5G gives mobile operators a sporting chance to monetise networks
With 5G starting to become available, VanillaPlus managing editor George Malim, interviewed Bhavesh Upadhyay, the vice president of online operations at sports media technology specialist Deltatre, to understand how 5G will enable new sports media opportunities for mobile operators to monetise
George Malim: Communications service providers (CSPs) are increasingly focused on sports content to generate revenue. How are they able to balance the cost of sports content and rights with the subscriptions and charges they can gain from customers?
Bhavesh Upadhyay: Sports rights will always come with a premium price tag. They naturally appeal to a ready-made loyal fan base, but the benefits of this type of content extends far beyond the immediate opportunity to recoup those upfront costs by offering subscribers access to it.
By taking advantage of over-the-top (OTT) delivery and the commercial roll out of 5G, CSPs can deliver an experience for fans that goes beyond regular TV programming. The next three to six years will see many premium sports properties around the world come up for grabs, which will put CSPs in a unique position to capitalise on the sports TV revolution taking place.
There’s a huge appetite for supporting content; real-time match analysis, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), multi-angle footage, and supplementary services like in-game betting. As vital players in the content delivery ecosystem, CSPs can deliver on this in a way that cements the customer relationship. By making the right investments in their technology stack today, they can create products that will not only attract new customers and keep them engaged but also improve average revenue per user (ARPU) in the future.
GM: Is sports content just about revenue? Are CSPs also gaining quantifiable benefits in terms of differentiation and competitive advantage?
BU: There’s a tangible differentiation opportunity when it comes to OTT. A recently commissioned research report from Deltatre show that when OTT providers introduce new features like picture-in-picture viewing of simultaneous matches or events, interactive timelines to review key moments, or catch-up highlights when a viewer enters a live stream mid-way through, they see a 24% uplift in subscriber acquisition.
For CSPs, positioning video as a core service in this way, and using the content delivery and data throughput benefits of 5G to introduce new features capable of enhancing the fan experience and driving personalisation, is a powerful method to boost the appeal of their other portfolio products.
Sports content can create loyalty in a way that’s difficult to achieve with a traditional voice, SMS and data bundle. The difference between a good and bad user experience when it comes to sports can either encourage or help to eliminate churn. By pairing investment into sports rights with an evolution of the tech stack required to deliver that content seamlessly to subscribers, CSPs can use this to stand out against the competition.
GM: How do you see the arrival of 5G improving users’ sport content-related experiences? It’s not just about higher resolution video, is it?
BU: Sports content is about the experience. No other type of video offers as much potential for deep and personalised user engagement as live sports, although this is a double-edged sword for operators. Latency has historically been the biggest hurdle to overcome for sports streaming, particularly as die-hard fans are unwilling to accept even a small delay.
Yes, 5G’s promises of low latency and high data throughput will deliver 4K streams anywhere and at any time, which will drive engagement on mobile. In fact, one-third of consumers already watch more than four hours of sports content on their phones or tablets each week, and it’ll come as no surprise that today’s sports fans expect 5G to cause a spike in this figure. But the true benefit of 5G will be in the new edge compute functionality it’ll usher in that can improve the fan experience.
GM: To what extent are consumers’ typically more generous budgets for sports content being targeted by operators to generate a return on their 5G investments?
BU: Analysis suggest two-thirds of British consumers are unwilling to pay more than £30 a month for 5G when it becomes commercially available. Interestingly, £30 has also become the cut-off point for 80% of under 24-year-olds for accessing sports content via OTT. The fact that they are willing to stump up as much as their future 5G connection to watch their favourite teams play reaffirms the importance of sports content rights in the CSP value mix.
CSPs, more than any other business, can gain a much more rounded view of their customer than a pure-play broadcaster or video service provider. Adding big data analytics to the picture that can track mobile and broadband usage and glean insights around purchasing behaviour, spending patterns, and more, opens up new revenue opportunities. This isn’t new, but it is the rocket fuel needed to supercharge what CSPs can offer.
The wealth of data operator sports services and 5G enabled functionality will create is set to amplify the volume of subscriber information CSPs will have at their fingertips, particularly when it comes to improving personalisation in a way that’ll beat churn and grow new supplementary revenues.”
GM: What impact do you see 5G having as it enables augmented reality and high definition playback, and allows operators to provide rich and interactive services? Is this the real promise of 5G?
BU: It’s certainly a key part of it. In tandem with investment into OTT technology, 5G will usher in other advances delivered via new digital platforms that stand to improve the user experience for fans by bringing them closer to the action. New forms of media interaction in live environments and immersive, collaborative viewing experiences, which had been previously confined to the realms of theory, will become a reality with 5G. It’s up to CSPs to capitalise on them quickly to see the rapid return on investment (ROI) they need for the next generation of mobile to be considered a success.
The recent French Open was a showcase in what’s to come from data-rich sports. Here, Orange delivered 8K delivery over 5G and also augmented reality functionality that allowed a match to be viewed from several angles. What does this mean for CSPs? Well, it is a real-world example of the value-added services that sports streaming can offer when paired with 5G technology.
Harnessing the direct-to-consumer relationship in a deeper, more personalised way through greater control of the user experience is how CSPs who are already in the game can stand out from the crowd. Sports content has long been a vehicle for CSPs to gain market share. But now, with 5G on the horizon, they have a chance to hit the reset button on the competition when it comes to the digital fan experience. With everything it has to offer, 5G can grow the telco bottom line for years to come.