Sports Streaming Wars: Why We Need to Talk About Data Transparency

Man streaming soccer game live, video replay or highlights online with smart device.

By Brian Kim, CEO at sponsorship intelligence platform Relo Metrics

Like pundits crowded at the touchline of a Premier League final, big tech players are jostling for position in the race for live sports streaming. Amazon Prime is head of the line, kicking off a new era of NFL broadcasting. Fellow streaming giant Netflix is also flexing its muscles in the evolving space, as Apple TV lays claim to Major League Baseball – while butting heads with Disney and others in a bidding war for the NFL Sunday Ticket.

The feeding frenzy makes sense. In an increasingly crowded streaming environment, live sports content comes with the promise of mass market appeal and lucrative ad potential. It’s a great way for the likes of Netflix et al to differentiate, creating unique value that taps into a cohort of lifelong fans / subscribers.

Yet, in the rush to ride this new wave – moving from original content to live sports, and from linear to OTT – industry leaders may be missing the bigger picture. Namely, the lack of transparent audience data around which the entire ecosystem pivots.

A familiar problem

The unwritten assumption driving these new deals seems to be that if the right sports content exists, audience reach will automatically follow. But audience figures for Amazon Prime’s much-lauded NFL debut were surprisingly low. And, in truth, the amount of accurate, third-party data that rights holders and brands can access from OTT platforms in general is limited.

The upshot is that content rights deals are rapidly diversifying; but with no framework for transparent viewability that is needed to square off the transition. With this haphazard approach, there’s a risk that OTT platforms will face the same kind of dilemma that Facebook did in 2016 – when the social network was forced to admit a huge miscalculation in video viewing time reports. This led marketers to ratchet up pressure for third-party verification on key performance metrics provided by the platform.

A similar conversation around veracity has yet to even begin within the OTT space. The outlook is so murky that potential sponsors are unaware what metrics to ask platforms for, in order to analyze campaign value. And that value simply cannot be provided in any case, if – as with Facebook a few years back – OTT partners are effectively marking their own homework in terms of the figures that they share.

Data as universal currency 

In many ways, the sport industry’s move into OTT amplifies problems that both sectors already face around a lack of data transparency and standardized metrics. In the context of a live streamed event like an NBA showdown, or international race coverage, the biggest value for advertisers lies within the gameplay itself. So brands and, by association, rights holders, need access to genuine data that reflects an accurate picture of sponsorship value in real time.

There is a need, then, for a universal measurement currency that can capture performance based on clear-cut viewership data. And this should apply across the board, across different sports and OTT platforms; rather than in the siloed, partisan format that such measurements currently operate (where they even exist).

Technology has an important role to play here, too. A growing body of chipset software can be integrated into devices across a variety of platforms, including OTT media. This allows brands to unlock greater visibility over campaign performance, with first-party insight that is far more exact than the standard metric of survey-based data.

Yet, while this kind of intelligence can show how long a viewer spends on any particular media platform, it can only drill down further – differentiating which programs are seen, and when – with cooperation from OTT platforms on data sharing.

Driving the demand 

Amid all the buzz around live sports streaming on OTT, there’s a missing piece of the jigsaw. Because not only are OTT platforms keeping their cards close on live analytics – no-one is pushing them to share these vital insights.

It’s up to the sports leagues, with their considerable sway, to lobby for greater data transparency at the point of contract. Part of their negotiation process when these deals are sealed should involve teams pushing for greater data access on behalf of their customers; aka, advertisers.

This bigger-picture approach means feeding smart TV data into the wider sphere of rights holders and marketers, to shape a common value currency. With direct access to live event insights, the industry can drive a model of OTT sport coverage with rigor at its core.