Sports fandom knows no borders. Unfortunately, live sports broadcasts often do.
The list of competitive sporting events flows like an unending river, and sports fans are known to go to great lengths to watch their teams compete. To fans’ chagrin, however, 35,000 feet above Earth has historically proven to be a length too far.
Even on the ground, no one had cracked the nut of globally available, comprehensive live sports. Doing so on airlines’ inflight entertainment systems seemed to be a near-impossible feat.
Many fans have attempted to connect to live online coverage while flying to business meetings, only to be disappointed when the aircraft Wi-Fi doesn’t support video streaming. Even when they have enough bandwidth for video, ground-based TV licensing rights block them.
Those challenges are Sport 24‘s raison d’être.
Making The Connection
Delivering world-class sporting event coverage at 35k feet requires both the technology to deliver high-quality live sports to aircraft crossing oceans and borders, as well as the production know-how and media licensing rights to do so. Panasonic has access to a satellite network that provides inflight connectivity to airlines flying literally anywhere in the world. IMG is a global leader in acquiring broadcasting rights for sports, entertainment and fashion. So when the two entered a partnership in February 2012 it was a match made in… sports heaven.
Delivering world-class sporting event coverage at 35k feet requires both the technology to deliver high-quality live sports to aircraft crossing oceans and borders, as well as the production know-how and media licensing rights to do so.
Sport 24 is the first and only global live sports channel in the world. It is produced, operated and owned by IMG, who recently launched Sport 24 Extra, its second live sports television channel exclusively destined for Panasonic Avionics’ eXTV inflight television network. (Its first channel, launched in 2012, targeted aircraft and cruise ships.)
The IMG–Panasonic partnership for Sport 24 has changed the game by delivering inflight sports programming to airline cabins without regard for geography or time zone. That means people who are both international travelers and devout sports fans can now see premium sports as they fly.
Scott Scheer, Panasonic Avionics’ director of eXTV and ancillary services, says the real challenge was communicating to airlines the value of building the infrastructure required to broadcast live television — “that airlines would pick it up and the effort would pay off,” he says.
Airlines may have been further swayed by the ease of installation. “In the aircraft, what’s needed are the antenna and modem, which are already part of the Panasonic connectivity system. That means there are no incremental components necessary for aircraft equipped with the Panasonic solution,” Scheer continues. The implementation only requires some additional software to distribute the Sport 24 channel to existing inflight entertainment systems.
Licence? What License?
Obtaining the media rights to broadcast various sporting event feeds was not a simple matter of rebroadcasting an existing TV channel through the satellite network, because no equivalent channel exists. A conglomeration of multiple channels would be needed in order to get a similar lineup of events, such as the FIFA World Cup, Wimbledon or the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. IMG’s long-term relationships representing many of the top sports federations was the key to creating the Sport 24 channel.
In addition to the above, Sport 24’s portfolio of rights also includes the Premier League, Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League, NBA, NFL, MotoGP™, all four golf majors and the remaining three tennis Grand Slams. There has also been live coverage of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Previously, all 51 matches of UEFA Euro 2016 were shown as they happened.
“We acquire rights to a territory in the same way traditional broadcasters negotiate their rights,” says Richard Wise, senior vice-president, IMG. “But air is its own territory, so it doesn’t compete with traditional distribution channels. We produce the feeds just like a regular TV channel does, but our focus is on delivering the best live sports channel to a global inflight audience.”
“We acquire rights to a territory in the same way traditional broadcasters negotiate their rights,” says Richard Wise, senior vice-president, IMG. “But air is its own territory, so it doesn't compete with traditional distribution channels.”
Efforts to obtain broadcast rights to top-level sporting events have been so successful that there are often more than one event in progress at any one time. To meet customer demand, Sport 24 introduced a second channel, Sport 24 Extra. This additional channel lets passengers view two events at the same time — for example, one event can be displayed on the seatback IFE system and the other on their tablet or laptop connected to the aircraft’s Wi-Fi. So if you want to choose between the NFL’s Sunday Night Game or the NBA match of the day, the choice is yours!
Sport 24 has been a favorite of long-haul passengers, some 40,000 of whom watched 2014’s FIFA World Cup Final while airborne. That’s an entire stadium of people in the skies! The tournament was broadcast on 200 aircraft operated by nine different airlines, including Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and Emirates, all of which were equipped with Panasonic’s eXTV. (Previous games leading up to the final were watched by 1.5 million fans.)
Customers’ responses were enthusiastic. Many of them tweeted positively while on board an aircraft and sometimes even athletes chimed in:
Flying over Australia and got to watch the @Bundesliga_EN on @sport24live – cheers @EtihadAirways #sport24 pic.twitter.com/tip4I65Ew9
Long-haul passengers are increasingly likely to enjoy Sport 24 because it’s installed on more than 400 aircraft operated by the world’s premier airlines. The technology is ready for expanded use across the globe, offering viewing of the biggest sporting events going on — all from the comfort of one’s seat in the air.