Synacor Cloud ID tackles authentication amid sports streaming fragmentation

The arena of sports content has become highly splintered, with rights of various teams and leagues spread across multiple platforms and providers – causing headaches and frustration for both fans and leagues alike as they seek to find or deliver access to sporting events.

Synacor is one company that’s working to solve aspects of the challenge – specifically with its Cloud ID tool – by taking on the complexities of authentication to ensure viewers that are eligible to watch sports content can access it seamlessly regardless of provider or platform. Synacor has already worked with one unnamed, but maybe not-so-mysterious league (it declined to name names for this story, but the Cloud ID website says it’s “partnered with the biggest pro sports league in the U.S.” and certain marketing materials feature an image of a football player) to address authentication integrations across various distribution provider partners.                               

Synacor’s Jeff Bak, SVP of Product, sat down virtually with StreamTV Insider to discuss the burden of sports fragmentation – an issue he sees more and more customers trying to solve – and how one league is already addressing authentication in the ecosystem with the vendor’s Cloud ID.  

According to a new white paper released by Synacor, a challenge for the league was that new rights deals meant games were made available through more than half a dozen partners. 

The white paper details how the sports league adopted its standardized process, ultimately reducing the amount of time and resources needed to integrate new platforms, while also enhancing the viewing experience.

But this league isn’t the only one facing issues.  For sports teams and leagues in general, many are aiming to maximize reach of their content with various deals, but also looking to make consumers happy and make it as accessible as possible – the latter an aim that still falls short in many ways.

“It turns out, in this new world of streaming, that it’s complex for people,” Bak said in an interview.” You just listen to sports talk radio and you hear the frustration level … it’s palpable.”

Teams and leagues, meanwhile, are trying to maximize the bang for their buck, increasingly striking more complex deals while also looking to boost distribution and dollars, he noted.

Just taking a look at sports rights on streaming, where many services have struck deals such as YouTube TV’s NFL Sunday Ticket rights and Amazon Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football coverage, just to name a couple. Other leagues such as the MLB also have rights scattered across traditional distributors and streamers, including Apple TV+ and Peacock, among others.

A Deloitte survey released in June shed light on the fragmentation and friction for sports fans, finding that while 30% had paid for a subscription service to watch a sporting event in the past year, nearly half said they missed a game they wanted to watch because they didn’t have the right streaming service. Additionally, 44% felt they had to subscribe to too many services to watch sports, and nearly 60% said they would pay extra for a streaming service that had all of the sports they want to watch in one place. 

Educating consumers on where or how to find content, be it an MVPD, virtual MVPD or direct-to-consumer OTT provider, is an undertaking sports leagues must do, with Bak noting Synacor is agnostic in that sense. Some, like the unnamed customer in the case study, opted to “take a holistic approach” and use their own app – not to deliver content, but to give fans a place where they could easily find where to access the sporting events via other distribution partners and subscriptions consumers may already have.

While those types of decisions fall on the customer, Synacor comes in on the backend to make everything work smoothly from an authentication standpoint.

Synacor has been doing authentication integration for much of its heritage, including with TV Everywhere apps. It’s already integrated with essentially every MVPD in the U.S. and counts content providers and virtual MVPDs as some of its biggest customers as well.

If someone wants to consume content through a traditional MVPD’s app, Synacor can enable that, but as sports leagues increasingly strike deals with direct content providers or vMVPDs, it’s been fruitful for the vendor that it’s not only integrated in the legacy part of the industry, but the newer crop of TV services as well.

“Now for a league like this case, we are an even more valuable one-stop-shop,” Bak said. “They can come to us, they can integrate with us once … it’s a big relief for them.”

It’s a uniform integration, Bak explained, where Synacor does translations needed to be able to authenticate and then authorize through any other partner, even across a swath of different distributors.

Doing the heavy lifts

The main challenge Synacor takes on for clients is handling authentication across different providers, all who might have their own platform-specific requirements.

This eases the burden for leagues, which otherwise would need to deal with consumer access for its various distribution partners themselves.

And even though many (but not all) integrations are based on open protocols, there are tweaks that are needed to make them work right. In addition, some leagues have multiple networks, meaning multiple authentications, so Synacor maps authentication to ensure whether a viewer has access to channel A, channel B, and so on. The mapping value also comes from being able to do straight comparisons in an environment where different providers may be using different language for networks.

“We do that mapping and make sure we’re talking apples to apples on who we’re authorizing,” he said.

Synacor approaches multi-authorization like that in a unique way, driving interest for both the case study customer, and others it’s in conversations with, according to Bak.

Bak described how the league could make one “call” (on the backend), and in one response back, Synacor’s platform provides all of the entitlement information (meaning whether a particular viewer is allowed to access certain content or channel) of yay or nay, in a single response.

“That was extremely efficient for them,” Bak said.

Handling volatile demand

Another main factor that Synacor handles is the ability to deal with volatility of demand. The vendor has already proven its capabilities when it comes to authenticating via TVEverywhere apps for major show premieres or finales, where viewership can spike drastically, according to Bak.

That proof in streaming media and non-sports has carried over to the world of live sports, he said, where real-time viewing comes into play, alongside often unpredictable demand.

“We’re able to carry those credentials over to this sports league and say ‘hey, we can handle the volatility and the huge demand that you’re going to hit us with’,” he said.

Synacor also provides managed services.

“Nobody can build a platform that can ramp to infinity and handle it,” Bak noted, pointing to a combination of Synacor’s platform and its scalability along with managed services as the company plans for high-demand events with “all hands on deck” to ensure things go smoothly.

“That oversight is something that they really see as a lot of value as well” in terms of work with the league, he commented.

Another aspect Synacor built technology for is, where many times, they run into situations where the throughput of a particular provider partner can’t handle the demand, which can overwhelm the backend connection for authentication and authorization. Through its technology, which it calls circuit breakers, Synacor can turn off or stop new requests from hitting the API. A request gets sent back to the customer that it can’t be fulfilled currently - giving the integration and connection time to recover. Synacor monitors the health and then restarts new authentication requests when things settle and can handle it again. Importantly, this is done on a per-provider basis.

“By throwing those circuit breakers, what we’re doing is making sure that a problem with one backend supplier does not bleed over to other providers’ connections,” he noted, instead isolating it so as not to pull computing power and bring down other backend connections.

It’s an example of how Synacor’s technology platform and managed services work together to serve clients. 

Some clients will want to drive consumers to their own apps, where they may aggregate for consumers places that they can access content validated through credentials or they may be looking to drive viewers to distribution partners. Bak said Synacor is agnostic to those types of decisions but has the flexibility to handle any scenario a league may pursue.

Roadmap: Password-less authentication

And teed up on Synacor’s innovation roadmap is its latest technology Passkey Connect, another area where clients and prospective customers are seeing value, according to Bak.

Introduced last month, Passkey Connect essentially enables the ability for users to create a credential on their device validated through biometric information such as a fingerprint or face ID. It creates a private key on the users’ device and a public key on the platform, where it’s authenticated without the need to remember a username or password.  It’s ultra secure and by default multi-factor, Bak said, noting  Synacor is starting to incorporate the technology with all of its customers and partners.

Through the authentication login flows discussed previously, “eventually you will not be presented necessarily with your username and password, but the ones that have signed up and are using the Passkey Connect, it’ll just simply be your fingerprint or your face ID,” he said. 

In the works are versions where Synacor uses a QR code, say on a smart TV or device, according to Bak, and using a mobile device the code takes consumers right to a Passkey authentication and validates viewing through a fingerprint without the need for codes.