S3 Sports: Before Going OTT, Remember To RACE

What content creators should consider in deciding whether to distribute directly to consumers

Delivering content directly to the consumer, or over the top, offers plenty of opportunity for content creators to reach fans wherever they are, build a community, and expand the brand. How should companies leverage their live-coverage rights, on-demand video, and infrastructure to build their own channel? And what, exactly, is OTT? At Tuesday’s 2nd Screen Summit: Sports, industry experts from various positions on the OTT front shared their definitions of the distribution method as well as their strategies for making it viable.

“When using the phrase OTT, everyone’s answer generally has a slightly different flavor or definition,” said William Mao, VP, digital, Americas, MP & Silva. “Does OTT mean you use IP technology as opposed to linear? Or does it require that you have a separate, paid authentication — and then, if you’re going to use something that’s authenticated through your cable service, is that really OTT? These are the types of questions that you actually have to ask.”

OTT bypasses linear content-delivery methods, such as television broadcasting, and allows fans to access the content directly from the creators. Unless those fans want to consume that content and are willing to seek it out, though, going OTT may not be the best option.

Dave Alloway, director, consumer experience, NeuLion, described the perfect candidate to build a successful OTT channel: “Somebody that has niche content and a very rabid fanbase that might not be able to get the kind of carriage that would be available on traditional methods or the numbers just wouldn’t be there. You have people that have wallets, you have people that will spend on the content that they enjoy, and, when there’s that kind of fandom, it’s a perfect case for [OTT].”

The World Surf League has found success with its OTT offering, tapping into the sport’s hardcore and technologically savvy fanbase. Relevant content may be the most important factor in deciding whether to go over the top, but fans also need to access and engage in the content.

Frank Golding, founder, Golding Media Ventures, urged attendees to remember the acronym RACE: “Can you deliver Relevant content, is it Accessible, is there a Community, and are they going to Engage? RACE. If you can do that, you can develop an OTT channel.”

Established properties like broadcast networks, sports leagues, and collegiate conferences have built OTT channels to deliver additional content directly to fans, outside of linear-broadcast windows. For example, the American Athletic Conference relies on OTT to broadcast sports that might not otherwise be broadcast and to expand the reach of the AAC brand.

“Two summers ago, we emerged as the American Athletic Conference with a different membership, different makeup, and a new set of challenges,” said Mark Hodgkin, assistant commissioner, digital media, AAC. “We looked at it as a brand-new conference, brand-new name, brand-new logo [and asked ourselves] how are we going to make our mark and show the college landscape who we are? I give credit to our Commissioner Mike Aresco for understanding that digital is going to be a part of that and empowering us to make decisions about the digital network and put a lot of the sports that were underserved on the platforms.”

However, in decisions on whether to go OTT, the amount of content needs to be considered. Exclusive live coverage, while attracting eyeballs to OTT channels, take up only so many hours in a day. What do you do with the remaining time?

“You can’t just do your live thing and then you’re done,” said Levels Beyond COO Christy King. “You have to fill all that other [time], so suddenly, asset management becomes incredibly valuable. You have to have an incredibly strong understanding of keeping track of your inventory because you have to be able to use that material over and over and over again.”

She recalled how the UFC, whose technology R&D she led for a decade, addressed this issue when the league experimented with an OTT offering for bars and restaurants: “We had lots of live programming but not 24/7 live programming, so how do we make shoulder programming — to borrow a broadcast term — to fill in those hours in between live content on that OTT box? That turned out to be a whole other, really interesting challenge … gathering a lot of data, understanding who was watching, when they were turning things on, when we were competing against other things.”

Ultimately, said King, the UFC looked at its OTT offering as a way to provide “a completely separate, unique, commercial product” for bars and restaurants, a decision reached after delving into audience analytics and data. However, although the panelists stressed collecting as much data as possible when developing an OTT channel, they also urged content creators to trust themselves to know how best to package and deliver their content.

“Don’t chase your own tail. If you’re trying to figure out what [fans] want, you’re just going to run around in circles,” said Golding. “Be passionate about something that you are passionate about and lead the pack.”

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