This year marks a huge change for TV and digital video: live streaming of sports is going mainstream.
The traditional way of watching live sports has been to watch the games when they’re broadcast live on pay-TV. For cable companies, this has been their bread and butter. Live sports are one of the things keeping them afloat.
Live sports still draw the biggest audiences for TV networks, but the recent dips in NFL and Winter Olympic games ratings have raised questions about how to garner the audience TV once commanded. While TV is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future, its audience is becoming more interested in live streaming sports on their mobile devices.
Over 30 percent of sports fans now live stream sports on their mobile devices, and 80 percent of fans also use multiple devices when watching live sports. Sports fans also admit that they’d pay more for the option to stream their favorite team across multiple devices instead of just via their TV. Verizon, in a bid to meet the growing live streaming demand, paid $1.5 billion to stream NFL games over multiple devices.
It’s estimated that the number of cord-cutters, or people who cancel their pay-TV services and don’t renew, will reach 33 million people sometime this year. Clearly, with an increase in mobile device usage, sports leagues have an incentive to appeal to this expanding cord-cutting audience. But what about the younger audiences that grew up without ever paying for TV?
The paradox is that even though Gen Z watches less TV, they are more in love with video content than ever. Meanwhile, statistics show that audiences for live sports on pay-TV across the board are getting older and older. So how do you meet your audience in the middle? By live streaming sports across multiple devices so you can capture the younger audiences fleeing pay-TV.
Big Tech’s Attempt to Bridge the Live Sports Streaming Gap
Last year, Facebook partnered with Stadium on Facebook’s Watch platform to get more involved in live sports broadcasts. Stadium will broadcast over 100 sporting events such as Division I college football and basketball games, high school football and basketball games, college-level Olympic sports, and even poker if you’re so inclined. Facebook plans to create interactive groups around specific live sporting events to build communities and advertise future events.
Many professionals in both sports and broadcasting believe this is a winning strategy. The sports leagues will be able to expand their reach while appealing to a younger demographic that wants an interactive experience with their live sports.
Twitch’s success is based entirely on its ability to leverage live video in an interactive and engaging way. Entire channels are based around collaborating, chatting, posting, and tweeting about live streams of everything from video games to live sports. Many in the social media and sports industries believe that encouraging platforms like Twitch to stream games and enable interactivity among fans will be the golden ticket for capturing those younger audience members.
Facebook has also aggressively pursued sports content like live MLB games. In 2018 alone, the MLB will live stream 25 exclusive games as part of its MLB Live show page. The viewing experience is much like a traditional pay-TV broadcast except there is active integration with social interactions and graphics during the broadcast.
Nick Cicero, CEO of Delmondo, agrees: “For the sports clients Delmondo provides analytics for, we see interactive live video on social channels like Facebook reach younger audiences; specifically in the past year [we saw] a heavy growth in minutes consumed, average watch time and engagements in the 18 to 34 age bracket. In many cases, these interactive live videos drive more female audiences than some sports teams are used to seeing.”
In other words, interactive video and live streaming sports are a match made in heaven for today’s younger audiences.
The Social Nature of Sports
Sports are an inherently social experience. Thousands of fans will pack into one stadium just to cheer on their team together. There’s nothing like watching a game in-person—or at least that used to be the case. Today, more than half of Americans prefer watching sports in their home. Live streaming sports has become the go-to way to merge the social experience of a live game with the luxury of watching alone.
Broadcasting sporting events through live video can turn a usually passive event into a virtual shared experience similar to being at the event itself. Take NBA’s recent efforts to create a 360-degree virtual reality broadcast of their games. Last year, the NBA produced eight games and their All-Star game in 360-degree formats alongside their traditional broadcasts. They hired separate announcers that both helped viewers follow the game action and gave basketball junkies the most in-depth experience. The viewer got to experience the game as if they were there courtside with their favorite players and teams.
The potential for data collection during these shared virtual events could provide sports teams with a treasure trove of information about their fans. This data could be used in marketing to promote future games and target younger audiences on social media platforms they use the most, like Snapchat or Instagram. Live social video on these platforms provides teams with an opportunity to increase their audience size and identify new revenue streams.
Tech companies like Twitter, Amazon, and Google are now competing with cable companies for the rights to stream live sporting events on their platforms. Their goal is to provide a more interactive social experience than the kind provided by linear TV broadcasts. Facebook recently acquired an interactive live video startup called Vidpresso in order to bolster Facebook Live by adding social media polls, comments, and features like “Watch Party,” which allows users to watch videos with others, just like Twitch.
Consumers are craving multi-screen experiences that enhance their favorite live sports. In response, tech companies are using their deep pockets to compete directly with cable companies for the rights to stream live sporting events. Sports leagues have also realized that with the right social media and live video strategy, you can increase your ratings across the board, whether it’s pay-TV or live streaming.
The next frontier for social media tech giants will be expanding sports broadcasting’s potential. Live video is making huge strides in crafting “full experiences” that put the power in fans’ hands, turning a previously passive, antisocial experience into a live one that connects millions across the world to watch their favorite teams.