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Engaging the fans: How media companies can use engagement to their advantage

With the new football season about to kick off and the Commonwealth Games taking place in Birmingham, Roger Franklin, general manager, full-time business unit at LTN Global, takes a look at how the right technology partner can help media companies use audience engagement to drive their competitive advantage

Virtual fan engagement has become critical, from make-shift home studios and live fan feeds shot on smartphones to fans interacting digitally. It has given broadcasts the ‘live audience feel’ and ‘raw emotion from family and friends.’ There is no doubt the impact of Covid-19 accelerated the demand for more interaction when in-person attendance was not on the cards. However, even as fans return to full-capacity stadiums worldwide, ensuring live fan engagement remains at the heart of the agenda will empower new content experiences and monetisation opportunities. 

Social media platforms have helped change the playing field, with media companies leveraging their power to deliver instant, user-generated content right from the field of play. Now, broadcasters need to take this to the next level and re-engage fans, stand out from their competitors across the industry, and take advantage of new revenue streams such as addressable advertising and sports wagering.

Although live fan engagement requires strategising and planning, it is essential to understand that it doesn’t need to be complex. Implementing the right technology and utilising an experienced managed services partner is key to this success and can ensure the deployment runs seamlessly, end-to-end.

The strands of the live fan engagement ecosystem

At the 2020 Summer and 2022 Winter Olympics in Tokyo and Beijing, respectively, audiences watched some of the world’s best athletes virtually celebrate their success on the podium. Audiences participated in virtual ‘watch together’ parties, tuning in live via multiple platforms. However, live fan engagement can take different forms depending on the use case.

Interactive advertising and polling: Interactive advertising and polling require a direct response from fans. It can be simple yet effective by asking who the player of the match was or encouraging audiences to share their score predictions. It’s also common to see sports leagues encourage worldwide fans to engage by offering requests in different languages, creating a global community.  Proper planning ensures audience engagement runs smoothly and adds value to live linear broadcasts.

In addition, media companies are deploying interactive advertising campaigns in various ways. During last year’s European football championship, the LED boardings would promote adverts from different companies depending on the viewer’s geography. For example, a viewer in London would see a different advert on the boards than one watching in Paris, even if watching simultaneously. From this, we can see how advertisers target specific audiences across regions, paving the way for new ways to reach and engage consumers.

Roger Franklin

Bringing live fan feeds into primary broadcasts: Enabling fans to become part of a live broadcast isn’t a new concept. Sky Sports is one company that has been doing it for years, with live ‘player cam’ and ‘fan zone’ amongst others. But, live fan contribution is becoming more straightforward and faster. For example, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics broadcast relied heavily on integrating live fan feeds to compensate for the lack of at-venue audiences.

Fan engagement and secondary content and platforms: Enabling fans to actively engage with a different medium parallel to linear broadcast is made possible through secondary content. Sports betting is one way to achieve this where fans can place bets in real-time while participating in ‘watch together’ and ‘bet together’ communities. We are also seeing social media platforms broadcast live sporting events, with fans able to comment and interact during the game. 

What innovation is driving live fan engagement? 

Live streaming is becoming ubiquitous. Media companies and content creators can stream from any device. Similarly, viewers consume content across multiple devices, meaning these media companies need to take advantage of the live streaming boom with the right technology.

As the industry moves into a new era, some practices that became prominent during the pandemic look set to remain and are even being enhanced to reach new heights. These include hybrid events, virtual stands, virtual tours, and live chats with athletes, which will become even more inclusive and bring audiences together.

While acquiring live fan feeds from different locations seems straightforward in today’s world of fast connectivity and intelligent video sharing tools, integrating these live feeds into live professional productions can prove challenging. Media companies need a scalable live video router solution that aggregates and ingests multiple feeds from different locations and securely delivers them to the right production systems and platforms with ultra-low latency and in the correct formats.

Ultra-low latency is critical for delivering compelling, interactive viewing experiences and enabling use cases like sports betting. Latency hinders the monetisation potential, including sports betting and micro-betting opportunities. To overcome the latency challenge and avoid being left behind by their competitors, media companies need to leverage the power of a reliable IP multicast transmission network that forms the backbone of live streaming. 

Finally, a powerful ad signaling platform creates data bridges that enable all parts of the fragmented advertising ecosystem to communicate and share critical information, from traffic to playout automation to ad decisioning systems. In this way, the suitable systems receive information about when the ad break starts and finishes and the types of ads coming up, enabling addressable advertising to run seamlessly.

The importance of differentiation

Live fan engagement is becoming more compelling, enabling media companies to recapture audience attention with hyper-targeted and interactive content across all genres. Live cloud routing solutions worldwide are revolutionising broadcasts. IP transmission networks allow the secure, reliable, and low latency delivery of feeds and ad signaling solutions that power valuable and unique advertising opportunities.

Today, fan engagement allows teams, fans, and other stakeholders to remain connected at all times, creating communication that did not exist previously. It can shape fan behaviours and enable media companies and sports organisations to shape their strategies. The right technology partner can provide media companies with the tech stack and managed services to bring live fan engagement and interactivity to life and drive competitive advantage.