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What the NFL Keeps Getting Wrong About Streaming

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Recently, Comcast announced that it is creating an accelerator for sports-related tech startups. Why would a huge broadcasting company want to invest so much money ($15 million to be exact) in sports media? The short answer is that sports fans are changing with the times, but broadcasters are having a hard time catching up. With the growth of real-time communications technologies like livestreaming and video chat, why are we still stuck in the arcane times of watching the game on regular old cable? Your guess is as good as mine.

Year after year, the NFL appears to miss the target when it comes to streaming experiences for viewers. With all the success and excitement that is bubbling up around "watch parties," it has many wondering why the NFL has yet to incorporate this experience for its fans and viewers for the Super Bowl.

Being that football is the most beloved sport in the United States (basketball comes in second), it seems that Comcast and other sports broadcasting companies, are waking up to the fact that a huge part of game day is camaraderie. It’s not just about the game, it’s also the excuse to trash talk, binge eat, and crack open an afternoon beer that buoys ratings and viewership. But what happens when your best friend or family members live on the other side of the country (or world) and you can’t watch the game on the couch with them?

This is where a new wave of technology comes in to disrupt broadcasting as we know it. While sports inherently bring people together in "real-time," other factors can pull us apart—going off to college, getting a new job, or relocating to a new city. Indeed, there is no bigger failure in sports broadcasting than a die-hard fan in Minnesota not being able to tune in to the game with a fan from California.

Currently, the options to enjoy the game with a friend digitally are cumbersome and clunky. You can FaceTime a friend while simultaneously watching the game. But this poses some obvious issues, like missing an important play because you're preoccupied with managing two screens. It also takes away from the authenticity of the experience. Simply put, it just doesn’t feel anything close to watching the game with someone in real life.

But, imagine being able to broadcast yourself to your Fantasy Football friends on game day from anywhere in the world. Or think about having the ability to live stream the game, while simultaneously video chatting with a couple of friends on the same screen. All the while, the video quality is low latency, with no crucial plays missed by way of glitches or buffering. This is the potential of low-code, easy-to-integrate RTC software development kits. They can fit seamlessly over other media for an all-in-one experience. Think: The NFL layering real-time video chat over their mobile app to allow fans to have portable watch parties. Sports broadcasters making this shift is not just smart, it’s intuitive. 

Real-time communications technology can give sports fans the ability to personalize their own watch parties with capabilities like livestreaming and video chat. Moreover, features like "gifting" can also be incorporated into the viewing experience, perhaps allowing viewers to make bets or wagers on the outcome of the game. This topples over everything we know about that fateful Sunday in February, as well as any and all sporting events for that matter.

My guess goes like this: All the money that is being funneled into sports media is going to be heavily centered on facilitating human connection. Whether that’s integrating a real-time communications SDK over an existing sports broadcasting application or providing a livestreaming platform for an independent sports anchor to give real-time commentary, the possibilities are endless. But If you're not a sports fan, all I suggest is that you be prepared to never have a good excuse to miss a Super Bowl party again.

[This is a contributed article from Agora.io. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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