While major sports take the limelight, niche sports have always struggled to grow their audience. Although smaller in numbers, their audiences often have the same geographic spread as tier one sports, but the cost of global distribution is often outside of the budgets.
Historically it was not possible for them to even consider video coverage, especially multiple feeds. This in turn limited the opportunity for those sports to grow both their fan base and active participants.
With video creation becoming easier and cheaper than ever before, will 2020 be the year of niche sports?
Making video creation accessible
It is easier than ever before to create high quality video and deliver it instantly to a global audience thanks to a number of advances. Firstly, good quality cameras used to be reserved to large companies with budgets to justify the expense. Today good quality cameras are more affordable so smaller production companies can buy great cameras and deliver levels of production that are in line with tier one sports often with some more innovative techniques.
Secondly, cloud workflows have totally revolutionised how content is created, edited, stored, and distributed. Whereas in the past anyone wanting to create video content would need to have expensive and space-consuming hardware on-premise, these days most workflows can be done with cloud subscriptions for the services needed. With pay-as-you-need models, even niche sports producing only a few events per year can suddenly afford them.
Contribution is also easier than ever before, thanks to a wide range of platforms offering live contribution using the public internet, which is much more affordable then having to use dedicated satellite or fibre links. Technology such as the Reliable Internet Stream Transport (RIST) and Zixi also combat packet loss issues when the internet signal varies.
Niche sports embracing video
We are beginning to see some great examples of niche sports producing live video at their sporting events and delivering it to fans worldwide. In the UK, for example, Televideo has been working to provide OB and production facilities for the Elite Ice Hockey League.
By using IP to deliver the feed to their broadcast partners, Televideo could ensure it was affordable enough to get the sport out there ready for affiliates to obtain the live feeds. IP contribution also means that the content does not need to be limited to a mixed world feed. Now supplementary feeds, additional courts/matches and ISOs can be made available to international broadcast partners.
There is also a growing trend for tier one sports using IP for feeds from the lower profile versions of that sport, such as minor leagues or regional tournaments, which wouldn’t normally get the airtime.
Barriers for niche sports
Despite the fact that video creation is much more accessible, niche sports still have some significant challenges to address before they can hit mainstream coverage. The main barrier is the cost for affiliates to obtain feeds from traditional infrastructure such as BT facility lines, Points of Presence (POPs) or paying for downlink services and satellite turnaround, if out of region. This means that broadcasters looking for sports content to fill their schedules are much more likely to take the sports which have the fan base that justifies the cost of acquisition. Ultimately, this means that niche sports are still losing out on all-important airtime.
With this model, growth opportunities for the sports are also then limited to existing satellite footprints and POPs of the global service providers.
However the picture is definitely improving, as niche sports can increase coverage and engagement and ultimately grow the sports, but there are a few things they need to do:
Ensure good video quality: Consumers have little to no patience for anything below par when it comes to video quality, so it is important to ensure that the footage for both main and additional feeds is the best quality possible. If you are trying to reach a global audience, having audio translation options can also help to maximise reach.
Improve engagement: Improving viewer engagement certainly makes content more appealing and can help those niche sports stand out from the crowd. These days there are so many opportunities and different ways in which to do that, from using artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver a personalised experience to augmented reality (AR) second screen apps that enable fans to delve into the stats surrounding the sport or sportspeople. Ultimately the more attractive the offering, the more affiliates will be willing to give it the airtime.
Make it cheaper for affiliates to get your content: Niche sports providers need to find new ways to deliver content direct to affiliates and/or consumers. Using IP cloud-based distribution and formats such as RIST or Zixi, those providers can avoid using expensive options such as BT Tower or satellite links. If it is affordable for broadcasters to acquire and distribute your video feeds, they are much more likely to do so and suddenly the small players can get the coverage that their audience demands.
The year of niche sports
Despite the challenges, video coverage for niche sports has come a long way over recent years and I truly believe that further advances could make 2020 the year niche sports truly hit mainstream. As video coverage becomes easier and cheaper, those sports will in turn be able to increase engagement and ultimately grow the sport. Personally I am looking forward to watching sports I’ve never even heard of.