On Wednesday 22nd February, MTM hosted a lively forum analysing the future of sports media.
There were over 100 media executives in the audience, providing a lively and thoughtful evening of discussion led by our five expert panellists:
- Ben Gallop, Head of Radio and Digital at BBC Sport;
- David Gibbs, Digital Director of Sky Sports and Sky News;
- David Mahoney, Director of Strategy, Policy and International at England and Wales Cricket Board;
- Sara Sheridan, Head of Insight at BT TV;
- Tomos Grace, Head of UK Sport at YouTube;
and chaired by Jon Watts, Managing Partner at MTM.
The landscape of sports media has experienced significant changes in recent years: from BT driving Premier League rights up by 71% and the BBC losing exclusive coverage of the Olympics, to the growing importance of OTT distribution and the rise of eSports. As a result, there was a lot to discuss! The evening’s topics included:
- Will the value of sports rights continue to rise dramatically?
- How does this reconcile with falling viewing figures?
- Will Virtual Reality make an impact?
- And will there ever be a ‘Netflix of Sport’?
A market assessment
The rise of multiple viewing platforms, declining attention spans for 80/90 minute games and a shift towards digitally-driven experiences has provided challenges to traditional sports broadcasters. Our panel agreed that engaging younger viewers in different ways was crucial:
“There are no longer just passive viewers, but participants: engaged in a new way. You have to work a lot harder to keep viewers engaged”
‘Tactical defence’: The challenges to the market
Our panellists believed that the main challenge faced by sports broadcasters today is capturing consumers’ attention in a world of ever-increasing choice and fragmentation. As a result, focus is shifting away from traditional linear viewing of 80-90 minute matches and toward new digitally-driven experiences. For example, sports broadcasters are experimenting with using new camera positions to create more immersion and new platforms to drive engagement, such as locker room footage on Snapchat or interviews and depth analysis on YouTube:
“The biggest challenge is around the audience and consumption levels. In the last 10 years, the rise of mobile usage has had an impact on TV viewing, and this change is fundamentally transforming the way we consume sport. There are no longer just passive viewers, but participants: engaged in a new way. You have to work a lot harder to keep viewers engaged.”
‘Balls getting squeezed’: The inflation of the rights market
With the price of sports rights rising and audience viewing figures falling, the panel discussed the balance between reach and revenue on free and pay TV platforms. There was no doubt that BT’s entrance into premier league rights had changed the dynamic of sports provision. Though one panellist noted the importance of sport retaining its public service role:
“As certain sports have moved behind a paywall, we have seen a significant impact on their reach and presence. While there are clear financial advantages to selling your rights to the highest bidder, there are important intangible factors to consider”
‘Pass the baton’: The rise of medium & lower tier sport
Our panel then looked at medium and lower tier sports. Although viewing for traditional sports has declined year on year, so-called ‘Medium Tier Sports’ – Ultimate Fighting Championship, Moto GP, & Handball to name but three – have all recorded record ratings:
“Taken in isolation, the numbers of viewers for these niche sports is not huge. But collected together there is real interest. There is certainly a role to bring these to a wider audience”
Netflix of Sport: Unlikely underdog or dead favourite?
The discussion of niche sports led to which platform was best suited to provide them, resulting in the potential to create a ‘Netflix of Sport’. The panel believed creating a complementary OTT sports product, with access to sports otherwise not available on TV, would be the likely route. One panellist, however, noted the major difficulty in delivering a high quality viewer experience over broadband:
“Broadband networks are not as reliable as broadcast networks. Broadband networks are still not sufficiently good enough and robust enough to deliver high-quality sport”
Will eSports or Virtual Reality (VR) get promoted this season?
Despite the hype around virtual reality in sport, our panel were only moderately enthusiastic. They agreed that mainstream adoption and device penetration of VR will take time and precision of execution. On eSports, though, the panel were more positive. ESports is vast and multi-layered, noted one panellist, both in terms of the opportunities to participate, and its scope of global reach through online broadcasts:
“We are seeing all kinds of things that are crushing others with a hydraulic press and it will continue with eSports – not just about FIFA gaming, but with all different categories”