The Pay-TV Innovation Forum is a global research programme for senior pay-TV and content executives, developed by NAGRA and MTM, and designed to catalyse growth and innovation across the global TV industry, at a time of tremendous change and disruption.
As part of the programme, we are publishing a series of interviews with leading TV industry executives from around the world to explore their views, perspectives and experiences of innovation. In this interview Matt Stagg, Director of Mobile Strategy at BT Sport, shares his views on the relationship between mobile and pay-TV platforms in the provision of sports content.
What role does mobile have to play in the world of sports broadcasting?
There are so many different use cases for mobile in sports broadcasting but, in all of them, BT’s main ethos is always to put the fan at the heart. For example, we’re more focused on using smartphones as a second screen to show additional content that enhances the experience when audiences are watching sports on the big screen – rather than letting the smartphone detract from the big screen or the stadium.
Augmented reality for sport, in the home and in stadia, is an area where we can maximise the impact of technology, starting with the phone, but eventually evolving into XR (Cross Reality) experiences using wearables such as glasses or headsets. I think that's going to result in some really exciting fan engagement opportunities in the future.
Of course, if you are a sports fan, there's nothing better than being in the stadium itself, but we can do a lot more to enhance the live viewing experience on mobile. For example, if your seat is behind the goal at one end and there's a penalty at the other, we can put you right where the action is, in real time.
How important will 5G be in the future development of the industry?
One of the key reasons I joined BT Sport was to leverage the fact that we're a mobile operator that also has a sports production facility and a broadcast business. As a result, we are constantly looking for new opportunities to leverage 5G and drive higher fan engagement. 5G is much more spectrally efficient than previous technologies and has already given us more capacity. However, despite various claims that 5G will enable viewers to watch content in 4K on mobile devices and, in such a way, transform the market, we don’t think it will. Distributing 4K content to mobile devices would be a waste of spectrum, and it’s expensive.
I believe the most exciting use case for 5G is in enabling remote sports production. It can potentially save a lot in costs by enabling us to edit and produce the content offsite rather than always having a production team onsite. And that cost saving means broadcasters can cover more action, and show more content. We can also use the technology to be more creative in what we show – we can take cameras to places we haven’t been before, and give fans access to angles that were not possible before.
Do you expect to see more new sports services entering the OTT and pay-TV space?
Yes and no. There is an emerging trend around successful sport production companies leveraging their market position and existing capabilities to expand their offerings or launch new services. For example, BT just won the sports production contract with Amazon in the UK.
This requirement for production expertise is a significant barrier to entry: tech giants can't enter the market and get up to speed straight away. BT was one of the quickest companies ever to get a sports production facility up and running, but even then it took us nine months to do it. There is a very limited number of people with the necessary production skills in the UK, and the fragmentation in sports rights’ ownership is spreading them even more thinly. This is especially true as rights buyers want to attract the best production talent, given how much they invest into acquiring rights.
What are the most exciting future trends in the industry?
There are interesting applications for machine learning and remotely operated cameras, but they are still in their very early days. The most interesting near-term trend for me is object-based delivery of sports content, where we start giving the viewer objects, packages and templates that enable them to create their own version of what they are watching. For example, hardcore Moto GP fans may choose to have half of their screen filled with statistics, graphics and other information that we offer them. With 5G enabling more creative production and more options at the consumption end, there will be a level of bespoke, personal programming that’s never been possible before. I’m very optimistic that this will help all fans of all types of sport to have better viewing experiences.
Find out more about the Pay-TV Innovation Forum and download its special report on The Global Market for Premium Sports OTT Services.