Live sports streaming is hot. Streaming providers are using sports to attract and engage subscribers, fueling an anticipated quadrupling of the sector to $87 billion, according to the latest research. While VOD viewer penetration in the US is stagnating at 86%, some sports streaming services report 70% and higher year-on-year subscriber growth.

Whether that momentum creates winners or losers, however, depends in large measure on the quality of the delivered content. Sports fans who are accustomed to high-quality, large-screen experiences will expect telecasters to maintain similarly high standards as content moves to OTT.

The pressure is on live sports streamers:

  • Subscribers – free of long-term agreements – can leave anytime so churn rates are high, while the hundreds of millions of dollars streamers have paid for sports rights make loyalty essential to ROI. 
  • Expectations for video quality are higher for two reasons: Viewers pay more for streaming packages that include sports and watch more content in higher resolutions like 4K UHD or HDR-enabled displays
  • Issues like Macroblocking, Blurriness, A/V Sync and Latency can immediately and totally ruin the viewer experience for millions of subscribers.
  • Subscribers don’t stay silent when sports streaming video quality is subpar and word-of-mouth quickly spreads on Social Media, damaging brand reputations and future revenues.

So how do you score big when it comes to sports streaming video quality? Try these Do's and Don’ts:

  1. DO ensure that you have a real-time monitoring service that catches viewer experience issues from source to playback, immediately telling you degradations’ root causes and enabling you to take action before they reach subscribers. 
  2. DO make timing a priority. Even a one-second mismatch in AV sync can be frustrating. And DO minimize latency – it can be more than 30 seconds – and be a buzz-kill when broadcast viewers react to a play before online viewers have seen it. Many people also follow the event on a second screen on Social Media. Sixty-four percent of consumers worldwide said they were more likely to stream a live event if they knew it would line up with broadcast latency. 
  3. DO measure the quality end-to-end with an apples-to-apples comparison, using the same metric. This is a must if you want to identify which process caused video quality degradation. And you can only improve if you know your current baseline. Use a QA system that is future-proof and is able to measure and analyze video quality across different standards, codecs, resolutions, formats and devices.
  4. DON’T leave video quality as an afterthought; it should be embedded in your workflows from the get-go. If not, it will be more difficult to scale and automate your processes later.
  5. DON’T assume that you have no control over Live content issues. With video quality metrics that work in real-time, you can switch sources, CDNs, or notify suppliers when there's still time to solve them.
  6. DON’T assume that good delivery = good video experience. Although player metrics are important, they measure how content is delivered, not how it looks. Viewers might be getting the stream without any delay, with the highest possible Mbps, but the video itself might be blocky, A/V mismatched, with significant latency. You get the picture.

To sum up: All of these checks must be executed by a highly automated QA platform that can analyze metrics related to perceptual viewing experience in real-time. Aggregating metrics from all monitoring points, from source to player, the QA platform must be able to identify exactly where issues occur and trigger immediate remedies to nip emerging issues in the bud.

Clearly, live-stream sports providers who achieve this level of end-to-end QA in real-time are far better equipped to build loyal audiences, have lower churn and monetize better with higher ad revenue and higher $$ subscriptions than those who don’t. But can it be done?

The answer is YES, absolutely. The technology is already there and being used by some of the top providers.

To learn about the full power of an end-to-end QA for live-streamed sports services read SSIMWAVE’s white paper

Download the streaming sports white paper