Home Opinions Direct-to-consumer trend pushing sports to go it alone

Direct-to-consumer trend pushing sports to go it alone

Charlie Horrell, CEO, Imagen
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While sports fans have long tuned in to live broadcast games or watched scheduled highlight shows on TV, they’re now increasingly streaming the action to a connected device. Additionally, the types of content they want to consume is changing, with many sports followers looking to watch short bursts of video. Research from Google found that in 2017 there was an 80% increase in sports highlights video views on YouTube compared to the previous year, while the channel also saw a 60% increase in viewership of sports interview videos in the same period of time.

Subsequently, to cater to the evolving appetite of fans and to reach their audience directly, more and more sports broadcasters are developing their own over-the-top (OTT) services. For example, the owner of Formula One, Liberty Media, has its own platform F1 TV Pro while the NBA’s League Pass and the NFL’s Game Pass also allow viewers to pay to watch content.

The direct-to-consumer (DTC) approach is transforming broadcasting for this new generation of sports fans and these OTT services are opening up all manner of possibilities. Now viewers can live stream content and access team-branded channels and coverage of niche sports (like wrestling and surfing), women’s sports and in-depth live coverage of international events.

As sports fans begin to turn to DTC offerings, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of broadcasters are beginning to go it alone and develop their own OTT platform. New research from Imagen supports this, as its survey of sports industry executives found that almost half (46%) of those who responded said their organisation is investing or planning to invest in the launch of a DTC streaming product in the future. For broadcasters and sports federations, this approach offers up a variety of benefits, including:

Better engagement with the fans

OTT platforms present sporting associations like F1, the NBA and NFL with the opportunity to promote a deeper engagement with their fans. While they already have deals with various broadcasters, a dedicated OTT service provides a more direct relationship with the audience. For sports organisations, a tailored, branded OTT platform provides an efficient way to engage with a geographically fragmented fan base, no matter where they live, unconstrained by TV schedules. It also enables them to own and manage the entire user experience, helping to reinforce the brand while gathering valuable customer data. DTC channels are also easier to market via social media, which is often an intrinsic part of the service.

Commercial opportunities

This steer away from linear TV to digital-first and on-demand content is also impacting the way sports organisations do business. Some are choosing to partner with online companies as well as broadcasters, or are developing their own OTT platforms to reach their audience directly, as is the case with F1 TV Pro. For around £2 per month or £20 a year, this subscription service offers commercial-free live streams of qualifying sessions and races, along with a choice of 20 on-board cameras, plus press conferences and interviews.

Improved viewer experiences

Adopting DTC initiatives allows sports broadcasters to play into the consumer trend of subscribing to OTT platforms such as Netflix. From a customer perspective, OTT services are supremely convenient. Fans can choose the content they want to watch, when they want to watch it, and on whatever device they prefer. OTT can also deliver concurrent streams, offering a choice of viewpoints, as well as information and live data. Motorsport fans, for example, will often have a number of screens open to view multiple camera angles, as well as lap times and race statistics.

Then there’s the potential for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) providing in-stadium experiences. This summer we saw this technology deployed by the BBC in its coverage of Wimbledon and it is expected that such technologies will continue to be rolled out at other large sporting events.

Clearly the arrival of DTC services is transforming the face of sports media, and while it’s not marking the death of traditional TV coverage just yet, it does signal a huge shift in power. By employing a cloud-based media management platform, sports associations, federations, leagues and even individual teams can store and share collections of live and on-demand footage online themselves. This enables content owners to realise greater value from their content, to strike better partnership deals and ultimately to provide a better service to an engaged, tech-savvy fan base that is becoming disillusioned with traditional TV and wants more than it can offer.

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