done so. The next most popular uses were training sales reps, streaming CEO town halls, and training customer service workers. The majority of the companies surveyed were increasing their budgets for live video and preferred it over on-demand video. In November, Kaltura released a report showing that large companies were 60% more likely to stream live events than smaller companies, and 76% of large companies had streamed at least one live event in the past year. It also noted that training was the most popular use for live video, with 98% of those surveyed saying it enabled better and faster learning.

Live streaming made huge progress in 2018, but that progress just showed how much further it has to go to be a full replacement for pay TV. How much more ground can it cover in 2019? For answers, we turned to some experts.

Looking for Live

The biggest challenge for live video services in 2019 will be convincing consumers to take a chance. People are open to streaming all their channels, believes Brett Sappington, senior director of research for Parks Associates. But the problems are many. First off, consumers want to get a deal. They want to pay less for streaming than they do for pay TV. But a bigger problem is that many people have no idea where to start or what their options are.

“One of the most common questions we get from friends, family, and others is, ‘Hey, you’re in the TV business. How do I cut the cord? What do I need to do for that?’,” Sappington says. “They’re unsure of the devices. They’re unsure of the services. They’re unsure of what content is on the services, and they’re unsure of what the pricing is.”

It’s hard for consumers to assess their choices when they don’t even know what their choices are. They need to decide what core group of channels is essential to them, what other group would be nice to have, then find options that meet those requirements. That’s all before the manual process of signing on for trials and comparing different services.

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