Chances are about 100% that many of the online video leaps to come will get there because the sports business will lead the way.
Just as the Olympics and World Cup opened eyes about the impact of live streaming, the NFL’s announcement that it will stream the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars game from London next season is another inch-by-pixel advance that will be watched by the industry, not only because of the technology involved, but because of new revenue stream it portends.
HBO’s decision to use MLB Advanced Media to stream its new HBO Now movie service is just the showiest of examples how sports streaming prowess goes beyond delivering sports content.
Central to all of that is Omnigon, a well known powerhouse in the sports media world, though it's more or less anonymous to the fans in the stands. The 7-year-old digital media consultancy’s clients include NASCAR, Fox Sports, WWE, the PGA Tour, MSG, Miami Heat, Arsenal, Manchester City and World Rugby whose championship series, the company points out, is the fourth largest sports event in the world. It does some major league deep thinking.
For clients, Omnigon tries to answer the trickiest questions out there: What’s possible, what’s desirable and what should we do? That’s means knowing how to handle some balls that bounce funny. At its New York offices and elsewhere, including Kiev, London and Los Angeles, Omnigon tests its app features to discover how what’s theoretically true works in real life.
“These days we don’t go past iPhone 5 anymore, “ explains Dave Nugent, the chief commercial officer in his New York office. “Because anything before that is a different screen size. If you have to go back to 4, it’s a dwindling audience. On the Android side, it’s a lot broader. We have a device cabinet with 100 phones, because you can’t simulate on a laptop. We can simulate on hundreds and hundreds of devices. It’s not the same until you really see it.
When WWE went rogue and started its own OTT service, it was Omnigon that helped make it happen and that was considered audaciously independent. With Omnigon’s assistance, it had to build out an entire structure. On the downside, there was the cost of that. On the upside, WWE no longer had to share its $69.95 pay-per-view price tag with a cable operator.
Omnigon works with the biggest names in sports. When the marketing director says she could tell me more about some projects, she adds, “but I’d have to kill you.” In follow-up phones calls, I discovered that merely alluding to some projects would be most definitely unappreciated. But that possibly gives you a clue as to those clients’ stature, too, and some projects that may rock the online video world.
Nugent has his plate filled anyway, with mobile apps, of course, but with the Internet of things, which he’s sure, somehow or another, will be the next big thing. The Apple Watch, he thinks, will be a game changer, no pun intended. But what and how? Good questions.
“The one thing we do understand is that we don’t know what will be the most important device in two years,” he says as a way of explaining how Omnigon predicts for clients without overextending or overbuilding “We know it will be a mobile device of some kind, but we don’t know how the advance set tops and wearables of the world will mature. We are smart enough to know our runway is 12 to 18 months. That’s pretty much as far out as we can think. We have to prepare [clients] so they’re not going to completely build something that they’re going to have to throw away.”
In the Web business, that’s called the minimal viable product concept, a phrase Nugent confesses that most clients hate when they hear it because it sounds a little slapdash. But it’s not, he says.
“Get to the market,” he advises them. “Don’t build something for a year and a half because a year and a half from now, only 50% it may be a good idea. What’s the business problem you’re trying to solve, or in our world, what is the content you are trying to distribute, and what relationship do you have with your fans? Design and prototype something that relatively quickly will pass the test. Get through that as fast as you can and get it to users.
"Facebook, to a very small slice of their audience, will push out new features without testing them very much at all just because there’s nothing that promotes whether or not something is effective than than just letting people bang on it. Let ‘em use it! We believe in an agile product development process. Let’s build something and deliver it. Don’t iterate forever.”
The amazing thing about sports streaming seems to be a couple things: It can take advantage of the very venues where you’re watching, and every sport is bursting with picayune statistics and micro-histories that can be useful to fans.
Omnigon developed MatchTrax for Fox Sports before the World Cup and for other matches and now, can explain, for example, how a player’s performance historically lags after the first 60 minutes. Those app game companions, crammed with facts, are probably more of a sensation in Europe, Nugent supposes, because telecasts there are usually light on presenting lots of information on screen.
Nugent explains the app it made for the PGA Tour app that brings live video from every tour site, and also tells how most pro golfers have fare at each hole, historically. It even offers predictive data that might signal some pro is likely to be hitting a bad patch.
“There 70 points of data on every shot and there are 18 holes and four guys and four days. It’s a massive amount of data. But it is easy to pull patterns. If this guy over history is always left of this hole you can predict he will probably be left of the hole this time. In this country that’s fun to know. In Europe, it’s money because they bet on everything.”
The PGA Tour hired Omnigon to make its apps and discover what was needed from other vendors--Nugent says there are over two dozen, from ad integrators to content delivery networks. Then golf organization hired them to “to vet all of those relationships, to set up the technology itself and then operate it. They don’t want to run it. So we don't own the rights but they can sell those rights for them. We are effectively part of their team."