In this modern day and age where everyone walks around with a TV in their pocket, consumers want to be able to watch live video content wherever they are. They expect (even demand) a broadcast-quality video entertainment experience, free from buffering or long latency, even for live events.
Quality of experience is key when it comes to streaming live events where every second matters. And, there are hard lessons to be learned. Serve your customers a frozen feed right before the big touchdown, and you’re dead in the water! No one wants to have to suspend their coverage after receiving a deluge of viewer complaints – especially considering the cost and complexity of setting up the live stream in the first place.
Audiences for live streaming content are continuing to grow and that’s fueling a surge of new content providers into the market. Companies that you would have never before expected to enter the space have thrown their hat into the ring. Facebook secured a deal with the UEFA Champions League to live stream 32 football (soccer) matches in Latin America, while Amazon doubled-down on deals with the NFL and English Premier League. Twitter posted a revenue jump of 29% to $758m, beating analyst estimates.
However, many new market entrants fail to understand the true complexity of live event management or exactly what it takes to deliver flawless live video content. You’ve only got one shot to get it right, and quality requirements are becoming ever more stringent. If you think you’re ready to start live streaming events, make sure you’ve considered these five things first.
1. Content Rights
Content is and always will be king! You can have the best platform in the world, but if you can’t secure the content rights, you’ll never get your live stream off the ground. Content rights can be very complicated and very expensive, and they vary from league to league. One technical hurdle you will need to address to secure content rights is the ability to implement territorial restrictions (aka geo-blocking or content substitution) that comply with league rules. Any business that wants to live stream professional sporting events has to seek approvals including DRM application, geo-blocking and comprehensive monitoring to assure the rights holders that their high-value content is being consumed appropriately. Without explicit permission from the sporting league or organization, you’re opening yourself up to severe legal repercussions.
2. Streaming Technology Framework
You have to figure out how you’re going to deliver the game from the venue to the users’ hands – on whatever device they may have. The workflow between end-points is complex and starts at the venue.
Whether you’re sending out production crews, leveraging satellite, fiber or IP for signal acquisition, it takes an incredible amount of infrastructure, redundancy and burstable bandwidth to ensure no one misses a single play.
Once you get the content from the venue, you must prepare to deliver to a variety of different devices. For iPhones, iPads or Macs running the Safari browser, you will need to stream in HLS. For devices like Android smartphones and tablets or for browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge, you will need to stream in MPEG-DASH. You will also need to dynamically wrap your streams with industry standard digital rights management (DRM) encryption, such as Apple FairPlay for HLS and Google Widevine Modular and Microsoft PlayReady for MPEG-DASH. And, don’t forget about supporting subtitles and captions.
A true broadcast-quality live video experience can only be achieved with robust and flexible technology and a widely dispersed content distribution network (CDN) with end-to-end operational support.
Ask yourself if you’re going to monetize your content delivery. If so, how? Will you sell advertising, events as a transaction or offer a subscription-based service? How will you provide access?
While subscription-based services provide more predictable returns, they require a commitment from the viewer and the provider. Transactional models require regularly refreshed content to continue sales balanced with the cost to promote them by the providers. These services have an added complexity of integrating with a billing gateway to accept funds by territory and by currency type, as well as selling via an app store that levies commissions on each sale.
Advertising-based models require established viewing audiences before advertisers will be interested in buying ad space. If you pursue this model, you need to insert targeted advertising seamlessly during ad breaks directly within the live feed. This requires you to choose between server-side (SSAI) or client-side ad insertion or a hybrid between the two and advertisers will require a solid set of analytics to show return on investment.
Content delivery is much more than just ensuring that audio and video reaches the viewer. Knowing real-time metrics on new user signups and current user access is essential to understanding trial offer effectiveness and conversions to premium subscribers. At the end of the day, the simplest question is often the hardest to answer. How many cents do I spend to ensure each dollar of revenue is delivered and measurable?
4. Regional Considerations
Where in the world you deliver the content has huge implications. There are unique requirements per region, including restrictions on the type of content that is viewed in certain locations and different language requirements. You also need to consider the different types of ads or currency and associated taxes per region depending on the business model selected.
Whomever you choose as your technology partner must have the ability to geo-fence, geo-block, offer multiple audio tracks and subtitle languages. Plus, they also need to able to provide “follow-the-sun” and helpdesk support in the appropriate time zone to ensure the best viewing quality.
5. Quality of Experience
Quality of service (QoS) is not enough. You need to manage and monitor video (QoS + metadata) that drives the end-to-end experience. Having a holistic view down to the end user is the only way to prevent a Twitter storm.
Content providers must be able to bring their live stream production value up to the typical standard of live event broadcasts. This implies limited to zero downtime, no buffering and a time behind live of next to nothing. A live stream of that quality must combine the latest tools and technology with tremendous attention to detail and high-quality standards for the highest level of QoS and QoE (quality of experience) monitoring, as well as an infrastructure that is built to endure failure. From acquiring the linear signal, to live encoding with national and local ad insertion, to content delivery, and cross-platform authentication and device playback, the potential for error is enormous and should be expected. Live events are so unpredictable!
Also, if you choose a subscription or PPV model, providing a high-quality customer service infrastructure with call center, live chat, email and self-service FAQs is important, as is the responsiveness of the individuals working these support channels.
Launching and maintaining a high-value live stream video service is no small undertaking; it can be both expensive and difficult to do. Given these challenges, even some of the biggest content providers rely on partners to manage the on-site production, processing and distribution of their live streams.
Encompass Digital Media manages the end-to-end capture, process and delivery of high-profile sporting events all over the world on a daily basis. If you’re considering streaming live events, we can help you discover the best way ahead to deliver a high-value experience to your customers. Give us a call.