As part of our Future Rugby series, analyst Ross Hamilton considers what could change for rugby viewers in the not-so-distant future


Let’s talk about Object-Based Broadcast (OBB). It should genuinely give viewers the ability to control pretty much what they want from live rugby broadcasts – to the point where they can even direct what shots they see on their screen, which angles, the replays, slow-mo, all that kind of thing.

This will all be potentially be on an app-based system so that you can control live, what you’re watching.

If you want to, you can just follow the coverage as it is on TV. Or you can jump in and out of that to look at some slow motion replays as and when you want to. But that builds into commentary as well. There’s the initial commentary, or then alternative commentary, you can choose which one you listen to and then there are graphics and stats. You’d be able to choose between a range of options, from nothing to just what they show on TV, to then an extra level of full-spec stats that you could arrange within the picture of your app, and it will be displayed in different places on the screen.

It’s about giving the control to the viewer. I remember at BT Sport, being told that if the coverage is aimed down the middle you miss everybody, so give people the options.

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On this, I think it will only work on an app (available on all your devices, including television). What’s thought is that the most highly-engaged fans watch sport on their apps, and what they tend to find is you can then feed audiences extra content from pre- or post-match, articles about the games or league, or highlights. Whatever it is, it’s all in the same place.

When it’s just linear TV broadcast, people will watch the pre-match, the game and maybe the post-match stuff, and then you’re done. You want people to engage.

A lot of brands are also coming round to the fact that while broadcasts have done a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff and emotional storytelling – and they should certainly still use that stuff – I think they’ve come to understand that there’s some real benefit in talking about the rugby itself in more detail. That’s what rugby fans may want to see, especially on paid subscription services.

Just like the NFL, Formula One, cricket, they shouldn’t shy away from that kind of thing. And you can see the progression with that in the last five year. That will continue in rugby. And you should see more features and podcasts and social posts and things around the games, things that will provide a full 360 view so people can follow the narratives of the rugby itself throughout the whole week, rather than just on game day.

Then innovation builds into that. We’ve got chips in the ball and you saw Sage use that during the Six Nations. That offer a little more insight into the game. Similar with GPS – there has always been a debate around ownership of player-tracking data, and the clubs own that data and are unwilling to share it. But hopefully there will be a point where it might be owned by the league or a data-sharing system is worked out so they leagues access that and for viewers knowing the speed of a player, the distance they’ve run or their heart-rates in certain high-pressure situations would be amazing. It would give viewers great insight; new insight.

rugby broadcasts

A match stats screen during a 2023 Rugby World Cup quarter-final (Getty Images)

A big talking point amongst many key rugby broadcasters now is also about making superstars of the players.

There are plenty of sports where I would follow a person and be interested in them rather than the team. At least that gets me into it. And that’s what I think they’ve realised we’v lost. We’re not celebrating these individuals. Perhaps that means asking more of them, to show their personalities around the game, to highlight more of themselves ,which would be great to see. Then we can celebrate who they are on the pitch as well.

And one final piece of all of this is that in a season not too far from now, we might see a league try to centralise a lot of the production for coverage of their product. So a league can control how their product looks in different markets around the world, from South Africa to South America and beyond. It’s an interesting conversation because right now there are so many different broadcasters showing so many different competitions, it feels like you have a million different subscriptions to try and find a match in different places.

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