Broadband sports to hit the big time, TDG says

With the NFL jumping into online video with its NFL Now app, and regional networks like Pac-12 debuting their own OTT experiences, the idea of watching sports online is transitioning from an optional activity to must-see video. And next year, "broadband sports," as TDG analyst Joel Espelien dubs it, is set to take off in a big way.

"The message was clear--the powers that be are starting to take broadband sports seriously," Espelien wrote in the aftermath of the Streaming Media West trade show, held in Huntington Beach, Calif.

The "side show" that is OTT sports at the moment is about to become the main event, he said.

Earlier marquee sporting events from earlier this year--the Sochi Olympics, March Madness, the World Cup--were a way for both established online video industry players, like Akamai, and newer entrants, like ESPN and Univision, to showcase their services' stability and scalability, and to provide a few near-term viewing stats such as number of streams.

Given the huge viewer base around sports, and the ongoing trend toward over-the-top viewing, it's no surprise that one of the granddaddies of U.S. sports, the NFL, is taking its second-screen opportunities more seriously. After all, there's money to be made over broadband connections.

And that is, of course, one of the primary drivers behind the NFL's decision to offer a more robust over-the-top experience. As more eyeballs move to online video services delivered over PCs, smartphones, tablets and streaming devices, the league is determined to keep them watching its content.

NFL Now, launched in August, operates mainly as a video on demand service, according to Cory Mummery, GP and GM of NFL Now and NFL Media, in his keynote presentation at the show. Viewers can access long-form NFL films from the archive, original short-form content, game highlights within minutes or even seconds, and some live content (but no live games, yet).

"This is compelling content that users really were excited to see," Mummery said.

Given that some fans have been dedicated OTT sports viewers for quite a few years now, the NFL's move may have many saying "it's about time." Soccer enthusiasts, for example, have routinely found workarounds to stream live broadcasts of their favorite teams' games. The World Cup alone saw at least 20 million pirated streams, particularly during hotly contested matches.

Broadband sports have the power to drastically reduce illegal streaming. Univision, for example, allowed viewers to stream all the World Cup matches, without needing to authenticate their service, up until the semifinals.

How well NFL Now does remains to be seen, but if TDG's prediction holds true, stay tuned for some exciting developments in the pro sports broadcasting world.

For more:
- see this TDG blog post
- Streaming Media has this story

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