A potential disruptor to live broadcasting

  • Internet-driven video watching could prove a huge disruptor to how live events are viewed
  • All in the ecosystem should change their strategy or face being irrelevant

A potential disruptor to live broadcastingPeriscope by Edwin Yapp
Being a sports buff, I had been awaiting the Olympic Games to arrive with a fair amount of excitement. And now that it's here, I’m even more excited.
Growing up, I can remember the days when my family and I could only watch highlight clips of the events reported on news roundups, and that too, only within a short five- to seven-minute sports segment.
But thanks to the advent of satellite TV and big conglomerates, who sponsor such programs, many of us in the past decade or so have had access to more than five channels showing a variety of games, round-the-clock.
But the 30th Olympiad is more special in that it marks the first time that the Olympics is being televised live not only by traditional broadcasters but is also being shown over the Net streaming 24/7 for duration of the games.
Thanks to Google and its video arm YouTube, viewers can now watch live streams on the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) YouTube channel, accessible online via desktop, Internet-enabled devices [tablets, mobile phones] and other YouTube-enabled devices.
The IOC’s live streaming on its YouTube channel consists of 11 different simultaneous high-definition broadcasts, all with English language commentary. There are 10 live feeds from London 2012, running 9am to 11pm London time (GMT) plus a 24-hour broadcast of the Olympic News Channel, which includes summaries of the latest results, general reports on different events, and interviews with athletes.
This is a dream come true for me as not only can I watch highlights on traditional TV but any time, on demand, over the Net. And I'm glad that my kids too are able to enjoy this now, something I wish I had some three decades ago.
And guess what? I’m not alone in this excitement because apparently, more than 50% of Filipinos and Malaysians prefer the Internet to enjoy the Olympics experience, according to a recent survey by ad network Effective Measure.
The obvious benefit of having the Games streamed over the Net is that you can watch it almost anywhere you go, even while on the move. There's also no fighting over the remote anymore as any one in the family can watch any channel they choose to without arguing with another as long as you've a device that can access the Net.
This was clearly something that came in handy this past week, when my family members wanted to choose their own programming and I didn't have to moderate the remote.
But quite apart from some of the more frivolous reasons as to why watching the Games over the Net is advantageous, the more serious implication for the technology world is that the game is rapidly changing for all players in the broadcast ecosystem.
From advertisers and broadcasters, to content partners to broadband operators, fixed and mobile, as well as device and handset makers, all of these players are been impacted -- some more than others -- that they would like to admit.
First up are broadband service providers. Streaming only works with reasonably fast broadband connections so those with fiber-to-the-home would definitely be able to capitalize on the HD quality (up to 1080p) of the games, which truly makes viewing a pleasure, especially when you have a 50-inch display to view it from. For mobile players, streams are also available over 3G and/or 4G networks, albeit played over a smaller screen.
So whether mobile or fixed, data consumption is going to rise during these two-and-a-half-weeks, and operators have to ensure that their capacity is up to par to give their customers good quality of service.
A potential disruptor to live broadcastingNext is advertising. In all the streaming videos on IOC's Olympic channel, Samsung, being a major sponsor, has lined up several different 30-second wrap-around videos that are shown to viewers every time they change a channel. This rings true whether one is watching in a fixed location or on the go. With such a commanding ad presence over the Net, Samsung (pic, click to enlarge) has truly taken advertisement to the next level.
And connected to how the face of advertising is changing vis-à-vis traditional broadcasters is the fact that broadcasters can't get the same kind of interactivity over their medium of transmission compared to that of those watching over the Net.
A distinguishing feature of IOC's Olympic channel is that viewers will not only get to watch live streams, they would also be able to make queries anytime while watching simply by Googling any queries that may come to mind.
Google said in its press release that users can search for specific strings such as “Malaysia at the Olympics” or a popular sport like “badminton,” and find up-to-the-minute detailed information such as the schedule, medal count, and event records in their searches.
It added that in its “Hot Searches” section of the site, it will analyze all the Games-related searches from around the world to determine which topics, athletes or events are being searched for by fellow fans around the world.
Trying this over the week, I can confirm that there was ample information available over the Net while watching the Games. Add the fact that I could choose to watch any highlights of replays of sessions I've missed and make queries about them over Google, my viewing experience of the Olympics games over the Net has doubled compared to watching it over TV.
With this interactivity coming into play, the Net could end up being a huge disruptor to traditional forms of broadcast, as shown by what is happening with the 30th Olympiad. One area that I can think of that has not been fully exploited is further personalizing advertisements based on location, demographic preferences and device centricity.
After all, if Google or any other advertiser knows the aforementioned data, imagine what it could do to target you with laser-focused ads during a huge event like the Olympics?
It's too early to tell but I do believe that other large globally "broadcastable" events could follow suit in the near future. Think the FIFA World Cup, UEFA's European Championship, even the English Premier League or the Spanish La Liga. For non-sporting events, think live concerts by global stars.

This is what I believe Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson was speaking in part about in his seminal book, The Long Tail, where he describes how the Net has the ability to democratize the distribution of content, and empower niche plays to come through.

The landscape for broadcasting is indeed changing and those who are part of the value chain had better be prepared, or risk losing their seat in the game of broadcast musical chairs.
Related stories:
South-East Asians prefer social media to enjoy Olympics: Survey
Can’t go to the Olympics? Never mind, there’s always YouTube

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