Why the future of sports content is digital
Sport and television have had a very long, and very productive, relationship. Since the first sports event, Wimbledon in 1937, was aired on TV the two have grown together, creating the industry as we know it today; an industry worth an estimated $35billion (PWC 2015).
TV audiences for global sports events are staggering. The World Cup in 2014 reached an estimated 3.2 billion people, while the London Olympics in 2012 was the biggest ever national television event with over 90% of the population tuning in over the course of the Games, and this growth has been reflected in the cost of broadcast (and brand partner) rights for major sports.
So there seems to be no reason to suggest that the dominant relationship between TV broadcast and sports is going to change…
Well, I’m certainly not going to start predicting the death of TV as the main channel for sports viewership (at least in the short-term). However, if we take a closer look at some of the changes in the industry it becomes clear that the model is being disrupted and that the future for sports content does look increasingly digital.
The desire for information, entertainment and conversation from fans makes sport very well suited to the faster-paced and more personalised media environment that now exists, with broader changes in media consumption patterns clearly reflected in sport.
Over the past decade, the explosion of social media has enabled audiences to consume sports content when, where and how they want. Highlights, statistics, live updates, commentary and opinion (often synced to live matches) are now easily and immediately available. The more established social platforms have been the first to capitalise on this, with twitter even planning live broadcasts of NFL games on Thursday nights for the coming season.
But a wealth of new technologies have also begun to change the way we can engage with our favourite sports. Periscope is a particularly relevant example of a new technology that is being quickly embraced within sport.
There is clear evidence that audiences see this as a positive influence, with 72% of Brits claiming that new technology and media helps connect sports fans in exciting ways (OMD 2016).
The trend is, unsurprisingly, particularly pronounced amongst younger audiences that demand more control and flexibility in their content, as reflected by the chart below (provided by Ovum’s digital Consumer Insights, 2015) which shows the increasing importance of mobile in the consumption of sport for younger audiences.
Younger audiences are also driving the growth of “new” sports and alternative content platforms. Content owners and creators such as Whistle sports, Copa 90 and Dude Perfect are now drawing audiences in their tens of millions.
However, it’s not just age that affects the impact of social and digital media on sports consumption. It’s also how “big” a sports fan someone is. The average sports fan spends around 40% of their social time on sport-based content, with that figure shooting up towards 70% for “massive” fans (according to research by socialsportsfan report 2015).
These changes are beginning to have an impact on traditional forms of sports media, with the importance of TV clearly diminishing for younger audiences (data below provided by Ovum’s digital Consumer Insights, 2015).
Looking at the current Rio Olympics, we are seeing that TV viewing is down across key European markets compared to London 2012. This is partly due to time zone differences and digital migration – 14.9 million tuned into BBC digitally for the second day versus 8.3 million in 2012. Research by Allianz has also discovered that 7.6% of Americans prefer to follow the Olympics on social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, SnapChat and Periscope – over both TV and streaming platforms. Social media is especially interesting because of the modifications to the Olympics’ Rule 40 that affects how non-sponsor brands can leverage the games.
The growing value fans place on speed, ease of access and relevance of sports content points to this trend becoming even more pronounced, with social media increasingly central to fans’ engagement with sport (leading up to Rio 2016, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Snapchat all launched Olympic promotions to draw in fan participation).
As I said at the start, this is by no means the end of television. TV audiences are growing at a global level, especially for major events, and TV still delivers live viewership much better than anything else but there is a clear shift happening; a shift that suggests the future of sports content is increasingly digital.
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