Broadcast, Digital & Media, Future Trends, Sport Business | Sep 24, 2020
How edge computing will transform sports streaming.

Streaming capability is about to enter a new age. Fuelled by customer expectation and technological advances including 5G, edge computing is about to transform the end experience of what live sport and entertainment streaming can be.

So says Peter Gallagher, Verizon Media Platform’s Customer Operations lead. Gallagher runs the operations and engineering for the telecoms giant’s media platforms group, which includes a global content delivery network as well as video streaming and security services.

Ahead of his upcoming appearance at Leaders Week Direct, Gallagher answered some key questions on the current shape of the sports streaming landscape, and what it’s likely to look like in the not too distant future.

  • Streaming becomes more popular each year, but give us a sense of the speed with which the trend is progressing?

There are tonnes of statistics out there. When I first got into this industry there was a lot of debate about whether OTT was going to get traction. Then people started to really embrace this, and now everyone’s realising that as other traditional markets are beginning to erode they need to embrace and invest in this area. The debates over the growth don’t really exist anymore. What we really need to look at is the speed at which consumer expectations are changing, because in the end, that’s what matters and what’s driving the acceleration; people want the broadcast quality experience. The days of internet buffering and pixellation and delays and black screen when I transition to ad breaks, all those things are gone now. People expect the same exact experience that they get in traditional markets.

The other thing that’s changing is the desire for live content. Everybody understands the value of video-on-demand and the models around that, but people want to stay connected to news, sports, and other critical pieces of information. Bringing this information to market at speed with low latency is really critical at this point.

Other traditional things around service and support are there too: how easy is it to work with your platform? How available is your platform on other platforms for seamless transition? That’s so important when people are trying to target younger audiences where there’s so much growth.

  • What questions should broadcasters or properties ask themselves before making the decision to set up an OTT?

It really starts in the business arena. What market are you going to go into? Are you going with an SVOD model or an AVOD model? You have to understand the business model and what capabilities you need to support that model. Once you understand the landscape, there are so many different pieces that need to be assembled to bring the service to life – whether it’s for subscription management, customer authentication, content management, video streaming streaming, ad platform integration, billing – that you then need to step back and ask yourself which pieces you yourself are going to build and own, and where you’re going to choose to partner to outsource. Because time-to-market is key. You can’t take this all on yourself, you’ll just lose too much opportunity to build audience. So it’s really important to look at the capability landscape of the pieces you need, and do that build by partner analysis.

“There are so many different pieces that need to be assembled to bring the service to life: subscription management, customer authentication, content management, video streaming streaming, ad platform integration, billing….”

  •  What are the mistakes that broadcasters or properties moving into streaming for the first time tend to make?

It always come backs to the business. We need to think about how to build audience – that’s what matters. It sounds simple, but sometimes organisations bite off too much in all those capabilities and they don’t have enough capital to invest in doing all those pieces themselves. And then the investments and challenges with time-to-market end up taking away from what they need to invest in order to build audience – either through rights and content agreements, or in marketing and promotion. You can’t let the technology be the barrier for time-to-market, and you need to focus on what’s important where you partner.

The other big thing to think about when you’re making those build-buy-partner decisions is scale. What is really critical as consumer expectations change from traditional and OTT and quality of experience, and the need for live events and flash traffic, being able to scale to manage that flash traffic is key. People can support millions of concurrent viewers. But how adept are organisations at scaling from hundreds of thousands to millions in seconds without having different components of the platform crash, being able to scale so we don’t have buffering or other issues that impact consumer experience. Scale is key.

As theatrical release windows are moving online as well, we’ll have more and more flash traffic – even in the VOD space as well as linear. Being able to build the right scale is just critical.

  •   Why should the sports and media industries be excited about 5G?

We’re at the heart of what’s going on here at Verizon. There are so many dimensions to what it offers, it’s just fascinating. 5G as a protocol certainly allows increased speed and performance, which is really going to enrich the consumer experience. But what is really critical and that comes along with this is what’s available on edge compute. Being able to do transactions at the edge to support the performance requirements of 20 milliseconds, 5 milliseconds versus the cloud which could be 300 milliseconds – there’s going to be a big difference there as we look at what future offerings are.

  •  What does the OTT landscape look like in five years from now?

We’re thinking about it in terms of capabilities. We’re not building our own direct-to-consumer offering; our main mission is to partner organisations and enable their success with consumers. So we’re thinking about it in terms of what capabilities we need to launch in order to differentiate consumer experience. If I think about what things I’d like to move to the edge, it’s how do I take social viewing and allow people to join an event in a small group. With Covid and the challenge of people not being able to go and enjoy content experiences today, how do we bring that similar living room or stadium experience together to people in a virtual world. That’s what we’re working on around AR and VR as well.

And it’s not only about what’s going on in the video frame itself, but about the ability to look at key statistics of what’s happening with players, bring in computer vision, switch different camera angles, and be able to automatically generate clippable highlights, and link that to peoples’ fantasy leagues or connect for gaming and betting, and make this all happen in real time. So low latency will be really key. We’re investing in building these capabilities to run at the edge, because that’s going to give our customers a differentiated experience with their customers.

Peter Gallagher is a featured speaker during Leaders Week Direct. Sign up for your virtual pass here.

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