Sports-centric Cloud TV and OTT services look like they are planning to knock it out of the park this year, taking on traditional television for the title of “Champion Live Sports Provider.”

For the past few years, the idea of live sports over IP was considered a pipedream. However, if Hulu’s recently launched live TV service and Disney’s acquisition of BAMTech for an ESPN OTT service is anything to go by, 2018 is shaping up to be the year sports over IP gets promoted to the major leagues.

Today’s technology allows us to stream sports over the internet better than ever thought possible. However, getting viewers to switch teams and cancel their pay-TV sports bundle is not a small challenge. Cloud TV services need to up their game and provide a better than TV experience for live sporting events in order to capture the audience.

To understand why cracking the formula for providing a better-than-TV experience for sports is so essential, we first need to understand the importance of sports as a part of the basic TV viewing experience.  

Since the world’s first live televised sporting event, the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, major sporting events have grown to become must-watch programming, attracting hundreds of millions of sports fans to their TV sets. Take the Super Bowl for example, topping the charts as the year’s most watched televised event in the US for years now, with Super Bowl LI (2017) bringing in just over 111 million viewers. Premium Pay-Per-View sporting events are also extremely popular, with the 2015 Mayweather vs. Pacquiao boxing match holding the record as the most purchased PPV event in television history, racking in 4.6 million purchases.

So how can Cloud TV providers tap into this enormous opportunity and provide a better-than-TV experience for live sports?

Social Interaction

Sport spectating is a social experience. Whether fans are cheering in the stands alongside their club mates or at home on the couch with friends, sports and fandom bring people together, and that also stands true for social networks.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become key sources for fan interactions during live games, and provide real-time updates and information. Facebook themselves also understand how important its platform is to the sports viewing experience, with plans to invest billions of dollars this year in sports distribution rights, combining social interactions and updates with the events themselves.

Similarly, Cloud TV operators are incorporating social features and capabilities into their services, letting fans and friends interact and share their experiences with one another, and receive real-time updates and correspondence on popular plays.

Real-time Data and Statistics

Traditional sports broadcasts provide a pretty straightforward experience, showing the game and score, with some updates on player stats and league statistics being displayed from time to time. Many sports viewers have taken to watching the game with an additional sports app or portal so that they can intake even more information on their favorite players and teams.

What Cloud TV and OTT providers are doing, is combining both live viewing and companion app features into a single experience, giving viewers more real-time data and updates alongside live sporting events.

Immersive Viewing Experiences with VR

Televised sporting events have a history of being on the cutting edge of broadcast technologies, being the first televised events to broadcast in HDTV and high-definition video qualities. Additionally, sports have always experimented with new viewing angles, from a bird’s eye view of the field to 360° replays, all the way down to eavesdropping in on sideline banter between players.

To provide a truly immersive experience, the obvious choice is virtual reality. VR’s first-person perspective offers virtually (pun intended) endless possibilities when it comes to viewing angles. It’s not science fiction either – broadcasters like Fox Sports, in cooperation with VR company Oculus, released a VR app that allows viewers to watch their favorite teams from entirely new perspectives, providing virtual environments like VIP boxes and sideline seating, and presenting real-time updates and information.

Adding to the social aspect, VR environments also offer the option to hold virtual viewing parties, allowing fans from all corners of the globe to sit down and watch the game while interacting with one another as if they were sitting in the same room.  

AI Powered Personalization

One of the biggest differences between traditional TV broadcasts and Cloud TV services is the ability for Cloud TV to be personal and present viewers with more relevant content, geared towards their specific preferences.

Artificial Intelligence is playing a big part in making sports on Cloud TV even more personal. AI systems are constantly learning, and over time can offer increasingly accurate predictions and discovery, based on the viewer’s favorite sports teams, players, leagues, and sports types. By collecting and analyzing viewer data, AI can also affect the user interface, presenting the most relevant events best suited for the viewers, changing the layout to optimize content promotions, and even affecting the color of the interface to match their team’s uniforms.

AI also brings with it voice controls and other interaction, letting viewers see an instant replay, or check the score on a different match, by simply using their voice.

2018 is shaping up to be the year that sports over IP hits a home run. With more sport-centric services entering the market, Cloud TV operators need to think out of the box and offer new and innovative ways to make the sports viewing experience more engaging and immersive than ever before.