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Live sports streaming at scale with the cloud

With the return of domestic football, Eric Gallier, VP, video customer solutions at Harmonic, explores the current issues facing service providers offering live sports streaming, and highlights technology innovations that simplify and transform the fan experience

Advances in live streaming have paved the way for the sports industry to reach more fans, wherever they are in the world. As the demand for more live sports content grows (with the sports live streaming market estimated to grow to $87 billion by 2028, from $18 billion in 2020), service providers, media companies and sports federations are competing for eyeballs and looking for ways to differentiate their sports TV services with more relevant content, and better and more compelling user experiences in order to reduce churn, keep fans engaged, and create platforms that sports fans are glued to.

Streaming live events at scale with high resiliency, pristine video quality and scalable targeted advertising is challenging, even under the best conditions. This article will explore the current issues facing service providers offering live sports streaming. In addition, it will highlight technology innovations that simplify live streaming and transform the fan experience. 

Live Sports Streaming Challenges and Solutions

Streaming of live sports events is accelerating; however, there are some challenges that need to be addressed, including scaling, latency and quality issues. Leveraging innovations such as geo-redundant clouds, content-aware encoding and more, video service providers can bring the outstanding live sports streaming experiences to audiences worldwide.

Scaling during live events 

Scaling live sports streaming services for high volumes of viewers on the fly is one of the biggest challenges video service providers, media companies and sports federations face today. If viewership suddenly skyrockets, service providers need to be able to adapt to scale in real time.

With the cloud, they can do that. The cloud is extremely robust for live sports streaming. Leveraging cloud-neutral solutions running on any of the major cloud platforms, simultaneously, service providers can ensure a high-quality streaming experience for sports fans.

A key advantage of using the cloud during a sporting event is being able to unlock geo-redundancy. Geo-redundancy involves deploying the same cloud platform in two different regions or using two different cloud vendors. Under a geo-redundant approach, the same source is fed into multiple synchronised clouds. After ingest, the video streams are packaged and delivered to the CDN simultaneously. 

If there is a node failure in one of the regions, the CDN will simply pull from another one. If there’s a full blown outage in the cloud, the CDN will pull from the other cloud. That combination will assure that the streaming service is always up and running, no matter the size of the event.

Driving viewer engagement 

The live sports streaming market is packed with competition, and it has become imperative for video service providers to stand out. Providers can differentiate their offerings and drive viewer engagement by offering advanced features such as multi-camera views, real-time stats and watch together services.

By creating a connection between viewers, watch together has shown to ignite engagement. However, the live streams need to be delivered synchronously to all connected users. A minimum delay of five seconds for content delivery is recommended. Utilising a cloud streaming platform that supports CMAF low-latency properties, video service providers can synchronise all of the clients, ensuring sub-second latency.

Multiview live streaming provides sports fans with multiple camera angles of a scene, enabling viewers to choose the angle that they want to watch. Cloud-based streaming platforms are facilitating the delivery of multiview services, allowing service providers to resolve potential scalability, latency and quality issues.

Delivering targeted advertising at scale

According to a recent report by Research and Markets, U.S. revenue for ad-supported streaming platforms will triple between 2020 and 2026 to $31 billion. Delivering personalised content, including targeted advertisements, can help service providers enhance live sports streaming experiences and create new revenue opportunities with little or no additional investment. 

During a large sporting event, service providers may be handling 10 million ad stitches or ad insertions a day. Having a streaming platform with scale-out capabilities is very important. In particular, cloud-based DAI solutions with manifest manipulation enable custom manifests to be created for each user in real time, bringing a whole new meaning to live streaming.

Managing video blackouts for live events

Video blackouts are common in the sports video streaming world and occur as a result of complex domestic and international licensing contracts between video service providers, sports leagues, programme producers, television networks, film distributors and content owners. By substituting content, video service providers can soften revenue loss and keep viewers engaged.

Yet, managing blackout rules and replacing the blacked-out game with other live content can be complex. Cloud streaming platforms with advanced content stitching capabilities, including support for the SCTE 224 standard, allow video service providers to flawlessly replace content during blackouts based on end-user location and device.

Reducing bandwidth 

A critical success factor for live sports streaming is to reduce bandwidth while maintaining exceptional video quality. This will keep audiences engaged and watching longer, as well as reduce delivery, storage and overall costs. 

One technology innovation that is helping video service providers ensure high video quality with low bit rates is content aware encoding (CAE). With CAE, bandwidth requirements can be reduced by up to 50 per cent, even during peak usage. Harmonic’s software-based CAE leverages AI to deliver enhanced video quality without increasing operational costs.


The live sports streaming business is rapidly accelerating, and one of America’s most-watched sports events is the perfect proof point. The 2022 Super Bowl was streamed to around 11 million subscribers, almost double year over year from 2021. 

Video service providers, media companies and sports federations are streaming live sports at scale thanks to the cloud. The cloud empowers better scaling, low latency, multi-camera views, reduced bandwidth and superior streaming quality. With a cloud-based streaming platform, service providers can realise a more streamlined and efficient workflow, provide a better QoE to viewers, keep sports fans engaged and explore new opportunities for monetising content, including targeted advertising.