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LIVE sports streaming to get more interactive as digital viewership on the rise

On December 18, an unprecedented 32 million viewers from India logged onto Jio Cinema app to watch Lionel Messi lift the FIFA World Cup. In all, nearly 110 million viewers consumed the FIFA World Cup digitally in India.

These stellar stats could pave the way for a more interactive and immersive LIVE sports streaming experience with more players getting involved, as India emerges as one of the largest digital-viewership markets across the world.

The numbers have caught the attention of FuboTV. The US-based LIVE sports streaming platform with 1.23 million subscribers in the North American market alone is excited about India as a potential market for its brand of interactive sports viewing.

While no plans have been finalised so far, the company’s India head, Ashok Karanth, told that India might be ready for interactive sports viewing. “Bandwidth constraints in India are slowly being lifted and the 5G rollout may make cable-laying redundant,” he said.

FuboTV sees rise in subscriber count & revenue
FuboTV’s rise to prominence was built on the platform’s USP of interactive sports viewing. Its Live streaming of National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball tournaments in the US comes with innovative features like Live statistics, merchandise purchase, and Live betting.

For the moment, it’s working. FuboTV has seen a 31 percent rise, year-on-year, in its paid subscriber count for North America. It closed its September-December quarter 40 percent (YOY) higher, at $219.2 million, while ad revenue went up by 21 percent to $22.5 million. Additionally, the company is looking to integrate content across North America and Europe on a single platform, after which geographical expansion would logically become a lot more achievable.

However, it won’t be easy as LIVE sports streaming apps like JioCinema, Hotstar and Sony Liv, to name a few, may have already cemented their first-mover advantage.

JioCinema’s “Hype Mode” steals the show
While the most common interactive sports viewing today comprises chat exchanges between sports fans viewing LIVE content, JioCinema took the game a few notches higher during the FIFA World Cup. Multi-cam views, real-time trivia and stats and a “time wheel” that let viewers relive iconic moments of a match gave sports fans a taste of what interactive sports streaming could do.

“The app’s rapid rise is attributed to the ever-increasing preference of consumers to watch the action on smartphones and connected TVs in India,” said JioCinema in a release, “JioCinema enhanced viewers’ LIVE experiences with a never-seen-before Hype Mode, empowering fans with unique offerings at their fingertips during a LIVE match.

The proliferation of smaller, hand-held devices coupled with cheap data in the hands of an overwhelmingly young audience demographic, some feel, may hold the key to a possible boom in interactive sports viewing, in India.

“The expansion and growth of OTTs has come even as smartphones have seen greater penetration,” said Balkrishna Hari Singh, Founder and CEO at Frenzi, an app that aids content discovery across OTT platforms. “The rollout of 5G technology is also all set to bring 4G prices down, which means consuming content becomes cheaper,” he added.

Netflix experiments, a handy blueprint?
The fact that interactive viewing has, in recent times, gained prominence in entertainment content could also be a catalyst for sports streaming to take a leaf out of this playbook. For instance, when it launched in early 2019, Netflix’s then-revolutionary show from its Black Mirror universe, ‘Bandersnatch’, let viewers pick plot outcomes while the story was in progress.

In a few days from now, the OTT platform will launch its long-awaited heist series, ‘Kaleidoscope’, which lets viewers pick where they’d like to start watching it from and witness a whole new story unfold with every new beginning.

Maybe, it’s only a matter of time before the entire sports viewing experience — stats-displays, camera angles and split-screens — shifts from the production control room to the Indian living room. With a solid market, device penetration and inexpensive data prices to boot, interactive sports viewing in the country may become a reality sooner than expected. CNBCTV18

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