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Bringing sports fans closer to the action & players

Live sports is undoubtedly some of the last true ‘appointment viewing’, when fans specifically set aside time to watch their particular sports programmes. Today’s sports fans have multiple ways to express their support, get close to their favourite players, and catch their team live in action. Can technologies create enticing QoE that bonds viewers to players?

A good game and clean views – the fundamentals any sports fan would ask for when catching their favourite team or player live in action. And, if you can, pack these views with atmosphere, and excitement will invariably win fans back to the stadium, and keep them coming back for more in the months ahead. 

For instance, in an attempt to enhance fans’ in-stadium experience, London’s Wembley Stadium partnered UK’s digital communications firm, EE, to integrate a lighting system that responds to the game’s biggest moments, and a live Arch Cam running on an app. Other enhancements include event day mode, offering stadium visitors a dynamic newsfeed with aggregated social media content and an event-day playlist to help fans get in the mood for the spectacle they are attending. 

Now more than ever, consumers are keen to connect and consume the sports they love, as advancements in technology have brought sports closer to fans’ screens in the comfort and convenience of their environs, wherever they are. Fans can now not only receive live match updates and scores in real time, they can also enjoy the game live streamed onto their devices.

The rise in live sports viewership was evident in the opening game between Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans of the National Football League (NFL) broadcast by NBC last September. The American broadcaster reported a preliminary total audience delivery of 20.3 million viewers across NBC TV, NBC Sports Digital and NFL Digital platforms – making it the most-watched sporting event since the Super Bowl in February, according to Fast National data by Nielsen, and digital data from Adobe Analytics. 

More notable, the average minute audience for live stream via NBC Sports digital platforms, NFL digital platforms, Chiefs and Texas mobile properties, and Verizon Media mobile properties garnered 970,000 viewers – making it the highest ever for an NBC NFL game, excluding Super Bowls – and up 55% from the previous year’s NFL kick-off game.

Separately, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has upped its game and strengthened the bond between the league and fans. Earlier in 2020, NBA announced a collaboration with Microsoft to create a direct-to-consumer platform to broadcast basketball games, provide on-demand, personalised content, and packaged these with other NBA products and services. Using Microsoft Azure to watch live games, the NBA has customised the way fans view and enjoy each game, providing new tools to better follow the action on the court. 

Commenting on the partnership, NBA commissioner Adam Silver asserted that the goal was to create customised content that would allow fans, whether they were in an NBA arena or watching from anywhere around the world, to immerse themselves in all aspects of the game and engage directly with teams and players. 

Microsoft Azure is a cloud platform for building and managing applications across multiple clouds, on-premises, and at the edge. Within this platform lies Azure CDN, which provides Azure users with the ability to deliver content from Microsoft’s global content delivery network. Furthermore, Azure CDN can accelerate dynamic content by leveraging various network optimisations using CDN point-of-presences (POPs) that are located close to end-users, to minimise latency. 

Beyond live game broadcasting, the NBA is also unlocking new ways to allow fans to enjoy its vast array of data and extensive archive of historic footage. Using machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), the platform will personalise the fan experience by tailoring the content to the preferences of the fan, rewards participation as well as  providing more insights and analysis. 

Another CDN provider is Akamai, which offers its Cloud Wrapper to optimise connectivity between cloud infrastructures and the Akamai Intelligent Edge Platform. With new multi-CDN support, content distributors can use Cloud Wrapper as the central hub for their delivery infrastructure, maintain shared cacheability, predict offload levels and cost savings for origin infrastructures as a streaming service scale. This, according to Akamai, allows for “high performance and low cloud egress costs” while increasing flexibility when integrating into increasingly complex and open live streaming environments. 

In addressing the issues on latency, Akamai supported initiatives like low-latency DASH that reduce end-to-end latency so media companies can deliver streaming experiences that are in sync with traditional broadcast. 

As part of this platform update, Akamai announced its support for low-latency HLS (LL-HLS). Alongside several partners, Akamai has been working to support the adoption of the updated LL-HLS specification. The specification is designed to provide users with latency of three seconds or less and backward compatibility across the Apple video player ecosystem. It will also help drive overall adoption of low latency in live streaming for other streaming formats.

With the Tokyo Summer Olympics round the corner and the resurgence of Covid-19 in Japan, millions of sports fans from around the world will be staying home to catch their favourite sports on their screens, all looking forward to broadcasters leveraging today’s advanced technologies to bring them closer to the exciting actions unfolding at the world’s foremost multi-sport event.

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