Social media and the new age of live sports broadcasting

Social media and the new age of live sports broadcasting



Earlier this month saw the announcement of YouTube’s paid TV service – the latest move towards traditional TV broadcasting on social media. The service, simply called YouTube TV, boasts a number of features, including ‘live TV streaming from ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, regional sports networks and dozens of popular cable networks’, all for half the cost of traditional cable TV in the US.

It’s hardly a surprising development when you consider the claims YouTube made last year about their growing active audience base. CEO Susan Wojcicki stated:

Today, I’m happy to announce that on mobile alone YouTube now reaches more 18-to-49-year-olds than any network — broadcast or cable… In fact, we reach more 18-to-49-year-olds during prime time than the top 10 TV shows combined.

Whilst the methodology behind this claim came under some scrutiny from industry experts, YouTube was letting broadcasters know that they’re not just a destination for cat videos and a vehicle to keep Alex Zane’s TV career alive.

What’s particularly interesting to me is the attention they’ve paid to sports in the announcement of YouTube TV, and the increase in accessibility it provides for something that’s historically been tied to premium television packages.

It’s not just YouTube

Twitter has recently announced a deal with the PGA Tour that will see them broadcasting more than 31 tournaments free of charge, following a $10m deal with the NFL to broadcast 10 games in 2016.

Facebook is also making big moves in the live sports sector. After several single-game broadcasts last year, including a charity match between Everton and Manchester United (which saw 3.7m viewers tune in), the network has struck deals with Liga MX soccer in Mexico to show 46 games, MLS in the US to show 22 regular season games, and La Liga in Spain to show several regular season Friday night fixtures. More recently, they’ve reportedly been in talks with Major League Baseball to secure the rights to show a weekly fixture from across the league.

How are they making money?

It’s a fair question. Subscription television with regular commercials is a long-established model for making money (if Sky can shell out an average £10.2m per game of Premier League football that they show, they must be doing something right!) This is clearly, at least in part, what YouTube will be looking to do with their YouTube TV package. So what about the free networks like Facebook? That’s where it gets interesting…

Facebook is constantly working on formats and measurement for brands and businesses buying ads through the platform, and this month they’ve announced two significant developments:

  • In-video ads for live and pre-recorded video
  • Advanced measurement tools to give clearer insight into how many people they’ve reached and which ads are leading to sales, through cross-device tracking

Both developments are in the early stages, but long-term, this means that not only should they be able to deliver ads in video in a more targeted way than through traditional television advertising, but they’ll also, theoretically, be able to report more accurately on the impact it’s had on purchase behaviour.

Opportunities for more

Due to the nature of social media, there’s actually much more to live broadcasting than advertising opportunities. Social media allows brands, teams and publishers to grow communities and deliver varied messaging as frequently as they like.

Whether you’re into international cricket, downhill skating (it’s mental), or a particular sports brand, being a fan means that you’re passionate about somethin and that naturally leads you to want to consume more content related to that particular thing. With the introduction of live video on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, users are getting to see much more without the restrictions of television schedules, or advertiser demands – from a full, post-game Premier League press conference to MLB team training or a workout with Reebok.

Due to the nature of the channel, the technology required to utilise the live format and, in turn, the expectations around the quality of output are very different to that of TV. This means that games that would never otherwise be broadcast can find a wider audience. Grandparents could watch their grandchildren’s under-10s hockey game, kids could watch their school rugby team, and fans of lesser-funded sports could watch matches from anywhere in the world.

Joie Chapple, a planner at Prophecy Unlimited, has this to say:

Social media has always been about connections – be that friends to friends, celebrities to fans or 99% of the population to the odd cat video. So if the democratisation of live sport can improve accessibility for even the most obscure or amateur, bring people together and connect them to the moments that matter as they happen, it can only be a good thing for both consumers and the brands involved.

I can’t help but feel this is just the tip of the iceberg for live broadcasting on social media, and that it marks the beginning of a radical shift in the way that fans engage with their favourite sports. It’s surely only a matter of time before we’re watching Marcus Rashford scoring for Manchester United from a first-person perspective, or virtually high-fiving Maddie Hinch for another penalty save. I, for one, can’t wait!

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