As I reflect on the pandemic’s undeniable impact on live sports production and look ahead to the new year, I’m extremely excited by what’s to come. Remote and cloud-based production methods have developed in leaps and bounds over the past two years, thanks to an urgent need to reduce travel and protect production crews during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. This wave of innovation has ignited a major recalibration among broadcasters and other sports rightsholders, many of which are now reaping the rewards of a broader menu of production and delivery options.
But it’s not just about the pandemic. Many in the media sector have been adopting remote and cloud-based production techniques for live events for some years, cutting costs while boosting efficiency and agility. The pandemic simply accelerated this transition by five to seven years, and these approaches are now central to production workflows for many large-scale events being broadcast or streamed live. The benefits go far beyond cost-effectiveness, as the long-term impact includes more flexible working environments for production teams and more opportunities for broadcasters, leagues and other live content producers.
That’s why we will see more adoption of new production and delivery approaches in 2022. By investing in and seeing just what they can do with these tools, sports and event organizations of all sizes and types are able to do more with their live content.
The continued shift to new live production models
Within the live production space, 2022 will be marked by the ongoing shift away from traditional production models to ones that are more flexible and attuned to the specific needs of different rightsholders today. This shift empowers broadcasters, streaming services, leagues and others to do more with their content and to continue finding new ways to reach fresh audiences consuming live content beyond the traditional channels – such as social media platforms.
We’ll see crews, talent and other personnel utilize remote facilities, trucks, studios and homes across numerous locations to deliver unique broadcast, streamed and social media programming for multiple events – sometimes simultaneously. This mixed and ‘distributed’ production model has proven its worth during the pandemic and will continue to do so even as we move beyond the health crisis. Sports leagues, rightsholders and other producers of live events have realized that they can reallocate and reinvest saved costs into further content, while improving staff wellbeing and ensuring access to the best people available – regardless of where they are located.
What’s more, other organizations beyond the top tier of sports leagues and rightsholders are looking at what the new menu of options offers. The result will be more coverage of a broader array of live events than ever. For many organizations, such as lower-tier colleges in the US and niche sports tournaments, it means they can achieve a quality not previously reachable with their live coverage at a budget that works for them.
Streaming continues to re-shape the game
With the growing adoption of new methods and technologies, we’ll likely see far more experimentation and innovation in the ways live sports are delivered and experienced by the end-user. The robustness, flexibility, and ‘on-demand’ nature of the cloud means rightsholders can scale up services to provide a multitude of feeds via an array of devices – bringing more dynamic and interactive coverage for fans than ever before.
Streaming is becoming a central pillar of live sports coverage, and in 2022 we’ll see rightsholders capitalize on over-the-top (OTT) capabilities to do more with their content and engage fans like never before. Nielsen research revealed that streaming technology benefitted in a big way in 2021 from the ongoing growth in viewing of OTT services and a healthy influx of new content to the more established streaming platforms. As a result, streaming made up 28% of total viewing time in 2021 – up from 20% in 2020 and 19% in Q4 2019, just before the pandemic.
This growth in streaming points to exciting prospects in 2022 for rightsholders looking to package and monetize their content across different platforms while engaging with a range of audiences. In fact, streaming growth could signal an exciting new development in sports fans’ live broadcast experience, with rightsholders and content owners able to deliver several live feeds to a streaming service through the cloud – enabling the fan to choose and curate their experience rather than receiving a single linear broadcast feed.
The opportunity to also bolt on secondary interactive experiences, such as betting, interactive graphics, player information, and social media, will likely be experimented with on a large scale. The result will be that rightsholders will be able to cater to fans seeking more engaging and direct ways to experience the action of their favourite teams and players.
Full implementation of industry practices and technologies
The growth of a more distributed production model facilitated by the cloud and the rise of more streaming live content options are by no means ‘new’ trends. Rather, they represent a rapid acceleration and extension of broader industry transitions that will continue through the year.
With these trends becoming more of an everyday reality in 2022, the media market will see the opportunity for far greater creativity in producing and delivering live sports coverage. The reliability and cost-efficiency of remote and cloud techniques are now well-proven and there is little reason for rightsholders not to take full advantage of them.
These tools will continue to empower content owners and rightsholders to tap into workflows that are tailored to the type and size of a production – and to the production of multiple streams of live content. Moreover, the ability to choose from a growing menu of production options – and even to combine those – offers a multitude of opportunities for live sports producers in 2022 that many would not even have been able to foresee of just two years ago.
Glenn Adamo is Managing Director of The Switch Production Services