Opinion | Why it pays to consider the long and short of OTT
Over-the-top (OTT) sport streaming services are a popular method of complimentary distribution for major rights holders, but for longtail content creators the results can be truly transformative and sustain their sports for the long term.
OTT internet streaming services are not quite as new a phenomenon as you might first think. The first ever sports stream over the Internet was a baseball game in 1995, and it is almost 20 years since Major League Baseball (MLB) launched its MLB.tv service.
The more recent explosion in both OTT products and providers is in large part due to technological advances that now allow high-quality streaming services at scale and the rapid change in consumer behaviour, driven by a mobile-first mentality.
Now it is clear that this trend is only going to accelerate as cord-cutting increases, product integrations and services improve, while 5G networks facilitate greater content creation capabilities as well as reducing latency.
The case for OTT, from a rights holder perspective, has become overwhelming. Major events are now being watched over the internet in larger numbers than ever before. Last year’s Super Bowl, for example, was the most live streamed in history, delivering an average minute audience of 3.4 million, up 30 per cent on 2019.
MediaKind’s recent 2021 Sports D2C Forecast, which analysed 40 rights holders from around the world, noted that the direct-to-consumer subscription model is likely to be ‘the dominant long-term business model’. Indeed, the global value of sports rights is predicted an increase of 75 per cent by 2024 due to a growth in audiences choosing direct-to-consumer (DTC) content.
Premium rights holders have inevitably had a far greater focus on ensuring they maximise the value of their traditional media rights deals, as these are often the single largest revenue stream and underpin their organisational infrastructure, their competitions and their marketing efforts.
This explains why some of the biggest sports properties – such as English soccer’s Premier League – have actually been the slowest to adapt, primarily due to the long-established, exclusive, linear broadcast rights agreements they have in place.
For tier two and three rights holders, who are less likely to rely on rights fees to underpin their overall revenues, direct-to-consumer services have become an increasingly vital source of returns via subscriptions, advertising and data.
Then there is the longtail end of the market. At this niche and – in many cases – non-existent end of the rights market, the considerations for content creators clearly differ considerably from those at the top of the funnel.
For most federations the number one priority is to grow their sport, both in terms of participants and overall number of identifiable fans. But they also have to consider competitions and events, sponsorship, safeguarding, data management and the overall development and integrity of their sport.
As OTT innovation continues apace and technology becomes more affordable, it is creating even greater opportunity for properties further down sport’s traditional food chain. The result is a massive increase in the volume of niche content and the possibility for rights holders to access, identify and monetise.
In the past – to truly go over the top of television and directly engage their fans – sports owners have had to consider the costs of hardware, specialist personnel and most significantly, production. In fact, for all the reasons right holders should be considering streaming content via OTT, there are as many to not undertake the infrastructural platform build internally, unless you have considerable budget and the resource to not only implement but also manage for the long term.
That said, we have now reached a tipping point with technology versus cost where leagues, federations, teams and individuals at every level of sport can launch high-quality automated OTT solutions to showcase their competitions and performances to the world.
And there is a growing desire for longtail, user generated content. MyCujoo is a great example of this, and also how technology-as-a-service can power OTT platforms. The success of the company’s tech stack paved the way for its recent acquisition by Eleven.
The MyCujoo model is heavily focused on providing free content to fans and, typically, a high proportion of longtail content finds its way to free social media platforms, namely YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Traditionally this has been because, aside from the federation or club websites, these are free platforms that encourage user generated content (UGC).
The irony, of course, is that some of this UGC is amongst the most viral posted on accounts such as Sportbible, garnering millions of views and lining publishers’ pockets with advertising revenues, with the individuals, leagues and clubs receiving no recompense.
Fortunately, there are now OTT streaming platforms on the market tailored to longtail content creators that allow them to directly monetise their IP on a pay-per-view or season ticket/annual basis, with 100 per cent of proceeds going back into the sport or club.
Joymo is one such service that has been developed to empower everyday athletes performing at large scale international events, to grassroots competitions, by levelling the longtail playing field by removing the cost and operational barriers.
The financial benefits extend to the control offered over on-page advertisers and the fact that commercial partners have access to hyper-engaged audiences on a local, regional, national, and international basis. On top of that, access to precious user data is provided to the page owner, allowing them to retarget.
Moreover, the technology underpinning these platforms offers secure end-to-end streaming at low latency, with built-in e-commerce and customer service, plus data processing and management in line with GDPR regulations. Most importantly, the financial entry point – as little as €40 per year – is extremely affordable.
We are living in a period where longtail and grassroots sport have been hit harder than most, and many clubs and federations were already struggling to finance and promote their sports in a manner that helps retain existing fans and capture younger audiences. Whose time and interests are increasingly fragmented.
Joymo has seen a number of its partners not only salvage sporting competitions that would otherwise be cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions on spectators but empowered them transform the potential of these events.
Whether it be a gymnastics club in Molde, streaming a one-off annual event, or a Norwegian Handball Association broadcasting all its weekly fixtures, longtail OTT has enabled them to generate significant revenues from digital pass sales, empowered players – who can now watch and analyse their performances – or enabled teammates to watch together and build unity. There are multi-level benefits being delivered directly federations, teams, players and fans.
While much of the noise and media coverage around OTT will continue to focus on premium rights holders, we must promote the services that exist for smaller federations and grassroots clubs, who are often the lifeblood for the professional end of the pyramid.
All sports, teams, athletes and events have an audience and longtail-focused OTT platforms empower these stakeholders to find them and help them support and grow their sports in the long term.
Mike Emery is the chief executive of Joymo, a leading live sports streaming platform for teams, clubs, and federations. For more information visit Joymo.tv.