20 Oct Streaming live sports is a hassle, so why is it so popular?

Go into a large electronics store and you’ll likely find rows of televisions tuned to sports channels because retailers know sports are among the most tantalizing content for an old-fashioned, “lean back” viewing experience on a wide screen. But how this sports content arrives at those screens is in the process of changing. Content providers should best get ahead of the game.

Among other signs of things to come, a recent study by Turner Sports and discussed in this NPAW white paper revealed that in North America 22.5 million viewers live streamed the NCAA March Madness tournament, up 12 percent on the year. But is it only cord-cutting sports fans that stream live sports to the biggest screen in the home? If someone can receive a cable broadcast signal of the same event, why stream it online?

Research by the consulting firm Accenture shows that live streaming sporting events—the preferred medium for some 10% of sports fans—is a source of frustration for many because the QoE (quality of experience) is often shoddy: Join times are lengthy, there are too many interruptions, players fail and ads pop up at just the wrong time. Such annoyances would rarely occur during a traditional live broadcast. Yet in the same Accenture survey, a third of respondents showed a willingness to pay for a subscription to a sports streaming service and another third were happy with advertising if it meant keeping a service free of charge. So what’s drawing these people to a service that seems to be inferior to what came before?

For one, Internet streaming allows for viewing on multiple devices and in virtually any location. But a stronger pull may be the content itself and not the quality of delivery: The plethora of sports viewing options online is well beyond even the most robust television broadcast options in a given area. As sports watchers’ interests fragment, so does the market. Or perhaps it’s exactly the reverse: Now that a Bears fan in Chicago can catch an FC Barcelona match online, his sporting interests may begin to diversify and send him chasing down matches across the Atlantic. Providers must play catchup.

With younger viewers more savvy and more willing to chase down pirated streams (the threat from Facebook Live, Periscope, and others is for another blog post), there is all the more pressure for providers to offer quality, convenient and high performing streams of live sporting events to thrive in this emerging landscape. To succeed, streaming services must know what their customers are going through as they try to catch a game.

NPAW’s research in the white paper cited above demonstrated that lengthy buffer delays are the single greatest cause for misery for viewers of streaming sports. They lead to EBVS (exits before video starts) and less overall playtime. If OTT sports streaming services can diagnose and correct breakdowns in the QoE they are providing, the desire of an ever more diversified field of cord-cutting sports fans could represent a windfall of new and loyal users.

With the tools available inside YOUBORA, real-time monitoring of sports fans’ QoE and viewing behavior—even tracked to moments when their team scores—allows streaming providers to make evidence-based strategic decisions to ensure premium QoE, more efficient customer support, as well as more effective content licensing, pricing and advertising. Sports streaming services can now turn online sports viewing into an experience that brings in, satisfies and keeps an ever greater share of sports fans.