IP and the sports industry recovery: Kieran Kunhya, CEO, Open Broadcast Systems speaks to Production 360

IP and the Sports Industry Recovery

By Kieran Kunhya, CEO, Open Broadcast Systems

The technical infrastructures and processes behind sports broadcasting have had a huge overhaul in recent years. Overnight, audiences had to change how they interacted socially which, of course, had a direct impact on how the industry operated. The sports vertical within broadcast was hit very hard, with entire events being cancelled until safe systems could be created.

Beyond the logistics of reinstating matches and races, the broadcast industry also had to look at how it could continue to deliver live content with a minimal set up. With strict social distancing measures in place, technology was suddenly being relied upon to fill the gaps. At the time, these were perceived as short-term methods to alleviate a crisis. But as the impact of the pandemic continues, they are fast becoming ways for sports organisations to future-proof their business models.

Many of the technologies that the industry began turning to at the onset of the pandemic were already starting to be adopted, however the introduction of new technologies suddenly became a necessity as opposed to an upgrade. One of the major manoeuvres seen across the industry has been the move to IP content delivery.

Two of IP’s main attributes are its low cost and easy set-up which are enabled by its lack of traditional hardware infrastructures. Offering flexibility and quick implementation, IP contribution and distribution was the logical answer in getting the sports broadcast industry back up and running. Not only could it allow for the broadcasting of last-minute matches, but it could even allow feeds from presenters’ own homes where needed.

IP distribution sits hand in hand with cloud working and remote solutions. At the start of the pandemic, and during subsequent restrictions, cloud working has been the only option for many organisations, as it has allowed them to continue to deliver content through remote editing. But beyond its necessity, businesses have also seen the extended benefits of cloud working.

The shift to software-based workflows means that providers can cost effectively add features and functionality to their systems within minutes, meaning that they can adapt to produce the content that their viewers want to see. Prior to the shift to IP and software workflows, flexibility and new features came at a cost which could deter broadcasters from developing their services as they wanted to. Now, they can develop their services with minimal financial risk; they can scale up and scale down at a relatively low cost.

With many sports broadcasters taking a financial hit in the last year, cost has been a huge consideration when creating new, sustainable broadcast networks. Sport has traditionally utilised satellite to send content to fans due to its point to multipoint capabilities. However, satellite is an expensive, complex, and hardware-heavy method of content distribution.

Since using IP, broadcasters are now seeing that its quality, latency, and bandwidth can compete with satellite and are therefore questioning whether it could be adopted as the main method of content contribution and distribution. The recovery of the sports industry will hinge on retaining established audiences and attracting new viewers. This can be done by delivering high quality content, and lots of it.

Of course, content delivery is a balancing act; it must be financially viable. So, can IP help the sports broadcast industry recover over the coming months? I think so. The cost-effective flexibility it offers allows broadcasters to have confidence in delivering content to its viewers. The return on investment of broadcast opportunities is clearly going to improve without the risks associated with high upfront costs, allowing for easier scale up and experimenting with new opportunities.

With a low-cost method of broadcasting, should we be giving sports with a smaller following an opportunity to be seen? I can see niche sports benefitting from this tech; viewers want more content than ever and yet we’re sadly seeing ongoing Covid related cancellations due to players testing positive. With the emergence of a new variant, restrictions on the number of spectators and a rapidly changing fixtures, the sports industry needs agility now more than ever.

IP offers a chance for broadcasters to cope with last minute changes to scheduling, allowing for live sports to replace live sports, as opposed to relying on archived content. Not only does this benefit viewers who are calling out for live fixtures, but it gives niche sports a brilliant opportunity for exposure.

Sports broadcasting has always benefitted from flexible systems and the industry now has confidence in embracing the most flexible delivery system of all: IP. It’s sure to shake up the industry and help it to deliver the rich and responsive sports content that its viewers are asking for.