AWS Media Blog

The Evolution of Sports Distribution

Authored by Hamish Muiry, Head of Sales, M2A Media. The content and opinions in this post are those of the third-party author and AWS is not responsible for the content or accuracy of this post.

I’ve been in sports TV and cloud technology for a relatively short span, but I do remember the arrival of the cloud and the general vibe of mistrust at something new, something other. I remember the IT director’s concern at not being able to see server lights blinking at them. Fast forward seven years: Things continue to evolve, and the cloud, now less ominous and imposing, has become a necessity for any new broadcast project.

Over the coming years, the cloud will bring about, in my view, the biggest industry transformation yet: the business-to-business distribution of live sports content and IP over public cloud. It’ll prove to be a game changer in many areas. In this blog, I go over some of the key reasons for this shift, who will drive change, and when the industry will see it happen.

Ready for Disruption

As a sports fan, I have been lucky to find myself in this niche of broadcast. Broadcasting sports is interesting because it’s not easy. It is not trivial to distribute sporting events globally. For a long time now, satellite has given us so much; It’s allowed the world to see “The Rumble in the Jungle,” Usain Bolt’s hat trick of Olympic gold in 2012, and the climatic end to last year’s Cricket World Cup. Satellite provided the reach to enable billions to watch the greatest moments in history, many beyond the sporting sphere. Now, however, as global sports rights owners seek more for their brand by leveraging new technologies, the argument for satellite becomes harder to make. In fact, it’s a fairly long charge sheet when considering the limited transponder capacity, limited coverage areas, higher cost of service, and greater end-to-end latency (especially when you have multiple hops).

In my opinion, the biggest argument for the prosecution is that in a world where sports owners are looking to adapt and experiment with new business models and be reactive to commercial opportunities, the fixed cost, CAPEX-heavy world of satellite just doesn’t co-exist. Staying nimble, being open to change, and paying as you go is surely a better way to proceed. The defense may argue that satellite is a well-trodden path and what broadcasters know. However, these broadcasters are also innovating and pushing for change in the way they acquire content. Just because it’s what has always done, that doesn’t mean we should keep doing it when there’s a better solution in front of us.

A Spectrum of Complexity

The ability to handle complexity is key. There’s a big complexity gap between the business-to-business distribution that a sports rights owner must handle and that of a broadcaster. The rights owner might have between 10 to 30 concurrent feeds to distribute globally to 50 or more broadcasters per event. On the other hand, a broadcaster will likely have a few 24/7 channels, be dedicated to sports or multi-genre, and send video to a small number of in-region affiliates. These are different distribution models, and the rights owner model is easily more challenging. Now, many sports rights owners are beginning to see the advantages of bringing this distribution in-house, owning the cloud utility relationship directly, and finding value-add partners to run the automation and monitoring.

Cost matters

For both distribution and acquisition, cost is a key factor in the transition to a new means of delivery. In sports, it goes beyond Excel number crunching. A sports rights owner wants one thing above all else: to grow the value of their brand, leading to higher fan engagement and some form of monetization.

They can do this by delivering a more appealing product to the consumer with new value-added content, such as player cameras and trackers and showing more matches and camera angles. But what if their broadcasters can’t afford the technical fees for extra content? This acquisition needs to be cost-effective. Let’s face it: The rights themselves aren’t cheap, so the technical costs will always get squeezed.

B2B acquisition and distribution via the cloud alleviates the cost. It gives rights owners and their broadcasters the ability to send and receive more relevant and greater volumes of content, meaning that sports fans have more choice and a better experience, and the value of the sports brands can grow. That’s the position sports rights owners need to create ahead of their next rights cycle.

Once distributing via the cloud, rights owners can also take advantage of technologies to create localized versions of their content from a single source. One-to-many variants, customized commentary, BUGs, pre-roll/post-roll promos, and ad insertion are a few examples. Custom workflow distribution via the cloud is enabling commercial teams to create regional sponsorship deals with their partners. Cloud-based distribution makes flexibility and iteration possible, which legacy satellite and on-premises setups do not. It’ll be interesting to see how fast-followers advance these evolutions even further.

Shifting Sands

Sports rights owners want to increase brand awareness and reach more viewers, while broadcasters want to drive down the cost of acquisition. They will push each other to achieve these aims. Distribution via public cloud solves both needs simultaneously. This market will self-reinforce; as the number of sports rights owners who distribute via cloud increases, the more it’ll become necessary for broadcasters to acquire content from the cloud. And the more broadcasters acquiring content from the cloud, the greater force exerted on the laggard rights owners to get onboard or risk being left behind. Naturally, cloud infrastructure providers want to make this work, and solution providers, like ourselves at M2A, will each bring their own special sauce to the party. Satellite service providers have a stake in keeping the status quo, but like major fossil fuel companies, they’ll be looking to pivot, invest in the cloud engineering capability, and eventually divest from their own legacy.

As with any industry-wide change, the incumbent technology won’t be turned off overnight. Mass adoption will happen as the disruption accelerates and consumers increasingly flock to these new innovations. Innovative rights owners and broadcasters are on this now, testing and understanding what opportunity this technology shift can bring them. I suspect the fast-followers will jump onboard next year, and that late adopters will join the party in 2022 and 2023. Services will begin with hybrid distribution models where cloud delivers secondary feeds, such as on-board cameras, and handles disaster recovery for international feeds. Then we’ll see a tipping point where roles are reversed, and satellite is used to deliver the disaster recovery service. That said, a key benefit of the cloud is the multiple layers of resiliency that can be achieved. The vendors that will do well in this emerging market will be the those who can react quickly to adapting needs and whose value best enables sports rights owners and broadcasters to optimally leverage the power of public cloud for sports distribution.

The New Normal

Every industry experiences disruption, innovation, and a new equilibrium. Once a creative disruptor introduces compelling new value or convenience, consumers leap to adopt it, pulling nimble vendors along. That IT Director now takes greater comfort in the detailed web dashboard that replaces the simple green, amber, and red lights on the front panels of equipment in the old datacenter. Here at M2A Media, we want to help content owners, rights holders, distributors, broadcasters, and their affiliates grow and thrive. That’s why we recently launched M2A Connect, a service running on AWS that allows broadcasters and sports-rights owners to easily manage the presentation, routing, and global distribution of their live video streams on an event basis through public cloud infrastructure. This service removes human hand-off points and reduces the need for expensive and restricted routing over satellite or point to point networking.

M2A Connect includes a state-of-the-art console with a user-friendly web GUI and API to allow broadcasters and rights holders to manage their live source, schedule events, add subscribers and bulk entitlements, monitor live streams, create live event workflows, and deliver live streams across multiple regions and receivers. API integration with AWS Elemental MediaConnect, AWS Elemental MediaLive, and AWS Elemental MediaPackage provides a complete end-to-end solution with the security, scalability, resilience, and speed to market of the cloud. For customers wanting a fully-managed service, M2A Connect is also available with 24/7 MCR monitoring of all live feeds, ITIL Incident Management, dedicated 24/7 access to engineering support, and premium event support. Learn how rights owners and broadcasters are already using cloud-based IP distribution for their most valuable live content, and contact us to start your trial.

Join M2A and AWS for a discussion about the emerging industry trend of live video distribution via the cloud, as well as a demonstration of M2A CONNECT on Wednesday, June 24 at 8:00 AM PDT / 4:00 PM BST. Register for the live webinar here.