Canada’s Sportsnet will begin overhauling its SN NOW streaming service this fall, kicking off a series of adjustments designed to improve the quality and reliability of its video offerings while providing a more personalized viewing experience. As it happens, the plan to upgrade the SN NOW platform comes on the heels of the passage of Bill C-218, which effectively made single-game sports betting legal throughout the provinces.
Key among the coming improvements to SN NOW is an architectural advancement that will allow for a quantum leap in packet-transfer rates. Without getting lost in the tech-spec weeds, the new scheme involves what is known as “chunked transfer encoding,” which reduces latency by transmitting video via a series of infinitesimally small data packets.
According to Juan Martin, chief technology officer and co-founder of Sportsnet tech partner Firstlight Media, the glow-up will help SN NOW “achieve three seconds of latency, well below broadcast.” Martin said that’s about half the lag time of a standard linear TV production, a reduction in latency that will not only make for an optimal viewing experience—no longer will fans have to contend with the twin furies of buffering and pixelation—but should prove to be a godsend for in-game wagering.
Because it’s only been a few weeks since the gambling bill received the royal assent necessary to make it a law, Sportsnet isn’t in any hurry to show its digital hand. (It is expected that Canadians will be able to make their first legal bets on football, hockey and basketball games sometime in the fall.)
“We have nothing formal to discuss about sports betting, although we are excited about what the future opportunities may look like,” said Alfredo Tan, senior VP of strategy, data and products at Rogers Sports and Media, Sportsnet’s parent company. “But our development, and the way we’re thinking about the entire evolution of our digital product set, extends beyond sports betting.”
While advanced stats layovers will be one of the most noticeable in-app enhancements once SN NOW begins rolling out the upgrades, the data deluge isn’t necessarily engineered to improve the lot of the fantasy sports crowd. “We want to make sure we get the foundational elements right first,” Tan said. “Fantasy hasn’t been an area of focus, nor will be in at least the next year or two.”
Tan, who spoke to Sportico shortly after it was announced that Peacock would serve as the exclusive outlet for Notre Dame’s Sept. 11 home opener against Toledo, said SN NOW was currently kicking the tires on a number of standalone programming options designed to take full advantage of the sort of interactive opportunities that are only possible via digital media. These offerings may range from behind-the-scenes video to a series, in which fans will be given the chance to interact with athletes in real-time.
“We don’t have a definitive road map as to what we would make exclusive on the re-platformed SN Now, as opposed to what is available on linear TV,” Tan said, before adding that Rogers (in the near term, anyway) isn’t looking to shift its live games from Sportsnet to the paywalled OTT service.
Rogers does not break out the financials for the SN NOW segment, nor will it disclose the service’s subscriber count. At the time SN NOW launched in 2016, nearly 20% of Canada’s 14 million TV households did not pay for a cable/satellite/telco TV package.
If the SN NOW team is vague as to exactly what users may expect to see during the first stage of the refurbishments, Tan said this is just the first stage in the evolution of sports media. “At the highest levels, we are aggressively transitioning from a linear TV broadcaster to a world-class digital-media organization,” Tan said. “Beyond the technology improvements, we’re also working very hard on creating a culture of innovation and experimentation.… We are focused on building the future of sports.”
As if to underscore the knottiness of the latency issue that SN NOW looks to eliminate, Tan’s Zoom feed froze shortly after he uttered the phrase “the future of sports.” For the record, the host feed originated in Philadelphia.