Reverse streaming: the fan experience of tomorrow

Fans at a football game

Before sports were cancelled in March, it was a given that there would be that next game and that next championship – it was just a question of who would be there and who would come out on top. It was not until it was ripped away that we all realized how much we enjoyed watching the games, with replays just not cutting it for many of us.

Thankfully, sport has resumed, but tuning in to watch the action does not carry the same emotions it used to. For many, as grateful as we are to have our sporting heroes back doing what they do best, the new style of fan engagement, be it artificial fan noise, cardboard cut-outs, audience video calls or even mannequins, feels detached and uncomfortable. So, what now? How will fans be reconnected in a genuine and authentic way?

Wim Sweldens, co-founder and chief architect of Kiswe Mobile, predicts that reverse streaming might be the answer.

What is reverse streaming?

Traditionally, the streaming experience is one-way from the athletes to the fans and can be thought of as “forward streaming.” Conversely, reverse streaming is creating a two-way experience to bring the thousands of fans back to the athletes in the stadium and has the power to revolutionize how fans engage with sports.

Reverse streaming has already been tried and tested in the music industry. Last June, Kiswe partnered with BTS, a popular K-Pop band, to create a live-stream concert experience that fans could interact with in real-time. The live-streamed concert broke all records – it reached 15 times more viewers than a sold-out 50,000-seat stadium and set a new Guinness world record for most viewers in an online live concert. It also provided a framework for how reverse streaming could be applied to sports. What made the concert so successful was how they created an emotional engagement between the fan and the band. There was a moment when the crowd realized that the band could see and care about them and that it was not a one-way streaming experience. Participation skyrocketed because there was a chance, a very small chance, that a member of the band would interact with them – and no matter how small that chance was, the fans viewed the concert as their own. For example, fans could hit a cheer button, chat with other fans, and even receive shout-outs from the band, and it all helped them feel connected to the experience and each other. Bringing this same emotional connection to sports could be the boost in fan engagement that spectators are looking for. While there are currently fewer opportunities for the athletes to interact, there is now a new motivation to create an authentic viewing experience for the virtual fans. Teams could incorporate breaks specifically for athletes to engage with fans or broadcast pre-recorded content in which fans can participate, but doing so will challenge the very foundation upon which the fan experience is built.

What's next

“Previously, fans streaming the game were ghosts—no one knew or really cared if they were there or not. Now, streaming composes the entirety of fan base viewership for most sports,” says Wim. So, when venues start inviting fans back, how can sports keep the same connection with those virtual fans? Many tech companies, including Wim’s, are focusing on virtual fan engagement solutions that can be integrated into the in-person experience. However, before such solutions can be deemed a success, fans’ mindsets must change. Across the globe, fans have grown accustomed to a traditional sports experience that they enjoy and expect. There have been minor innovations in how we view and engage with sporting events in the last decade, but nothing as drastic as what a global pandemic has necessitated. If as fans we can be open to experimenting with new models of engagement, then we can dare to imagine what the future of fan experience, both in-person and streaming, will bring.


This article was produced by Purdue University for Games Flash, an internal emailer of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As part of this collaboration, Purdue develops periodical content highlighting insights about the latest technologies impacting sport globally. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the IOC.

To learn more about how this exciting concept can revolutionize the fan experience, check out our exclusive interview with Wim Sweldens here:

Interview with Wim Sweldens

Wim Sweldens, co-founder and chief architect of Kiswe Mobile

Dr. Wim Sweldens is co-founder and chief architect of Kiswe Mobile, a pioneer in interactive-social mobile video experiences. He previously worked at Bell Labs, where he was a key contributor to the JPEG2000 standard. He has been president of the Alcatel-Lucent Mobile Division, head of the Ventures Group, and an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Columbia University. Wim has a Ph.D. in applied mathematics, is a fellow of the IEEE, and member of the Belgian Royal Academy of Sciences.