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Sports: The Challenges and Opportunities for Broadcasters

Luke Gaydon

Business Development, Sports

April 12, 2021


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The pandemic has fundamentally altered the global sports calendar, with extensive cancellations and now a backlog of matches and events to deliver. Add to that the huge shifts in sports fans' behavior enforced by social distancing and the coming months represent a crucial period for the industry. In part one of our sports series, we discussed the impact of the industry’s recent upheaval on rights holders and the need for them to maximize the value of their existing commercial partnerships. Part two turns the focus on broadcasters who, similar to rights holders, will need to delight fans. However, they will also need to foster loyalty and engagement in a way that ensures sustained growth for their platforms. Broadcasting delivery is changing as quickly as the sports industry itself and now more than ever, sports broadcasters need to focus on two fundamental questions:1. How do I grow my core audience?2. How can I reach new viewers?

Growing your core audience

While the changes to scheduling have been extensive, the gap in content delivery has provided broadcasters with an opportunity to take stock and perhaps consider a fresh approach. With core audience behaviors disrupted by Covid, broadcasters cannot count on the same level of loyalty they may have enjoyed prior to the pandemic. Fans can no longer attend matches in person and much of the social engagement around sport has moved away from the hospitality sector and into virtual environments. During a year in which regular content viewing has been turned upside-down, audiences have had more than enough time to form new habits, and these will need to be taken into account.A content delivery strategy is bread and butter for broadcasters but selecting the right approach to engage with consumers is becoming less straightforward. There has been continued growth in consumers using devices to watch their favorite content, and a recent report from Vimeo found 65% of the youngest video consumers are watching sports content on mobile apps.

With multiple members of the household all watching content simultaneously, Covid has accelerated the OTT video trend. Now that we’re all spending more time at home together, space is getting crowded. Battling it out for the big screen with a toddler intent on watching Paw Patrol is enough to scare anyone!These changes will likely form a long-term behavioral shift. Broadcasters need to ensure that they are adapting their content delivery plans to meet fans on the devices they spend time on, as well as leveraging the opportunities to monetize content within that space.There is currently a broad range of opportunities for broadcasters to diversify their offering. While casting a wide net is a crucial strategy for attracting new viewers, it’s likely that existing fans will want a sense of familiarity from their content consumption. OTT video services offer a highly customizable UX experience that allows audiences to engage with content in a tailored and meaningful way. OTT allows providers to tap into a fan’s devotion to the sport they follow, as well as leveraging user and usage analytics to maximize engagement. With a lack of live sports available, many OTT providers have been optimizing their platforms with new content opportunities such as archive documentary style programming and athlete-generated content. Continuing to define new sports content genres will be crucial for broadcasters to stay ahead of the curve.

Reaching new viewers

As new technology and changes to consumer behavior continue to disrupt the video industry, how can broadcasters reach viewers who are less familiar with their offering? It’s important to bear in mind that video content providers are now competing for collective screen-time. Viewers aren’t just engaging with full-length games and post-match analysis, but also with bite-sized content and other fan’s reactions across multiple social platforms. According to Imagen, 78% of fans between 18-23 use another device for social content while watching their favorite sports.Fan engagement is as crucial for attracting new viewers, as it is for maintaining established ones. But a new fan may not be motivated by existing behavioral patterns, so innovation and novelty are key attributes of an effective content strategy. It’s therefore important that broadcasters are not only finding new outlets for their content but also finding ways to captivate audiences within those spaces.Achieving this within social media platforms is notoriously challenging, as consumers are pulled in multiple directions by design. However, an OTT video service provides broadcasters with the opportunity to create a fully branded home for multiple content formats. Unlike a generic social platform in which broadcasters have to compete for limited attention spans, the OTT viewing experience is a truly immersive one. But that’s not to say it’s without its share of social interaction. There are plenty of ways to tackle the social aspects of sport that audiences are craving. From synchronized streaming to branded content within a chat and messaging space, viewers can connect over exciting moments and enjoy their own match analysis free from other distractions.Augmented Reality (AR) is another opportunity to add significant value for stakeholders and engage more meaningfully with audiences.

As per recent data, by 2023 there will be an estimated 2.4 billion mobile AR users worldwide, a rise of 2.2 billion from the 200 million seen in 2015. This format will dramatically change how sports content is experienced and create truly interactive experiences. New recording technologies, such as volumetric or holographic video, combined with AR mean that viewers will soon be able to experience a sporting event from any angle. While a return to stadiums appears within reach, it won’t be accessible for everyone. Increased demand caused by the hiatus will likely leave many sports fans without tickets. However, AR has the potential to democratize access to live sports, bringing sporting events into the viewer’s living room and allowing them to have full control over the action.Now that there is a roadmap out of the challenges of the pandemic, broadcasters need to remember that many recent viewing trends have created new expectations for sports content that are likely to outlast COVID. Broadcasters need to use what they already know about their core audience to deliver content effectively and optimize their direct-to-consumer offering, whilst employing innovative new technologies to inspire and attract new viewers. It seems that the post-Covid possibilities are endless.

A summary

  • Schedule changes and lack of live content has made broadcasters rethink content delivery strategies and led to them diversifying their offering.
  • Shifts in viewer behavior mean broadcasters are adapting how they reach audiences. With the inability to attend live sports matches, broadcasters need to stand out in the virtual environment.
  •  Fan engagement remains crucial – broadcasters must find new outlets for their content but must also find ways to captivate audiences within those spaces.
  • The OTT viewing experience is a truly immersive one, providing broadcasters with the opportunity to create a fully branded home for multiple content formats.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) offers an opportunity to engage further with viewers. It can dramatically change how sports content is experienced and create truly interactive experiences.
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