Live-streamed sports are set for steady growth following the last couple of years’ legislative shift in the US sports betting market, unlocking the massive potential to boost interactive live experiences. To sports viewers, video quality alone has long been a non-negotiable and sacred condition. Now, things have changed, and it’s all due to the emergence of in-game betting, or rather, its rapid acceleration.
Live sports have long relied on linear television for broadcast, arguably the primary reason why some audiences still haven’t cut the cord. Latencies of 20-60 seconds are not uncommon, but so far, it hasn’t been a concern as the desire for high quality has been satisfied. Besides, all bets, or at least the vast majority of them, have previously been placed before the start of each game. Now, as a greater share of wagered bets happens in-game, the attention is instead shifting toward minimizing latency while retaining a high-quality playout. At the same time, multi-camera angles are becoming one of the most sought-after features moving forward, making synchronized playout a prerequisite.
Closer to the action
Although traditional pre-game betting provides opportunities for in-depth analysis, its glory seems to be part of the past. Betting live means more timely information on what’s happening at every moment, allowing bettors to immerse themselves in the action and speculate on what’ll happen next. The in-play betting opportunities are countless, especially so-called micro-bets, i.e., betting on which team gets the most corners in a football game, the number of red cards, or throw-ins. In sports such as tennis or volleyball, there’s even the possibility of point-by-point betting. This marks quite the shift from what’s been, and with this fast-paced action, every second counts.
Live streaming – A game of imbalance & trade-offs
Unfortunately, the Achilles heel of live streaming is latency in relation to video quality. The ever-so-tiresome reality is that you can’t have it all – real-time solutions such as WebRTC are great at reducing latency down to a bare minimum but doing so while maintaining a high-quality playout, has proven to be difficult, if not impossible. Particularly on congested networks. As WebRTC is optimized for immediate delivery, there’s no playback buffer that can assist in compensating for network congestion. Thus, even a short network glitch can introduce dropped frames or loss in video quality. Besides, WebRTC builds significant costs at scale.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s HLS, providing solid stability and high quality. But consequently, coupled with high latency and lack of synchronized playout. Orchestrating a shift from traditional linear broadcast to live streaming is, therefore, rather complex. Video quality used to be the sole concern – now, latency is added to the equation, and as a result, live sports vendors are left with no viable option at all.
Despite the technological challenges, the field is accelerating. The legalization of sports betting in the US is actively progressing – two-thirds of the states have legalized it since 2018 when the supreme court authorized each state individually to decide on the matter (The Guardian, 2022). Since then, US citizens have wagered bets to a staggering total of $125bn – and the market prediction moving forward is even stronger. Similarly, Asia has long been difficult to penetrate due to extensive gambling restrictions. Yet, Asia is a high-potential market, holding close to 60% of the world’s population. The economies are maturing, and with it, there’s been a noticeable shift in the approach to gambling, given the potential tax revenue streams. In Europe, sports and other forms of betting are the most popular category of online gambling. It’s also the category with the highest revenue share. And just as in the US, further growth is expected down the line.
Transforming the experience at scale requires solutions beyond current real-time standards
The introduction of in-depth statistics and data, even in-game, empowers bettors, enabling them to make more informed decisions. Mobile apps and quick transactions add further value, allowing for greater accessibility as players can bet on the go, in which internet penetration and 5G support improve the digital infrastructure. Reducing the latency while maintaining a high-quality playout has the potential to amplify the experience for bettors further. A full-featured value proposition of this kind would differentiate sports vendors and accommodate bettors on their terms. In-game bets expand betting volumes and increase the number of average dollars wagered as well as time spent on the sportsbook sites. In other words, increasing the betting window doesn’t just resonate with the renewed desire of bettors – the business incentive is striking. To tackle this accordingly, the industry needs transformative technology that prioritizes the entire viewing experience – thus moving beyond the current imbalance of real-time solutions. WebRTC advocates typically champion latency as the one-and-only consideration in creating first-rate live sports experiences. However, replicating the experience of being present at a sports event goes beyond this type of siloed latency-alone perspective. And in that regard, the odds are against current real-time solutions.
Sportsbook requirements for in-play betting
- Synchronized playout to enable
- Multi-camera angles
- Fairness and compliance
- Ultra-low latency
- Out-of-band metadata / embedded frame synchronized messaging
- AV1 – for increased video quality and traffic optimization, which proves especially valuable in regions where last-mile bandwidth is limited. Besides, the fact that AV1 does not incur licensing costs is expected to drive adoption and move broadcasters away from H.264