News and Society

Media Tech in Sports Betting, Part Two: Streaming and Data Rights


Part two of this three-part series examines the streaming technology and data rights that will power an OTT sports betting experience. Part one analyzed the user experience, and part three tackles the business implications.

Liverpool CEO Peter Moore recounted a story recently about how, before he took charge at Anfield, he used to scroll through Twitter for second-screen updates while watching his beloved Reds from his former California home. One time, his flat screen showed players lining up a corner kick while his social media timeline erupted with news of a goal. He immediately ceased in-game Twitter use.

Such experiences are common. Line up monitors side-by-side with standard linear broadcasts, high-def feeds, and streaming OTT all showing the same event, and inevitably the three will be out of sync, disjointed by lags and latency.

While annoying for average fans, this condition is unacceptable for in-play sports betting feeds. Industry insiders have suggested that integrated OTT game broadcasts with gambling overlays eventually will become standard in the U.S. For that to happen, however, the data and video technology powering the platform must be reliable and as close to real-time as possible.

“We all know that in betting the speed of data distribution, the speed of video distribution is fundamental and, even beyond that, we know that the quality of data distribution, the quality of video distribution is fundamental,” Perform Group’s EVP of business development, Matt Drew, said.

Perform Group is a leader in international markets in supplying both broadcast and data feeds. Drew said his company has a robust infrastructure and levels of redundancy to distribute the video content as well as the data. Opta Sports—a proprietary software for collecting and analyzing tracking data—is part of Perform’s portfolio.

Perform’s market research indicates that the average U.S. household already has two OTT accounts. That number is independent of sports and includes entertainment titans like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video where picture quality is important, but speed of transmission is less critical. Certain league-produced OTT feeds like MLB.tv and NBA League Pass as well as third-party distributors like ESPN+, B/R Live, and Perform’s DAZN have tackled the question of latency.

Not everyone is convinced the U.S. market is ready to host in-play betting, which accounts for 70 percent of wagers in Europe. Research cited by streaming platform Phenix noted that 72 percent of sports viewers expect buffering and lag issues while watching.

“The fact of the matter is that currently, betting houses, sports leagues and fantasy sites don’t have the proper technology to make online or mobile betting realistic, let alone profitable,” wrote Jed Corenthal, CMO of Phenix, in an email. “The reason is that much of the streaming technology behind these major organizations is billed as ‘live,’ which is not the same as ‘real-time.’ Basically, if it’s live, it’s too late.”

Phenix CEO Stefan Birrer, who founded the company to commercialize his Ph.D. research in peer to peer communication, defines live streaming as the industry standard, which comes with latencies of 10 seconds up to a minute. Real-time, on the other hand, has a lag of less than a half-second.

“It’s important that you don’t get a spoiler alert from your neighbor,” he said.

Drew said the advent of streaming video on betting platforms has been a great driver of quality and efficiency in the free market and said he expects the same to follow suit in the U.S.

Absent an independent audit into performance, the speed of the aforementioned OTT platforms and whether they are able to support a real-time betting environment is unclear. The free-to-play WinView gaming company—in which Ted Leonsis is an investor—synchronizes live or recorded sporting events with a user’s second screen for timely prediction games.

Betfair screenshot using an Opta 3D visualization (Courtesy of Perform Group)

Also, tech companies willing and eager to build betting platforms are slowed by a lack of clarity into each state’s tax schema and restrictions on what bettors can wager. “It’s complicated by this hodge-podge of different legislation by the states,” VSiN founder Brian Musburger said.

There are some established players accustomed to disseminating data rapidly—including Perform, Sportradar, and Bet Genius—but the input and source of that data may change. Chris Grove, the managing director of research firm Eilers and Krejcik Gaming, said most data collection remains an analog process: a scorekeeper in the venue enters stats into a device for distribution. With more tracking data being produced and available through embedded chips in balls, wearable devices on players and optical cameras around the field, more data will be “natively digital,” Grove said. “As that happens, it’s far more feasible to have that real-time overlay that allows for an immersive betting experience.”

That data can be provided to bettors through OTT feeds or even augmented or virtual reality displays.

“Right now you have a garden hose,” Grove said. “Five years from now, you’ll probably have a fire hose just in terms of the amount of data that’s available with no latency or very low latency. I don’t think we can really appreciate what that’s going to do to the composition of sports betting products. I think the data will drive new ways to wager that are tough to anticipate from where we sit today because it is such an unprecedented amount of data and also these are unprecedented types of data as well.”

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Such data systems as Zebra in the NFL, Statcast in MLB, Second Spectrum for the NBA, and the promised NHL system that all track player and ball (or puck) movement could face pressure to make more data available and streamline the delivery to educate gamblers and betting houses.

“Betting will only accelerate that because, the more gamified and fan-engagement focused it becomes, the more demand there will be for the use of those types of data,” Drew said.

That data may not directly fuel proposition bets, but Grove said that information will almost certainly inform the lines created by oddsmakers.

“Even if you never see a new bet, what you will see are systems that are far more efficient,” he said, “and you might see all of that advanced data get operators closer to a point where they can actually deploy a reliable, fully-automated trading solution, which is not something that exists right now.”

While the major U.S. sports leagues have espoused an interest in receiving a percentage of all wagers (via what they’ve called an integrity fee), Florida State sports law visiting scholar John Holden recently suggested on Legal Sports Report that the leagues’ best way to get a cut might come in the form of a data rights fee in lieu of the integrity fee. The legal framework is not yet clear about data ownership, however, although MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently posited that the game’s outcomes and, thus, data were its IP.

“We spend the money to produce the product,” Manfred said. “Gambling, sports betting operations are free-riding on that product. It’s our intellectual property at the end of the day.”



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