As stakeholders fret about recouping the cost of soaring sports rights and debate the best tactics to stem cord-cutting, technologies to boost interest in sports packages are winning new fans among multichannel video providers and programmers.
One such vendor is Thuuz, which started in the mobile world but is now working with such companies as Charter, Comcast, Fox Sports, Sling and Dish Network.
“The MVPD cable industry has figured out that sport is really [its] lifeblood,” noted Warren Packard, founder and CEO of Thuuz. “With all the consumer interest in over-the-top services and all the choices for on-demand movies and TV, sports is really the genre that keeps people from cutting the cable or cutting back on their subscriptions.”
Even so, operators face hurdles in demonstrating the value of their sports packages when the costs of distributing those channels continues to rise. “Sports is still consumed like it was in the 1970s,” Packard explained. “Folks tune into their favorite teams and perhaps a game of national interest [even though] the lineup of sports channels has grown significantly and the amount of money they are paying for those channels has grown as well. So our objective is to help cable companies create a personalized sports experience that pulls sports fans back to the TV experience.”
One example is a personalized guide such as the Gamefinder App powered by Thuuz that is on Dish’s Hopper. “Instead of forcing sports content into the traditional grid guide that has thousands of channels and was designed for episodic TV with half-hour segments, we provide all the metadata that allows the operator to create a personalized sports guide,” highlighting the user’s favorite teams, sports and leagues, Packard said. “It allows fans to easily see what is going on and what the operator is offering. They can see that there’s a no-hitter going on or a team is making a big comeback.”
They also offer an automated platform to provide personalized headlines used by operators in mobile apps. “It allows you to tell a one-line story about something that will draw people into a game they might otherwise not watch,” he said.
Such products “increase the value of the cable subscription” and open up possible new revenue by upselling subscribers to new tiers or PPV events, Packard said.
To expand those efforts, Thuuz is in the process of launching an automated highlights system. Over time, this could allow operators to deliver viewers a personalized sports news feed that would feature highlights from their favorite teams or fantasy football players.
Like their existing products, the highlights platform relies on proprietary algorithms and technologies that allow Thuuz to identify key plays, players and other aspects of the game that can be used to automatically create a highlights reel based on users’ preferences. These highlights could summarize an individual game, several games or various players.
Early deployments are likely to be with sports broadcasters or OTT players. The technical challenges of implementing the system with MVPDs is likely to delay rollouts until the first half of 2016, though Packard says they are talking with a number of major operators.
Rights are also an issue. While many users would ideally like to have highlights from all NFL games, for example, Thuuz will only be able to pull video from the games that air on the channels a subscriber can access.
However, this problem is less of an issue for NBA and other sports that offer packages for all the games. And, it also offers the leagues and MVPDs a way to upsell packages and additional sports tiers. “We have a long-term goal of being able to pull content from multiple sources but we want to make sure that content is legal so we are working within the rights that are governed by either the rights holder or the access that the MVPD has to those games,” said Packard. “It will help drive that incremental sell and get the subscriber more firmly planted with their cable company and see the value that they are providing.”