Gravity Media: 2020 will be a big year for sport on and off the field

By Steve Norris, director, production and content, Gravity Media

Although it’s not suffered from the dramatic downturn that many had anticipated, 2019 has still been a year of change for the sports broadcasting market. There’s been a lot of movement, with TV rights going to new partners, and also unexpected renewals of contracts, as broadcasters act to safeguard their positions with the deep pockets of Silicon Valley looming on the horizon.

So, what should we expect to see next year?

The Premier League on Amazon

2020 will be the year we get a clearer picture of how involved the tech giants plan to get with premium sports. It will be fascinating to follow Amazon’s move into the Premier League in particular, which could be the catalyst for some major new players like Facebook to enter the market in a big way.

This is especially timely as the auctions for the next wave of contract renewals for the Big Four US sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL) approach. Some of these tech giants might end up having a big decision to make and may opt to write a big cheque and take something exclusively.

The 20 game/season Premier League package that Amazon has picked up will be used as a test bed from where they can see up close what impact carrying such a prestigious property on the Prime Video platform has on their business. If it’s a runaway success, and they realise that providing exclusive top level sporting content can help deliver subscribers, then it could well be the tipping point for far more ambitious plans to emerge.

These could include the introduction of a paid service on top of Amazon Prime Video for this type of content.

As we write, Amazon has just completed its first full round of Premiership fixtures and the feedback from viewers has been positive. The coverage has been to a high standard and the technology and streaming aspects have all been delivered successfully. From an editorial perspective, it will be interesting to see how Amazon develops its coverage, and also how the productions continue to be received by viewers who have grown accustomed to glossy Sky Sports and BT Sport programming.

So far so good then for Amazon. The next test will come on Boxing Day where they will be simulcasting all six matches and this will test their platform technically. But from what has been delivered to date you would have to say Amazon are on track to deliver another successful round of live Premier League matches this year.

Football fans can be merciless, so any drop in quality from an editorial or technical point of view will see social media channels light up with angry viewers. However, if they continue to get it right, then it could spell danger for many of the established broadcasters.

Going over the top

The rights market could well fragment in 2020, resulting in a pressurised environment where most of the budgets get earmarked for premium sporting content like the Premier League and UEFA Champions League. In order to survive, smaller sporting federations will have to change their operating models and be creative about how they sell and promote their content.

Over the top (OTT) will play a big role in this, as it can deliver priceless data on who their customers or fans are and what they want, enabling the federations to understand them in much greater detail than has previously been possible through linear TV consumption.

The drive to go OTT and understand the audience in more detail will be compelling for many second and third tier federations, although it’s unclear whether it would be commercially successful for them. You could even see more hybrid models emerge where the rights owner goes direct to its customers via OTT, but also sells rights packages to broadcasters. We’ve seen this in eSports already, and WWE’s recent deal with BT Sport.

New platforms represent other exciting opportunities, as well. The NBA’s agreement to show its minor G League games on streaming platform Twitch is relatively small commercially, but what it does do is provide the NBA with valuable insight into how the next generation of fans are consuming content, and will help them understand how best to present that content to them in the future.

Reducing carbon footprints

There is a growing collective pressure for everyone to be more environmentally aware, and a big part of that involves reducing our carbon footprints. Our industry has a larger footprint than most due to the nature of the work we do, with us traditionally needing to send a large number of people and lots of kit to events around the world week in, week out.

But there is a definite shift, and one that will continue to gather pace as we head into 2020. There is an industry-wide need to be more efficient, and part of this is reducing what is needed on site. This will help us to be more environmentally friendly going forward.

As with most things, it’s being driven by technology and innovation. The emergence of remote production, cloud-based services and streaming give us the ability to deploy less technical infrastructure on site, and execute more of the work from a central hub.

Delivering more for less

It’s not just about productions becoming more efficient. Price will drive much of the business in 2020, with rights holders needing to deliver more, but on smaller budgets. The facilities market is already incredibly competitive and having to deliver this expected quality within these budgets will drive the use of remote production. Scaling back what’s needed on site is where the majority of savings can be made. The challenge is to do this without impacting quality, which is where much of the focus for facilities providers is currently.

So, not only is 2020 a big year for sports on the field, it also has the potential to serve up many shocks and surprises off it as well. Stay tuned!

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