Video’s new game plan

Forget touchdowns, walk-off homeruns, penalty kicks, and three-pointers at the buzzer. The new watchword for sports on the screen is “gamification.”

The term is being tossed about frequently these days as video providers, sports leagues and legalized gambling books try to make early headway into what almost everyone believes will be a huge category combining sports, video, and betting. In an S&P Global Market Intelligence conference appearance earlier this month, Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley used the term frequently to describe one way Sinclair hopes to overcome economic pressures on the regional sports network business by introducing betting elements into Sinclair’s Bally Sports RSNs.

“Gamification” doesn’t refer only to betting on sports outcomes. It’s a catch-all term video providers of all stripes are employing to describe a variety of presentation and interactivity elements they hope will lock in sports fans, deepen viewer engagement and make money around televised (or streamed) sports events.

When ViacomCBS’s Nickelodeon pasted overlays of spritzing slime fountains over a live NFL playoff game last year, that was an example of “gamification,” too. But legalized betting on sports is clearly the main “gamification” use case. Which is why video providers are trying to get in early on the movement now. One example: the virtual MVPD fuboTV, anticipating a large role in betting tied to live sports, has started inviting users to guess about the outcomes of live events within a new on-screen gaming application it calls FanView. Here, there’s no money changing hands, but the idea is that by introducing fans now to the idea of “betting” on outcomes, fubo TV thinks it can get a head start around the real thing, in tandem with more U.S. states permitting legal gambling on sports. Sling TV is doing something similar with a real-time statistics and gambling odds channel tied to its partnership with the betting site DraftKings.

One task ahead has to do with mainstreaming sports betting. As product development executives from streaming video services noted last week at the Stream TV Show presented by FierceVideo, the world of sports betting today is a confusing landscape, fraught with unfamiliar terms like “Tissue Price” (initial odds published by a sports book) or a “ “hook” (an extra half-point available for point-spread bets). They believe it will be incumbent on TV industry participants to demystify the trade.

Another key: Making headway in trimming down latency, or the time interval occurring between when a live play occurs on the field, and when it shows up on a screen. Right now it’s common for viewers to see a live sports moment on the screen 20 to 40 seconds after it actually occurred, pointed out fuboTV Chief Product Officer Mike Berkley. Obviously, that has implications for a fair betting environment. So even as providers look to compress latency, their early focus will be mostly around less time-sensitive “proposition” bets, like whether NBA star Steph Curry scores more than 40 points in tonight’s game. That way, the odds for achieving hoped-for synergy between gambling and streaming sports will improve.

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