Why cloud orchestration and SSAI is driving the future of live sports

Paul Davies

Head of Marketing, Yospace

Nov 13, 2023



min read

With OTT viewing numbers for live sports increasing at an ever rapid rate, they continue to be a driving force behind many streaming subscriptions. As a result, the cost of attaining sports rights continues to rise. Many broadcasters and other rights-holders are seizing opportunities to maximise the return on their investments and, with OTT streaming allowing them to move beyond the limited availability of a handful of 24/7 linear channels, they are scaling additional ad-supported channels up and down based on sporting schedules. 

There are a number of use-cases where temporary (or pop-up) channels are typically deployed. A major event like the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games is a great example. At such an event, the big track and field events would traditionally be broadcast on one of the main 24/7 linear broadcast channels, with the rest of the 30+ sports during the two-week Olympic window being streamed via pop-up channels, thereby providing far broader audience choice and creating a host of new advertising opportunities.

However, such pop-up channels for “lower tier” events with lower viewership need to be managed and monetised in a more efficient and cost-effective way than the main channels. The answer lies in automated cloud infrastructure and the integration of that capacity with server-side ad insertion (SSAI)  - it’s a process we term “live orchestration.”

Live orchestration and scaling challenges

Our Orchestrator module simplifies the process of automatically scaling infrastructure to handle dynamic quantities of channels, with SSAI, while ensuring they are removed as soon as an event ends to keep infrastructure costs to a minimum. 

Pop-up channels as a concept have been around for a while, but there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to execution. Up to now, creating pop-up channels that replicate the broadcast-grade quality of 24/7 linear have required heavy broadcast workflows. It is usually a substantial project to deploy new encoding and packaging paths or to be able to place extra people in the control room (to monitor each new live stream in order to trigger ad insertions when there’s a break in play). We’ve encountered scenarios where a single broadcaster has 10+ matches happening at the same time - scaling up this many channels without automation in place is inefficient and risky.

Using the Olympics as an example again, live orchestration could provide enormous benefits to live streaming smaller events like archery, badminton, or lower profile football or tennis matches. While individually, these events may command small audiences, if they are run more efficiently then collectively they could drive a significant increase in advertising revenue. Meanwhile, the rights-holder is able to provide a better viewing experience by offering greater audience choice.

There’s more to sports than just scale

Live streaming sports today is a complex global business and making the most of the advertising potential of sports rights is incredibly important. There is a lot of talk about the ability to scale - and rightly so - as sports audiences online are only going to increase for the foreseeable future. A live orchestration solution must be able to work seamlessly with solutions like prefetch to ensure that ad calls are handled in the right way when millions of concurrent viewers are going to an ad break at the same time.

There are other requirements to consider, too, especially when streaming sports across multiple geographies and devices. Rights-holders may need to place restrictions on some sports, requiring blackout or content replacement for certain regions; for global events, there are often different streaming requirements for different regions - such as different encoding profiles - to consider.

Maximising the SSAI ad opportunities

An essential element of monetising live events is the need to curate ad opportunities, which is a manual process driven by the need to insert ad breaks based on the state of play at any given time. Typically in a live sports environment, each live channel of sport requires a dedicated operator to monitor the stream and insert ad markers when there is a break in play, which becomes a highly inefficient way of working if a broadcaster is running multiple pop-up channels.

With encoding taking place in the cloud, tools that allow operators to curate ad breaks need to be cloud-based also. Cloud-based monitoring and ad opportunity placement tools provide the following benefits:

  • Monitoring and curating from any location: a single operator can manage multiple events at the same time from any location, creating significant operational efficiency.
  • An increase in advertising opportunities: Digital advertising is driven by real-time programmatic demand with different ad creative lengths, plus for many markets there are fewer statutory requirements on advertising minutes per hour. Therefore, even for live feeds with ad opportunity markers already present for transmission, there is still the opportunity for operators curating break opportunities for digital-only delivery to find additional monetisation opportunities.    
  • Enhanced metadata support: It’s commonplace for broadcasters to require extra metadata in ad markers, for the purpose of sponsorship placements that top and tail an ad break, for example. These could be managed via an ad curation tool to further simplify the overall live streaming workflow.

You can read more about one such solution in our integration of Orchestrator solution with Cambria Stream here. Cambria Stream comes with a cloud-based monitoring and ad placement tool, which is able to deliver frame accurate break insertion.

While the ability to create pop-up channels is nothing new, creating them in an efficient and scalable way while supporting all the other complex demands of live sports streaming, not least the ad revenues, remains a challenge.

Our Orchestrator solution provides rights-holders with complete flexibility to manage their channels and business logic as they need for any given event. To date, it has already supported tens of thousands of live events and this figure is increasing every day.

If you’d like to find out more, simply get in touch here.

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