Big Data Playing Key Role In Development of Sports OTT Strategies

Digital distribution has its obvious benefits for the consumer. The ability to watch content on any device, at any time has the American public viewing more video content that ever before. The content creators certainly have a lot to gain from it, too. Aside from added brand exposure and increased engagement, digital distribution offers one massive bonus: big data.

“When you’re delivering content through an MPVD [multichannel video programming distributor] you don’t necessarily have access to data,” Michelle Wilson, Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer at WWE said during a panel discussion at the NeuLion Sports Media & Technology Conference presented by Sports Business Journal/Sports Business Daily. “You don’t know whose buying the pay-per-view or watching your content. We have Nielsen of course but that can’t get down to a granular or personal level. Now, with WWE Network we have 731,000 subscribers that are paying for our service and its almost overwhelming the amount of data that we’re pulling in on our users. We can now track when they are watching, what device they are using, how long they are watching. That really helps us deliver a customizable experience that’s really the next waves. We as content creators have never had the chance to have that kind of knowledge before. Being able to drive that level of engagement is a whole new world.”

The WWE launched their highly-publicized OTT platform, the WWE Network, earlier this year. When it launched, critics said that the more cost-friendly $9.99 per month package – that included all of the company’s marquee pay-per-view events (which typically sell at $45-$50 a pop) – would cut into the company’s profitable PPV business.

“We haven’t seen that,” said Wilson. “What we’ve seen, interestingly, is that there is still a segment of our fan base who still wants to buy pay-per-view and a segment of our early adopters in the sweet spot of 18-34 that are buying the network. Our point of view is that it’s all about fan choice. How do our fans want to buy our content? So our strategy has always been to be platform agnostic and be wherever our consumers want to consume content.”

OTT engagement has also been huge at Major League Soccer, whose app, MLS Matchday, is popular among younger fans. OTT was also a centerpiece of the league’s new media rights deal that was signed with ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision Deportes back in May. Chris Schlosser, Vice President, Digital at MLS cited that it is critical for the league to be present on the best available screen for its viewers.

“While TV is critically important as a consumption device, its important that all of our content be available across a whole range of devices, direct to consumer, of course,” he said. “For millennial fans, that mobile phone is the key device. We want to be able to use this technology to deliver that game wherever they are on any device. I think users will use the best device that is available to them. If they have a beautiful 60-in. TV, they’ll use that. But if they are out someplace and are on the go and they want to stay connected to our league, its important that we get that game to them.”

Some use cases vary, though. Take the new 120 Sports, which launched over the summer with the backing of Time Inc., Major League Baseball Advanced Media, and Silver Chalice. The 24-hour sports network is strictly a digital play and is not an added extension of a linear television brand.

“The video and the experiences that we create are fundamentally different than something that would be on television,” said Jason Coyle, President of 120 Sports. “Everything we do is mobile first and everything else follows from there.”

Coyle also noted a key factor: that that OTT user behavior is unique to each device. As the screen get bigger, engagement gets longer. His company, creating content for the smallest of screens, needs to keep its clips short, or “snackable.”

Many content creators are still figuring out how to best utilize these various mediums, but the one fact that has been nailed down is that customization is king.

“We know our fans and we can create great video content and push it right into their hands,” said Schlosser. “We can create a package that is customizable. Using digital devices to actually deliver personalized content; that matters to the fan. That’s really hard to do over cable or satellite, but in this digital world you can actually use these digital signals to create better fan experiences.”