2014 World Cup: the Perfect Match of Audience, Content, and Digital

2014 World Cup: the Perfect Match of Audience, Content, and Digital

This article originally appeared on June 13, 2014 in Streaming Media. 

Although Super Bowl XLVIII was essentially decided in the first 30 minutes, it drew 111.5 million television viewers and 2.3 million online viewers, and was attended by more than 82,000 fans. These sound like impressive numbers—until you consider the World Cup. At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, more than 3.2 billion people watched live coverage of the tournament for at least one minute. Compared to 2006, the total in-home audience increased by eight percent. While each World Cup has experienced growth, and the 2010 World Cup made significant digital strides—over 26 million hours of online viewing—four years was a lifetime ago. We weren't watching The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, a U.S. squad without Landon Donovan was unfathomable, and we weren't talking about 4K, H.265, or MPEG-DASH.

Billions of dollars are fueling the broadcast rights for sports and will continue to do so well into the next decade. Content providers need to take advantage of every opportunity to fully realize the potential of their investments. Four years after South Africa and just four months after Sochi, what have we learned about how content providers leverage the Internet to effectively promote, monetize and engage live event audiences?

The Landscape has Changed
From 2011 to 2013, there was a 27x increase of live events being streamed. From 1,000-kilometer sled dog races to weigh-ins for bass tournaments to the League of Legends World Championship in front of a sold-out Staples Center audience, technology made it easier to produce, deliver, and consume live events that engage and amplify the "in the moment" passion and emotions of all participants. Cloud-based services in particular can help to simplify workflows, maximize reach and optimize engagement for sports fans hungry for live video events.

In the four years since the last World Cup, consumer behaviors and expectations have also evolved. The demand to watch anytime, anywhere, and on any device is here to stay; the audience is multi-screen and mobile. The mobile device has become our first screen, as users spend more time on their mobile devices than watching TV. Our living room pay TV options may be shrinking (Comcast acquiring Time Warner Cable, AT&T acquiring DirecTV), but our digital options have continued to increase. New devices (Chromecast, Fire TV), services and original programming—from both pure digital OTT providers (Netflix, Prime Instant Video) and traditional content programmers alike—contribute to this industry shift.

Not only have consumer expectations evolved and digital options proliferated, but consumption has drastically increased. Recent research predicts almost half of fans will view World Cup highlights online and almost a fifth will watch full games online. This type of consumption isn't surprising anymore for sports; it is now the norm.

Prolonged Audience Engagement is Key
Due to the many changes in the streaming landscape, content publishing has radically shifted. Live events are no longer presented as independent, singular entities, but promoted as compelling video experiences. Content and marketing exercises aim to grow audiences weeks, if not months, in advance, and target the attention of viewers post-event through follow-up from relevant brands. So what are best practices for content and programming in 2014 and beyond? Here are three tips to get you started.

Tailor to the digital experience. Logistical planning for a live event starts months—and it some cases years—in advance. As if the technical challenge of capturing and live streaming events in challenging conditions—imagine the grueling snow and cold conditions of Finnmarksløpet, the world's northernmost and Europe's longest sled-dog race—isn't enough, the same amount of effort needs to be focused on the monetization strategy. Not only must publishers decide which approaches they want to support (e.g., free ad-supported, transactional per event, subscription for a bundle of events, TV Everywhere authentication, etc.), publishers should craft it based on the content and video experience. For content publishers that rely on advertising and sponsors, programmatic RTB and ad networks may be an efficient monetization strategy to provide in-stream pre-rolls for high volume VOD clips. However, targeted sponsorship may be the most optimal—i.e., lucrative—option for the actual live streams, monetized via a combination of pre-rolls, dynamically inserted mid-rolls, nonlinear overlays, and targeted display (e.g., companions, takeovers, interstitials).

Content Programming
Build around the live broadcast. In an era unconstrained by the limits of broadcast, live events should be the center of gravity of a larger programming strategy combing both live content and VOD clips. At a minimum, the 2014 FIFA World Cup will provide over 96 hours of live play—and more for injury time, overtime, and shootouts. However, live event coverage isn't limited just to game time. Live content programming can span entire arcs from training and practices to exclusives from teams, players, coaches, and even mascots—even Fuleco has a Facebook page and Twitter account. And around the game, there's the opportunity to create a unique experience for the user by providing them access to perspectives that even the fans in the seats can't access: footage from the sidelines, media/press conferences, views from the pitch. Consider Verizon: after introducing its LTE Multicast technology for the Super Bowl, Verizon showcased additional capabilities at the Indy 500 with live feeds from inside the cars and around the track.

Get Proactive about Amplification and Distribution
The halo effect describes the uplift of publishers' on-demand content following a live event. But publishers have an even greater opportunity to extend the life and reach of their on-demand content prior to and following a live event. For publishers, syndicating clips and highlights from a live event provides a powerful amplification of content programming – and this is especially impactful when paired with engagement with experts and celebrities. Ellen DeGeneres' Oscars selfie may be the gold standard for social buzz, but publishers can reuse "moments" to power digital experiences, second screen experiences, and packages of content. From leaderboard highlights from The Masters to play-by-play highlights from classic NCAA games, VOD contents—both clips and full length programs – can create an even more compelling second screen and video experience before, during and after the live event. With innovative products like EVS' C-CAST, publishers can leverage scalable cloud transcoding to unify their broadcast and digital workflows, transforming live broadcast content into digital clips – and empowering digital applications: multi-camera action reviews, key highlights browsing and review, stats-related content and player, team and personality tracking.

The 2014 World Cup will be a proving ground for the teams and for online streaming. Publishers are already thinking beyond the single stream. Today's streaming content lends itself to experiences that are personalized, social and real-time. Getting ahead in this ever-evolving landscape will rely upon creating a package of ancillary content—both live and VOD—that can be monetized, amplified, and leveraged to create additional advertising inventory in context of engaging, relevant experiences.