The way audiences watch sports is changing rapidly, and as traditional TV audiences keep getting older, teams and media rights holders are forced to adapt in hopes of attracting younger viewers.
That’s a challenge, but also an opportunity for the most forward-thinking media companies and teams. We’ve seen ESPN already make attempts at several types of “alternate” broadcasts this year — from sports betting, to Star Wars and Marvel — and the trend is likely to continue as ratings questions linger post-pandemic. Live sports remain TV’s most bankable asset, sure. But efforts are also required to keep it that way for younger viewers more prone to engagement as a core aspect of entertainment.
It’s with that in mind that MLS club Inter Miami CF, in conjunction with StreamLayer and Pumpjack Dataworks, has launched an all-new live streaming video experience for fans within its app — starting with June 19’s game vs. DC United. Among the many features accessible to (local) viewers during streaming games will be sports’ first-ever “watch party” feature in a team app, enabling fans to conduct a group video conversation with up to eight friends while simultaneously viewing live match coverage.
Among the other features included initially, without interrupting the action on the field: private messaging, real-time stats and a Twitter integration. The last final feature is particularly of interest to your author here, as I regularly miss plays while tweeting about what’s happening during a game. This feature now prevents that from happening.
Overall, though, this is a major shift in how fans can experience live sports in a way that takes cues from the likes of Twitch and Fortnite. There’s interactivity baked in — something those ESPN integrations couldn’t nail down on the first go-around — and all without making it an alternate feed. Rather, it’s just an alternate way to take in streaming, and helps fuel collective watching experiences.
Better still, this also seems like it’s just the start for these types of activations, according to StreamLayer CEO John Ganschow.
About the launch, he said his team will be “working closely with Inter Miami to bring even more functionality as the season progresses, including enhancements around gamification, e-commerce and creative sponsorship integrations.” Right now, this is a smart engagement play that brings fans into the app. As the audience grows, new features are unveiled and this technology expands to other teams, it’s a slick and native vehicle for brand involvement, sports betting, retail, travel and other industries with sports ties that can utilize real-time aspects of the stream to convert customers.
For StreamLayer, the expansion of those opportunities is powered by its Video Engagement Operating System (VEOS), which the company deploys to “transform the way people consume live video around the globe” via hyper-personalized viewing experiences. The big advantage is that it’s not another app that fans need to download at all. Rather, it works within existing app video streaming infrastructure as a beneficial feature of watching there vs. a traditional broadcast. While this is a team app integration, the same functionality (and more) could potentially be utilized by media companies like ESPN, Sinclair or Fox looking to create a more enticing pitch for younger viewers.
How we watch sports has changed a lot in the last year, and it’s going to keep changing as the industry figures out its place in the streaming ecosystem. But all signs seem to be pointing to greater engagement as the way forward in order to keep audiences actively tuned in.