Thought Leadership: Imagen on the transformative power of direct-to-consumer in sports media
By Charlie Horrell, CEO, Imagen
The way sports fans consume media has changed dramatically over recent years. No longer are they reliant on watching live broadcasts on TV or avoiding seeing the score until they can watch highlight shows in the evening. Instead, almost a third of sports fans are streaming live sports to their phone or tablet and 2018’s FIFA World Cup saw record numbers of fans streaming games.
As broadcasters and sports federations adapt to this change in viewing habits, a growing number are developing their own over the top (OTT) services. For instance, sports fans can now subscribe to the NBA’s League Pass, Formula One’s F1 TV Pro or the NFL’s Game Pass to access live streams of events, as well as exclusive content such as interviews.
Meanwhile, in a survey of sports industry executives, Imagen found that almost half (46%) said their organisation is investing or planning to invest in the launch of a direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming product in the future.
The DTC approach is transforming broadcasting for a new generation of sports fans, allowing viewers to do everything from streaming live content, to accessing team-branded channels and coverage of niche sports (like wrestling and surfing) and women’s sports. As broadcasters and sports federations begin to cater to the growing appetite among sports fans for streaming services, we will see the DTC approach increase in popularity. So, what else do these organisations stand to gain from developing their own DTC platforms?
Direct line to the fans
A major benefit of sports associations developing OTT platforms is that they can improve engagement with their fans. While they already have deals with various broadcasters, a dedicated OTT service provides a more direct relationship with the audience.
For sports organisations, a tailored, branded OTT platform provides an efficient way to engage with a geographically fragmented fan base, no matter where they live, unconstrained by TV schedules. It also enables them to own and manage the entire user experience, helping to reinforce the brand while gathering valuable customer data. DTC channels are also easier to market via social media, which is often an intrinsic part of the service.
Enhanced experience for audiences
DTC initiatives allow sports broadcasters to play into the consumer trend of subscribing to OTT platforms such as Netflix. From a customer perspective, OTT services are supremely convenient and their popularity is evidenced by the number of new OTT services currently being launched, such as Apple TV+. Fans can choose the content they want to watch, when they want to watch it, and on whatever device they prefer.
OTT can also deliver concurrent streams, offering a choice of viewpoints, as well as information and live data. Motorsport fans, for example, will often have a number of screens open to view multiple camera angles, as well as lap times and race statistics.
The steer away from linear TV to digital-first and on-demand content is also impacting the way sports organisations do business. Some are choosing to partner with online companies as well as broadcasters, or are developing their own OTT platforms to reach their audience directly, as is the case with F1 TV Pro. For around £2 per month or £20 a year, this subscription service offers commercial-free live streams of qualifying sessions and races, along with a choice of 20 on-board cameras, plus press conferences and interviews.
Meanwhile, sports associations can also use these platforms to reach a wider audience. For example, American football fans outside of the US can subscribe to NFL Game Pass to keep up to date with the league and their favourite teams, opening up the sport to a broader audience.
By capitalising on the changing viewing habits of consumers who are increasingly turning to streaming over traditional TV broadcasts, DTC services are revolutionising sports media. For sports associations, federations, leagues and even individual teams, adopting a cloud-based media management platform will allow them to store and share collections of live and on-demand footage online themselves. This approach offers the opportunity to realise greater value from their content, to strike better partnership deals and ultimately to provide a better, more direct service to an engaged, tech-savvy fan base that wants more than traditional TV is able to offer.