Thought Leadership: Evergreen content is key to entertaining sports-hungry fans

Will Pitt, head of sport, Imagen

The widespread disruption to this year’s sporting calendar brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak is presenting a significant challenge for broadcasters, writes Will Pitt, head of sport, Imagen. In just a matter of weeks, what promised to be a thrilling summer of sport has been turned on its head, as key events such as the Olympics, Euro 2020 and Wimbledon have all been delayed or cancelled.

This has left sports broadcasters with a huge void to fill and a growing audience to entertain as Nielsen’s February 2020 Total Audience Report predicts that TV viewing is likely to rise by 60% during the pandemic. Therefore, for broadcasters who are now unable to maintain their usual live programming, they must identify their evergreen content and use this to continue to appeal to fans during these uncertain times.

Maximising archive content

For sports broadcasters, delving into their vast back catalogue of footage from previous sporting events, interviews, documentaries and films, will enable them to provide value to their customers, many of whom will have paid a premium for access.

This is a strategy that has so far been deployed by several high profile sports channels and organisations, including ESPN which has revived its ESPN8: The Ocho label, inspired by the film, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. As it is unable to show any live sports, the network is using the channel to broadcast funny sports-related content, including robot fighting, sign spinning, axe throwing and marble competitions. While none of these are serious replacements for cancelled sports, the approach is allowing ESPN to use a variety of older content to provide light relief for sports fans and keep them entertained.

In a similar vein, following news of the Olympics being pushed back to 2021, broadcasters can look to their archive footage to continue to engage disappointed fans. This is something the BBC has announced it is doing by airing highlights from the London 2012 Olympics.

This initiative also provides sports broadcasters with an opportunity to use their vast array of Olympics material to cater to a wider range of audiences. After all, the games act as a stage for sports that tend to be underrepresented in the media and aren’t as widely covered as more mainstream sports. For instance, unlike football and rugby fans, table tennis, curling and gymnastics enthusiasts are an underserved audience that has to wait for events like the Olympics to be able to watch their favourite sports on television.

Therefore, in light of recent developments, there is a captive audience of more niche sports fans whose appetite broadcasters could satisfy through the use of archive content. By maximising the use of niche sports content, not only will sports channels be able to fill gaps in their programming, but they could also draw in new fans of these sports who find themselves with more time on their hands.

Offering additional services

Sports organisations should also consider making more of this material available for fans to access at their leisure via online platforms. This will give them the option to continue to serve fans of more mainstream sports on their original channels, while providing entertainment for those favouring more niche sports.

The approach of creating an online video platform for fans is one that has been adopted by many sporting bodies, including the NFL and F1, and can be replicated by sports broadcasters, in much the same way that broadcasters like the BBC offer an on-demand platform.

For instance, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) created its own content platform following the sport increasing in popularity, with more than half a million viewers tuning in for table tennis events at the 2016 Olympic Games. In order to capitalise on this growing interest and make the most of the content it had accumulated over the years, the ITTF developed a centralised video archive. This has allowed the organisation to maximise its content and also use footage to create marketing materials in order to increase awareness of the sport among both existing enthusiasts and new, younger audiences.

Implementing the right infrastructure

Ultimately, in order to capitalise on their existing content, broadcasters must ensure they have the right tools in place to empower their employees to continue delivering the service their customers have come to expect. Often, broadcasters experience significant challenges when trying to access archive footage, which may be saved in different places across disparate systems or, frustratingly, just impossible to find. This tends to be because they have facilities across several locations and various databases or file sharing platforms in use.

Consequently, as sports broadcasters begin to rely more heavily on their pre-existing video library, they must ensure they have the right infrastructure in place to allow employees to quickly and remotely access, share and use the right assets.  This also stands true for sporting organisations as this period presents them with an opportunity to monetise content by offering it to broadcasters looking to fill empty schedules. It is therefore in their best interest to have this archive content readily available to share both internally and externally.

This requires these organisations to implement a robust cloud-based solution for their own use, which will allow them to safely store, search and share content internally. With such a vast library at their disposal, this will make it easier to pinpoint certain pieces of footage from the 1998 World Cup or the 2000 Summer Olympics, for example.

While the current landscape is particularly challenging for sports broadcasters, having the right solutions in place will allow them to maximise the value of their archive assets to fill gaps in their programming and continue to deliver high quality experiences to their customers. As live sporting events seem unlikely to begin again for some time, this approach will ensure that despite being unable to create new content, they can entertain fans with evergreen or niche content.

With such a large proportion of society now spending significantly more time at home than usual, this also presents broadcasters with an opportunity to use a wider variety of their video library to appeal to a broader range of people. In doing so, it is possible they will create new sports fans who will remain viewers even once life begins to return to normal.

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