Sports Broadcasting – Where it’s been, where it is and where it’s going


For sports broadcasters OTT has historically been bypassed in favour of traditional distribution methods. Recent world events have started to change that.

OTT is finally starting to be taken seriously as a vehicle for live sport delivery. Until fairly recently, widespread adoption has been prevented by latency issues with one-to-two-minute delays being common over OTT sports broadcasting services; for sports fans it is non-negotiable that they get to witness goals, aces, victories, and defeats live as they happen. Sports broadcasters certainly recognised this and so, traditional, low-latency distribution methods like cable and satellite continued to dominate the market with OTT services not receiving much in terms of investment.

It looked like the 2018 World Cup was going to change this. For the first time, a global sporting event would prominently feature live match feeds distributed over public internet with much improved latency. OTT broadcasting allowed football fans to witness the drama unfold live over the internet. At first it appeared that sports broadcasters would build on this success by investing more heavily in remote production infrastructure, establishing OTT as a mainstay within live sport production.

What immediately transpired was markedly different. Appear and the IABM conducted research on the investments made by 45 sports broadcasters across the UK and US from 2019 to today. Together we found that just over 40% of those broadcasters invested in remote production and just under 40% invested in network equipment. A Deloitte report released in 2019 provides a possible answer to this; only 39% of sports fans were satisfied with OTT broadcasting services. The priority for sports broadcasters therefore remained with traditional broadcasting mediums. Whilst a sizable portion did invest in OTT, the 2018 World Cup didn’t bring about the seismic shift we all anticipated. Perhaps a more significant world event was required to bring about this shift in priorities for sports broadcasters.

And then the pandemic hit. As we all know, the lockdowns and restrictions imposed during this time meant that most industries and sectors were forced to adopt remote working practices, and remote sports broadcasting production was no different. Sports broadcasters saw the potential of OTT in helping to gain a competitive edge and preserve high quality content delivery despite restrictions. As a result, 2020 saw remote production receive a high level of investment relative to its traditional counterparts.

Investment did then drop off in 2021, but this was due to the infrastructure already being in place to maintain a reasonable service. OTT was now able to push on and develop, which it did. Several new technologies saw heavy investment in this time, such as content delivery networks (CDNs), digital rights management (DRM), as well as origin/packager and personalisation/recommendations technology. This was all necessary to ensure flexibility, reliable quality of service and secure delivery. We also saw continued heavy investment in network equipment as broadcasters pursued low latency, high bandwidth, and real-time live content. According to IABM’s Technology and Trends Roadmap 2022, this continued investment has seen networking technology reach an unprecedented level of sophistication.

It’s clear that recent world events have alerted sports broadcasters to the potential of OTT and the flexibility it can provide. The market is now in a healthier and more promising state thanks to the heavy investment in remote production we saw in 2020 and beyond. The task for sports broadcasters now is to optimise that newly developed infrastructure and reduce operational complexity and cost; all with a view to continually improve the quality of experience for customers.