The Three Phases of Growing a Global DTC Sports Streaming Service

Today, sports streaming services should be racing to go direct-to-consumer (DTC). It’s the future. Companies opting not to prioritize a DTC approach remain many laps behind in optimizing their fan experiences.

Rick Allen

A DTC sports streaming service complements linear broadcast deals. Linear partners don’t broadcast every live event. And they can allow the content owner to re-air a game after a hold-back period (typically 24 hours). DTC has solidified itself as the perfect solution to securing the broadest possible distribution across sports streaming markets.

Streaming services, particularly DTC, offer companies a better understanding of fan behavior and needs. While live events drive viewership, shoulder programming on OTT solutions — such as those powered by ViewLift or a service like ESPN+ — extend engagement and create new fans. Much of this comes down to real-time data, which remains a principal value content owners gain from live-streaming.

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At this year’s NAB Streaming Summit, I moderated a panel of industry experts, including Fabio Gallo from LaLiga Tech, Riccardo Quaglia from the Italian Basketball League (LNP) and Andy Wasef from the National Basketball Association (NBA), and discussed the benefits of using data to enhance DTC streaming. We agreed that growing a DTC sports streaming service requires companies to complete three critical phases:

  • Phase 1: Start ramping up live content to build viewership and consumption.
  • Phase 2: After attracting viewers with live content, capture audience data to understand their consumption habits and develop a 360-degree view of the fans.
  • Phase 3: Once streaming services mature, leverage the data to define and understand consumption, churn behavior and marketing behavior on a granular level.


Sports streaming services must adhere to these three phases because data ultimately makes or breaks these companies.

Phase one

Live-streaming sports over-the-top has advantages for attracting and retaining customers. These tools help expand fan bases globally.

Collecting the correct data, making it available in real-time and maintaining reliability while scaling, will be invaluable to content companies.

More people globally are consuming live content. In fact, 63% of millennials watch live-streamed content regularly. According to Tech Jury, the live-streaming industry will reach $184.27 billion by 2027. Parks Associates finds that 78% of those who subscribe to an OTT sports service watch live-streamed content, versus 25% who don’t subscribe to an OTT sports service.

Live content provides significant opportunities to collect data over time; the more live games or matches carried by streaming services, the more precise the learnings that can be gleaned from the data. Examined monthly, fan viewership and engagement data sharpen how a service presents content (personalizes) and can help determine what kinds of content and styles of approach will serve the broadest audience.

Phase two

Data has the power to explain everything. Obtaining data is just the first step, however. What streaming services do with that data — how they structure, use and interpret it — is the critical component of phase two.
According to The Future of Sports Broadcasting: Enhancing Digital Fan Engagement report, 25% of sports customers expect a customized OTT viewing experience. Capturing and properly using data enhances personalization and the fan experience. Personalization allows fans to find their favorite teams easily, favorite players and the kinds of content they want. Sports streaming companies typically target customer experiences by:

  • Generating content and marketing recommendations tailored to the audience’s interests based on viewer data.
  • Leveraging data with AI algorithms and frameworks to create advanced customer experience personalization.
  • Using automation to streamline the customer experience through personalized user interfaces.


For example, LaLiga’s customer analytics tool collects all the data inside one unique “data lake.” With this data lake, they can profile the data and receive a complete 360-degree view of each fan. The data should translate into creating great content, live games and personalized experiences for the fan.

Phase three

Real-time second-by-second data on viewer consumption becomes crucial in understanding audience behavior. One key piece of data focuses on if — and when — viewers turn the game off. This data informs decisions about what audiences prioritize and what holds their interest. Data on viewer consumption answers questions like:

  • What supporting content do the fans want during live games?
  • What content lengthens viewing sessions?
  • Do fans want more content focused on players, coaches or owners during or between games (feature stories, interviews)?


Player performance data attracts audiences as well. Large B2B businesses, like SportRadar and Genius, thrive on the entertainment value and utility of performance data. AWS’s Next Gen Stats — a leader in performance data — provides sports fans with relevant data to interpret what’s happening in the game. The platform also predicts what will happen next based on AI and many data sets. This information is the lubricant for fantasy and free-to play games and what guides many professional (and weekend) gamblers in their sports betting approaches.

Content companies need streaming partners that collect the correct data, make it available in real-time, maintain reliability while scaling and help optimize the mix of monetization models.

Data-driven companies are the future

Sports leagues with a DTC model have evolved into data-driven companies. Linear deals may provide the single largest revenue source for sports leagues and media companies, but that structure inserts the media partner between leagues and their general fan base. Adding a DTC service to the distribution mix mines fans themselves, with personalized content. Providing added value to subscribers remains a focus for many leagues.

While hundreds of streaming subscriptions exist today, those tapping into niche consumers will see more success as they use personalized data to understand, anticipate and satisfy fans’ desires.

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Sports data — particularly viewer behavior — offers an enormous asset for leagues. But diligence throughout the collection and analysis process remains critical. Collecting data begins with selecting the right technology partner.

Streaming services should start with a deep dive into the viewer information collected by their partner’s platform. Ask questions. Is viewer information accessible in real-time? What kind of assistance does the platform provide to our analysts?

It’s time for sports streaming services to treat tech partners as their pit crew with the knowledge and power to drive their OTT service into the winner’s circle.

Rick Allen is the cofounder of ViewLift. He has been in the video and streaming industry for over 30 years. He has led some of the biggest media companies, including stints as CEO of Sporting News; CEO of National Geographic Ventures, with responsibility for 10 business units including TV/Film and Digital; and SVP of Discovery. He also served in the Clinton White House. Allen has authored two best-selling books on Robert Kennedy and produced three award-winning films.