Streaming video and the evolution of the big game

Feb. 11, 2019
Another Super Bowl is in the books with yet another win by the Patriots. Football fans are used to gathering together around a big screen TV, gorging themselves on nachos, cheering the commercials, and ...

Another Super Bowl is in the books with yet another win by the Patriots. Football fans are used to gathering together around a big screen TV, gorging themselves on nachos, cheering the commercials, and jeering the halftime show. But change is coming.

With the broadcast industry undergoing a shift toward online viewing experiences, the big game is sure to transform into an evening of interactive viewing. Sports betting will likely be at the forefront, advertisements will be interactive and tailored to the viewers' interests, and there will be options for personalized viewing, like choosing camera angles, said Mike Milligan, senior director, product and solution marketing, Limelight Networks (NASDAQ:LLNW).

The number of cord cutters is increasing, but the majority of consumers still have cable, and it seems older viewers are reluctant to give up cable subscriptions.

"I don't expect them to watch a major sporting event online if it is also available on cable. However, we have recently seen some online streaming services make successful bids to win the rights to stream major games and matches. It is just a matter of time until a large OTT provider submits the winning bid for the rights to a major sporting championship and the event is only available online," Milligan said.

This could occur within the next three to five years, Milligan said.

Streaming video providers will need to be able to deliver live sporting events in real time to viewers everywhere, and to make sure that the live streams can be viewed easily on any device.

"Sports fans want to enjoy the action as it is happening. Any delay between an online stream and the broadcast feed can cause issues with spoilers - online viewers do not want to learn about a big play on social media before seeing it," Milligan said. "Streaming providers can prepare … by partnering with a content delivery network that offers scalable, real-time global streaming to any device."

From a bandwidth perspective, Milligan said providing an HD-quality viewing experience for 100 million viewers simultaneously would require significantly more Internet capacity than is currently available in the middle mile.

"The best way to meet those demands for a single event is through the use of edge computing. By sending the feed to edge compute instances where it can be replicated and scaled close to viewers, content bypasses potential middle-mile bottlenecks while providing high-quality online streams," Milligan said.

Additionally, the 5G network rollout will add more streaming bandwidth that will help alleviate issues with scaling to support the high number of viewers whether they are watching on mobile devices or streaming on a big screen, Milligan said.

The specific applications, like sports betting, also come with some challenges. The idea is that people could bet real-time on various outcomes during an event, such as whether a kicker will make or miss a field goal. (Imagine how many would get in on a Cody Parker attempt, and imagine the odds.) To make this possible, Milligan said, there needs to be a simple user interface integrated into the video stream of the large sports event. The interface would need to be able to accept proposition bets so that when the viewer makes a wager, their device sends data to the gaming company.

Low latency becomes extremely important as the timing of the video feed and wager need to be synchronized. If there is delay, a fan in the stands could know the outcome and make a bet on their smart phone before the betting window closes.

"Online sports betting requires the video stream to be sent to viewers anywhere in the world with sub-second latency," Milligan said. "The good news is that streaming technologies are becoming more advanced to support these interactive features."

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