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The Complexities of Sports Streaming Requires Continuous Testing

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While we still wait for global streaming numbers on last month’s NCAA men’s and women’s finals, the evidence is clear that they will be the most watched Finals in college basketball history. The Women’s final set streaming records for ESPN+ and, for the first time ever, outperformed the men’s final in the Nielsens.

The nearly-month-long event put streaming platforms to the test. Live sports pose enough of a challenge for streamers, but those challenges - device and network compatibility, latency issues, and scalability and reliability - are put further to the test when multiple games are being streamed across different networks and multiple streaming platforms.

While viewership skyrocketed on the tournament, so did gambling as sports and sports betting intercoupling became tighter. March Madness is the biggest gambling event of the year, spread out over three-plus weeks. It is nirvana for even the most casual gambler.

Ethical issues aside - an NBA player was recently banned for life for impacting betting lines on his performance - the future of sports streaming and gambling holds exciting possibilities. As sports betting becomes more mainstream, streaming services are likely to integrate betting features directly into their platforms. Streaming providers already offer interactive overlays with real-time statistics and personalized content based on leagues and teams a viewer follows. Future integration between gambling and sports streaming apps could lead to advanced analytics based on game trends and provide betting odds to enhance the viewer experience.

The Summer Olympics, which start next month, provide the next opportunity for streamers to test their live sports technology. And, if the past several major sporting events are any indication, you can anticipate that betting apps will get a lot of work from eager sports fans looking to make a buck. Last October - during baseball’s World Series - Americans spent 66 percent more time on sports betting apps than in October of 2022.

The intersection of streaming, sports, and gambling has created a dynamic and rapidly evolving landscape. As streaming technology improves and sports betting becomes more accessible, the seamless integration of these elements will transform how fans enjoy sports and gambling.

While the future is bright, streamers still need to address several challenges before further integration can occur.

It’s Complex to Stream Live Sports

We’ve seen live streaming nightmares in the past, whether it's the Netflix “Love is Blind” reunion special that never happened because of technical difficulties or Facebook Live and Twitch going down during live feeds to millions. Unfortunately, viewers don’t care about the complexity of live streaming. They care about the product, and a bad livestream can have short-term and long-term impacts on brands, particularly if it continues to happen.

The biggest challenges for broadcasters and live streamers are:

  • Device and Network Compatibility. Streaming providers must ensure seamless streaming across various combinations of devices and operating systems, especially when addressing a global audience.
  • Latency Issues. Minimizing latency, or the delay in delivering live video content, is crucial for sports betting and interactive viewing experiences. Streaming providers must leverage technologies like adaptive bitrate streaming to deliver content with reduced delay. This challenge becomes even more pronounced during live events, where real-time information is essential.
  • Scalability and Reliability. Handling the massive influx of viewers during major sporting events requires robust streaming infrastructure and rigorous testing to prevent outages. Streaming providers must ensure their platforms can withstand peak demand while maintaining high quality and reliability.

With those challenges, however, comes opportunity. Streaming content providers must consider that if avid fans are going to invest the time in watching any game - not just the big game -  they will expect stellar experiences. This is where the opportunity exists to get things right.

While the customer journey should always be a primary concern for streaming content providers, major sporting events bring more prospective customers to your door. Why not wow them with easy onboarding, intuitive navigation, helpful tutorials/guidance, and flawless performance that keeps them around?

To do that, streaming content providers must test with real users, well before the big event arrives. Only then can you get real-world feedback about what’s working, on which networks and streaming devices in various parts of the world, and understand the friction points. 

If your goal is to keep it simple for your customers – and it should be – consider implementing a comprehensive strategy incorporating UX research and various testing facets, such as functional, usability, and payment testing. Nothing says “welcome, we aim to please,” like a smooth, intuitive customer journey that, most importantly, onboards without issues, delivers what the user wants… and even presents some unexpected bonuses along the way.

Creating a different viewing experience for fans

From onboarding to their experiences setting up monthly payments within the app, testers can offer nuanced insights into what works for your viewers. From their own research and feedback from these users, streaming providers implement new features to delight their user base, and entice new users to come on board. For example, in 2023, the NFL and Amazon Web Services (AWS), partnered to form Next Gen Stats, to “extract meaningful data from games and decipher patterns in player performances.” The YES Network, home of the Yankees another New York-based sports teams, introduced an app that offers an innovative first with Live States and YES Watch Party, which brings together fans to socialize about the game they are watching.

Of course, it should go without saying that innovations must be planned long before loss to avoid unexpected delays. Bleacher Report experienced that challenge when its paid subscription through MAX was targeted to launch at the beginning of March Madness 2024. However, it has now been delayed due to integration issues, creating a significant loss in monetization for the provider.

Monetization: Don’t miss the moment with your marketing - or your ad placement strategy

Streaming content providers must make the most of their marketing campaigns regarding sporting events. Say a subscriber intends to join before March Madness but will unsubscribe after the tournament. Your campaign intends to lure the new user to stay, perhaps by offering an extended trial date or a lower introductory price for three months.

It’s key to test the various customer flows you are considering to understand which flows produce the desired results. Again, testing with real users familiar with streaming sports apps and their broad array of payment instruments – from credit and debit cards to Apple Pay, PayPal, and more – is key. Using a variety of testers from seasoned to new users of our app can give you the depth of insight you need to make marketing dollars pay off.

We can't discuss marketing without highlighting the significance of advertisements. Recent studies show that viewers are willing to accept more ads, especially if the amount is reasonable and it results in lower monthly fees. Sports streaming services should follow the lead of other entertainment platforms by offering ad-free subscription plans. Providers are rolling out new ad-supported plans, which may initially lower the average revenue per user (ARPU)—a key metric now closely watched by Wall Street and providers. However, these plans have the potential to generate equal or greater revenue over time. The emerging trend indicates that viewers prioritize content, with the manner and personalization of ads being a secondary concern.

Sports streamers must continuously test

Prepping for a major sporting event - March Madness, The World Series, The U.S. Open, and the list goes on—presents a complex set of challenges and opportunities for streaming sports providers. More and more streaming providers are joining the live sports scene—as is the case with Netflix, which will broadcast two NFL games on Christmas Day this year—making the space even more complex and calling for thoughtful testing and rollout. 

To succeed with these significant events, providers must rigorously test their apps under the most realistic conditions, covering a broad range of user devices and operating systems. Live-event testing is particularly crucial since live programming introduces distinct variables that aren't present in other types of streaming content. Although some aspects can be validated beforehand, comprehensive testing during the broadcast is essential to address unforeseen issues.

Additionally, streaming and sportsbook providers need to optimize the customer journey by ensuring an excellent user experience, which includes meeting accessibility standards and incorporating inclusive design. They must also craft precise marketing strategies and maintain an interactive approach to attract and retain customers. Viewers are primarily concerned with the app’s performance and expect a seamless experience that justifies the cost. One effective strategy to achieve this is crowdtesting, where real users test the app and provide valuable feedback.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Applause. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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