Authored by Ranga Jagannath., Senior Director, Agora
The way we consume media has undergone a significant transformation with the advent of streaming services, giving audiences more control over what, when, and where they watch content. This shift has led to the dominance of key players like Netflix, who owe their market influence to their reliable, high-quality live video streaming capabilities. Although Netflix was one of the first major streaming platforms, numerous others, such as Disney+, Amazon Prime, JioTv, Zee5, and others, have joined the competition.
While Netflix has established itself as a leader in on-demand movies and TV episodes, it is now seeking to enter the live sports streaming market, thereby adding new challenges. Previous technical challenges during live feeds underlined the need for novel ways to ensure a seamless and immersive sports viewing experience on the platform. Watch parties have also become a common way of enjoying your viewing experience from the comfort of your house with friends and family across the country.
While traditional content distribution has been largely resolved online, live sports present a challenge. Free, ad-supported television (FAST) channels have gained prominence. However, the industry is still struggling with emulating traditional distribution models and handling large concurrent viewerships. Improving streaming technologies is crucial to delivering synchronized and engaging experiences, meeting audience expectations for high-quality content. Nonetheless, there are still technological limitations in some areas.
Acknowledging Technology Gaps
Sports live streaming poses significant challenges for content providers, including audience and glass-to-glass latency. Streaming services struggle to deliver content with minimal delay to a large number of concurrent viewers, leading to variations in the viewing experience among audiences.
In live sports events, fans desire a real-time experience, feeling the excitement of each goal, basket, or touchdown as it happens. However, due to factors such as encoding, network congestion, and geographic distance, there can be noticeable delays in the streaming signal reaching viewers worldwide. This delay can vary from a few seconds to several minutes, leading to a disparity in the viewing experience among different audience members. Content providers need to resort to delivery networks that offer lower latency and a seamless viewing experience. Helping fans engage with the athletes, commentators and influencers through live chats/ podcasts or auctioning sports merchandise live could be some of the ways to help fans get a real time experience. Building fan communities on their applications rather than driving to a 3rd party social media app is also important to retain fans or viewers on your platform.
Recreating the real-time, bidirectional aspects of traditional broadcasting online presents a major challenge. Ensuring viewers are synchronized in the timeline and providing sophisticated user experiences typical of linear distribution models require advancements in technology. Currently, technology limitations hinder the seamless delivery of certain content types and restrict user experiences.
Even with its robust streaming platform, a leading OTT player faces challenges such as buffering, audio-sync issues, and glitches during peak usage periods. Content Delivery Network (CDN) methods, once seen as the solution for scalable content distribution, have limitations in live-streaming video, treating it as a complex file transfer. The cost and reluctance to adopt modern architectures for real-time video delivery are obstacles for providers across regions. This underscores the need to invest in next-generation technologies to enhance user experiences. Considering the profits of streaming platforms, funding should be available for initiatives aimed at improving streaming technology.
Next-Gen Streaming is here to stay
While streaming platforms compete for a larger audience, the streaming industry as a whole should prioritize collaboration and research to embrace new technologies. Implementing solutions across the industry, rather than on individual platforms, benefits everyone. Creating a low-latency and ultra-low-latency architecture, addressing last-mile network conditions, and integrating adaptive scene encoding, real-time optimized codecs, and intelligent error correction can result in improved, interactive, and synchronized viewing experiences.
Building Blocks for a More Engaging Entertainment Destination
Ingest: Live stream from anywhere - Ingest live audio and video from any location worldwide, unconstrained by local network conditions. Enable production teams to shoot live content anywhere or capitalize on the lower cost of user generated content.
Engage: Make your user experience interactive - Encourage stickiness with an interactive experience, elevating live content and breathing new life into existing media. Enable social interactions directly on your platform to reduce attention to social media.
Monetize: Boost audience-facing revenue - Capitalize on new forms of monetization ranging from live shopping to exclusive interactive virtual events. Enable micro-transactions like virtual tipping or early content access to expand consumer-facing revenue.
Distribute: Reach a global audience - Remove the limitations of CDNs to deliver the live content in the highest quality without latency. Agora’s global edge network allows you to reach your audience worldwide, unconstrained resource-intensive points of presence (POPs).
As the industry advances, minimizing latency becomes more vital. The importance of synchronization is evident when your neighbor reacts to a live golf tournament's hole-in-one while you experience a 30-second delay in the stream. To achieve seamless viewing, complete synchronization is necessary across all platforms. Outdated technology poses challenges for real-time and interactive content at scale, affecting the sense of community in live sports broadcasts.
By integrating sophisticated technology and architectures, the future of live streaming will be centered on providing seamless, real-time entertainment experiences. As service providers adjust and improve their offerings, audiences will be able to enjoy more immersive and immediate streaming. This continual commitment to enhancement realizes the streaming revolution's promise of personalized, on-demand, high-quality content available anytime, anywhere.