Esports must improve broadcast quality to grow media rights & sponsorships

It’s been an interesting year for sports, to say the least. College and pro games, on hold since March, have only recently begun a slow, strange comeback–in bubbles and with no fans in attendance. Making matters worse, most other forms of live entertainment including concerts are also dark.

While live event activity has diminished, fan interest and demand haven’t. Stepping up to fill this void has been another type of competition where the activity and fan base are as passionate and intense, if not more, as any traditional contest: esports.

Already on a steady rise recently with growth and revenue estimates in the billion-dollar range, the COVID-forced sports lockdown in the past months accelerated esports’ growth even more rapidly.

From March 2020 through this summer, esports and livestreaming viewership rose between 75 to 100 percent over the same period in the prior year (Niko Partners 2020). This matches with the shifting viewing behaviors of consumers, who have been increasingly streaming and viewing their content over the Internet broadcasts.

These corresponding trends, together with fantastic initiatives from the likes of Formula 1 and NASCAR, have brought esports to a more mainstream audience and present the perfect opportunity for this fairly recent industry to step up in class.

 

Right Platform for the Right Audience

Traditionally, it’s been relatively easy for esports organizations to reach their audiences. Once a tournament is put together, the broadcast piece is usually conducted through a streaming service like Twitch or YouTube.

For a digital-first industry like esports, these streaming services have been perfect, allowing viewers to watch their favorite teams or events from the comfort of their living rooms, even if quality is below the traditional sports broadcasts on TV. Delays in start times, lower image quality and resolutions, the occasional drop in service, stream failures, and tournament connectivity are all undesirable issues. But viewers have grown accustomed to witnessing a mix of these issues on live streams (and this can be a very vocal crowd).

 

More Eyeballs Means Higher Standards

With esports now attracting larger audiences and the attention of the biggest brands in the planet, they need to meet higher expectations and reassure potentially risk-averse partners.

It’s clear fans are still interested and watching, but TV broadcasts have started taking notice, too. As have the most successful consumer brands, from luxury goods to car manufacturers. With most, if not all, esports experts predicting that media rights will become the highest revenue generator for the industry, esports producers need to start thinking in terms of broadcast-level quality if they want to be taken seriously.

Once you start asking people to spend more time watching your broadcasts, and once you have aspirations to grow your media rights business – with all the added complexities it brings like being considered “safe” for broadcasters, advertisers and sponsors to be associated with you – the stakes rise and the sense of urgency increases significantly.

Along with the growing interest from major broadcasters like ESPN, FOX Sports or Sky Sports to host this content comes higher expectations that what they’re showing matches their established level of programming quality. If these broadcasters, and their advertisers, are paying for the rights to a particular event that starts at 3 p.m. it has to start at 3 p.m., broadcast feeds cannot fail, resolution must be impeccable and latency needs to be kept to a near-zero minimum.

 

Navigating a New Competitive Landscape

The sports and esports industries are fundamentally competing for someone’s entertainment time. We all have just a few hours a day, at best, to be entertained. You may choose to read a book, play a game or watch sports… but most likely you can’t do all of them. Hence why Reed Hastings famously said that Fortnite is a major threat to Netflix. When fighting for larger global audiences and their entertainment time, esports companies need to be sure they are competitive in every sense, compared to other comparable forms of entertainment like traditional sports. As a critical part of this, broadcast delivery solutions must be reliable enough to reach their intended destinations and meet their partners’ expectations.

 

Making the Right Connections

 

esports broadcasts cameraman

All these factors make connectivity and network capacity incredibly important for the success of an esports production, particularly if competitors are also connecting remotely. Low latency is crucial for legitimizing online esports competitions and enhancing the experience for players and fans.

Large-scale esports activations, especially those generating multiple broadcast-quality video feeds for local or remote production, demand a stable infrastructure and bandwidth. For these kinds of productions, you will want to partner with the right telecom provider for support, like most other forms of live entertainment already do.

With a purpose-built Global Media Network (GMN), Telstra provides a suite of products and solutions to support reliable delivery of live esports broadcasts from venues to rights holders worldwide, including streaming platforms and TV broadcasters.

Telstra has a worldwide network of subsea fiber cables, satellite and IP-based capabilities that we use to move data and content to and from different points globally. With headquarters in Australia, Telstra is one of the largest telecom companies in the Asia-Pacific region, with direct connectivity to markets like China and South Korea, where a majority of esports content is consumed – and much of that traffic is already carried on our network.

 

Enabling a Globally Networked Future

Telstra can provide pieces of the puzzle or the entire solution, for most types and sizes of esports events. If all you need for your event is Direct Internet Access, they can help you with that. If you need a private fiber- or satellite-based media distribution network they can do that as well. Thinking long-term and planning for your own broadcast hub and international remote production? They’re here for you.

Telstra can support events with a minimal broadcast infrastructure, complementing a company’s existing IP infrastructure to stream your content to the world. They can help companies moving from small-scale webcasts to a full-blown, professional broadcast-quality experience.

This pandemic is creating so many uncertainties, while at the same time uncovering just as many new business opportunities. Sports and live events will return at some point and, even though they may look different some things will never change. Fans will always root for their team and quality content will always be king. With the right network partner, you can be ready to globally distribute–and monetize–this content, reach new audiences and take your gaming experiences to the big leagues.

For more information about how Telstra can help you take your esports broadcasts to the next level, contact them here.

 

About Author

Ricardo Rodrigues

Ricardo Rodrigues is the Head of Business Development, Americas, at Telstra Broadcast Services. Ricardo works closely with American sports and media companies to take their content to global markets, and to bring international content back to the Americas, with a focus on high value and live content. Before joining Telstra, Ricardo worked at Electronic Arts (EA), where he led Business Development for the Competitive Gaming group, executing media rights partnerships for FIFA and Madden esports events with broadcasters such as FOX Sports and ESPN. Prior to this, Ricardo held Business Development and Strategy roles at NAGRA, Nokia and Warner Bros Entertainment.

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