At one point or another, the avid sports fan will run into this issue: they simply can’t find where to watch the games. With more and more consumers opting to cut the cord and ditch cable, the content streaming economy has exploded with services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Paramount+, Peacock, Apple+, Max, and more. These services have become massive businesses with millions of subscribers, and many of them are taking live sports along for the ride.
However, the live sports streaming landscape is fragmented, and consumers are finding it challenging to simply find out how and where to watch their favorite teams.
Take, for example, that Thursday Night Football games are now exclusively on Amazon Prime, whereas on Sunday or Monday, NFL games are on a variety of other platforms, including Peacock, Paramount+, Fox Sports, ESPN+, and others. Meanwhile, NBA, MLB, English Premier League soccer, and NHL games, too, are spread across myriad services.
CEDIA Expo Session Explores Sports Streaming Landscape
Video streaming has reached an all-time high this year, capturing nearly 40% of all television viewers, far exceeding the amount of people viewing broadcast television, says Marc Finer, DEG (Digital Entertainment Group) senior advisor, citing Nielsen research.
Finer, moderating a CEDIA Expo 2023 panel on live sports streaming, says while these factors are leading to an explosion in services, the content streaming market is very fragmented, and the number of video services in the average household is peaking around four.
“So, all these options are making the process of discovering, accessing, and managing content more and more challenging,” Finer says, adding that this is leading to subscriber churn and the bottom lines for some of these platforms.
According to Finer, half of the respondents to a recent Deloitte survey said they missed a game they wanted to see because they couldn’t find it on the right streaming platform.
The panel featured Rob Stecklow, senior vice president of marketing, sports & news at Paramount+, and Brian Gilmore, vice president of Peacock and digital programming at NBC Sports, both of whom agreed that figuring out where to watch games can be confusing.
According to Stecklow, Paramount+ even put together an internal slide that shows all the ways NFL fans can watch games. The service will stream Super Bowl 58 as part of CBS’ coverage in February.
“There’s a lot of education that fans need even just from the leagues,” Stecklow says, noting some of that education is simply designed to make people aware that the platform even exists.
Even more challenging is marketing, as streaming services affiliated with networks like NBC and CBS are relatively new.
Currently, Paramount+ carries college sports including March Madness, the PGA Tour, The Masters, some NFL games on local CBS stations, and a wide variety of European soccer.
However, Peacock also carries NFL games on local NBC stations as well as each Sunday Night Football game, plus Premier League soccer, a variety of college sports and more. In addition, the service has live streamed the Olympic Games twice and the Summer Games are on tap again in 2024.
And, each streaming service comes with different levels of plans that provide access to different tiers of content.
Your clients have likely mentioned many of the same questions to you after installing a home theater system or new LED TV and sound system in their living room.
Tom Doherty, director of new technology initiatives at Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA), says the lack of a clear portal makes it challenging to find the event on the right platform. “It’s a lot of hit and miss,” he says, commenting on his own experience.
Streaming Platforms Further Consolidating & Bundling
Major streaming service providers have signaled an increased willingness to collaborate with competitors in recent months to help customers save money while continuing to consume content. It’s helpful for integrators to stay up to date on these happenings so they can help when customers have questions.
In a major shift to the sports streaming landscape, ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. are planning to launch a joint sports streaming service later this year that will include games from the NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, College Sports, UFC, PGA TOUR Golf, Grand Slam Tennis, the FIFA World Cup, Cyclingand more.
Telecommunications giant Verizon is now offering a bundled package of Netflix and Max for $10 per month. The ad-supported services from the platforms are offered for members of Verizon’s myPlan and represents 40% in savings compared to subscribing to each service separately.
According to Verizon, the ad-supported Netflix and Max bundle is among ten $10 monthly offerings available to the company’s myPlan customers, including Apple TV+, and +play credits to save on more streaming and content, Walmart+, TravelPass and more.
Now, Verizon customers can get two content bundles with myPlan perks, including this newly announced bundle and the Disney Bundle that includes ad-free Disney+ and ad-supported versions of Hulu and ESPN+.
Disney has also rolled out Hulu on Disney+, merging the two platforms Disney owns to help streamline the user experience. However, Hulu + Live TV and Premium add-ons will still only be available in the standalone Hulu app, which Disney says is not being replaced with the bundled app.
Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ have been offered as a bundle with standalone apps since 2019 for all three or just two apps. Plans range from $9.99 a month for ad-supported versions of Disney+ and Hulu to $24.99 a month for ad-free versions of Hulu and Disney+ and the ad-supported version of ESPN+.
Other streaming providers, such as Apple and Paramount Global, were also rumored to be discussing a bundled package, but as of December 2023, nothing had been announced.
How CE Pros & Streaming Services Can Partner
Walt Zerbe, senior director of technology and standards for CEDIA, says this fragmentation of live sports streaming can have a negative effect on an integration firm. Essentially, the job of home technology integrators is to make systems easier for people to use, but the inability to quickly and easily find live sports could create end-user headaches.
“We’re still going to deliver the hardware, but we have to get more involved in the streaming service and be maybe more of a concierge service to help people,” Zerbe says, suggesting that integrators interview their clients about what sports they want to watch so they can help set them up with the right services and program their user interfaces to access the appropriate service with ease.
Live sports streaming is a challenge acknowledged by the very platforms that play in the space, and there are solutions being discussed, such as another app. But again, it’s just another app that consumers must navigate.
Instead, integrators can act as a concierge and curator of sorts, educating customers about which streaming platforms are hosting which sporting events, and so forth.
Where integrators can come in is by providing excellent audio and video to deliver these live sports experiences, Doherty and Zerbe say. Essentially, integrators need to be educated about the range of audio and video performance so systems can be optimized for it. They also need GUIs that are designed well and can interface with the hardware being installed.
However, Stecklow admitted that engineers are typically not designing the platform with the high-end home entertainment market in mind. In short, streaming services need more technical information from integrators about what exactly they require.
Perhaps the most impactful work an integrator can do to help improve the quality of streaming services is in networking, as most of the negative feedback streaming platforms get is around connection quality, Zerbe suggests.
Integrators could also help boost their recurring revenue programs with content concierge services, helping customers discover where to watch their favorite sporting events.
According to Zerbe, this would be no different than offering contracts for upgrades and system refreshes.
“In fact, it’s probably a more frequent touch point than you’re going to have with your customer than anything else you do,” Zerbe says. “Why wouldn’t you want to have a great relationship with your customer and say, “Hey, do you know this new sports service is available? I can get this set up for you.’”
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