SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:
Sport broadcasting is going through an interesting phase at the moment. Over the past two years, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Yahoo (amongst a host of others) have all been buying non-exclusive rights to live sports packages. More recently, over the past few months, broadcasting giants like Fox Sports in Australia, for example, have seen the need to change the way that they deliver sports content to their audiences.
Are we on the edge of a watershed moment in sports broadcasting? I think indeed we are, and here’s why: over-the-top sports video content is set to generate revenue of $30.6 billion as we approach 2020, and everyone wants a cut!
Just twenty-four months ago, British tech start-up The Perform Group launched a subscription video streaming service called DAZN (pronounced “Dazone”), headed by former ESPN president John Skipper. The group, who has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in buying up sports rights across Europe, Japan, Canada and the USA, had obviously seen the potential of live streaming and on-demand video services in the sports broadcast arena.
Today DAZN, who employ over a thousand staff members, offer more than 8,000 sports events a year, ranging from major to minor competitions, including the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, NBA, NFL, MLB, Formula One, and is the host broadcaster of Japan’s J.League, screening every game of the season across all three divisions. The two-year-old sports streaming platform has millions of subscribers across seven countries and plans to be in 13 more by 2022. They have a massive team of developers and engineers, who constantly gather and interpret data to gauge how the audience is reacting to an event and what methods they can develop to retain them, for example, to keep engagement up when matches get boring. A team of user-experience designers work on trying to get people to interact, similar to how people do on Facebook, by crowdsourcing information from other fans and passing it on to encourage communication between fans.
Last year, DAZN showed tremendous growth, with revenues rocketing from £8.7m to £90.8m, and is not the only brand to start to see the potential to disrupt the sports broadcasting market.
Recently, Amazon struck a $130m non-exclusive streaming deal for NFL matches, alongside NBC and CBS, and in the UK it has deals for the US Open tennis and the ATP Tour, while also being close to securing streaming rights for the Premier League. Also in the USA, Disney is gearing up to launch a streaming service based on ESPN content.
The traditional sports broadcasting market, therefore, has become fragmented, and the rise in costs fuelled by the rivalry between traditional broadcasters has undoubtedly made it harder for new entrants.
As high-speed internet access spreads, and younger consumers increasingly opt for viewing events on mobile devices, it’s also clear that the sporting bodies themselves have seen the potential behind their massive fan bases and have started experimenting with streaming as an alternative to traditional broadcasting.
Cricket Australia live-streamed their controversial ‘sandpaper’ tour of South Africa in early 2018 to hundreds of package-deal subscribers in the Pacific region as a test, which – by all accounts – was a great success. A few months back, the New Zealand public were perhaps pleased to hear that Sky Sport (a pay-tv service) had lost the bid to broadcast the upcoming Rugby World Cup to Spark Sport, a newly-formed streaming service run by the telecommunications company, Spark. In a matter of months, Spark also secured the exclusive rights to the English Premier League for three years, the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2021, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. Linear and traditional television is still Sky TV’s bread and butter, but they have been slow to adapt to the public’s changing consumption habits, and Spark are gearing up to fully capitalise on the streaming space, with low-cost subscriptions being talked about prior to the 2019 launch of the service.
Across the Tasman Sea, FOX Sports (Australia’s equivalent to Sky Sport) has been far more pragmatic in their approach to the changing times. They have quietly launched Kayo, a new streaming service for their sports fans. Already dubbed the “Aussie Netflix of sport”, Kayo is currently in beta testing and has been opened to the general public to sign up as they await the full service in 2019. There are more than 50 sports channels already covered by Fox Sports, ESPN and Bein on offer, at a low-entry price point and no lock-in contract. The service also includes HD streaming and is available on laptops, mobiles and streaming via Chromecast, with apps on Apple TV, iOS and Android to follow soon. FOX Sports doesn’t seem too worried about declining traditional TV viewership in light of their big shift towards streaming: their new mobile plans are all about reaching more people at a more affordable price, and therefore adding to and expanding their pay-tv platform.
The big concern among many sports fans, however, will be the cost of potentially having to pay for several different services in order to keep up with the whole range of live sports available. No more ‘one-stop shops’ is something that fans might just have to come to terms with, although DAZN -who are charging just US$12 a month – intend to keep costs low by amassing tens of millions of customers. In their words: “We have seen in music with Spotfiy and Pandora, in TV with Netflix and Amazon, that people will pay a sensible amount of money for a good service, so we want to do the same for sport. We want to be a Netflix for sport.”
I don’t believe that this is the end of linear televised sport. The sporting bodies, tech companies and broadcasters all have the opportunity to capitilise on the amazing era of technological development we are witnessing. In the prophetic words of Bob Dylan: “Come writers and critics, who prophesise with your pen/Keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again/For the loser now, will be later to win…/The times they are a-changin’.”