What a time to be a sports fan. We are living in an era of unprecedented opportunities for fandom; followers can engage with live sport more easily, intimately and comprehensively than ever before. As behind-the-scenes content is delivered directly from players, in-game highlights, stats and reactions are covered by social media platforms, and high-quality streams of live-action become available from a variety of sources, it seems the days of TV-distributed linear programming may be numbered.
So what does the future hold for the live sports video?
Well placed to comment on the changing landscape of digital sports broadcasting are two representatives of a newly formed power-partnership between BAMTech (the Disney-backed, technological arm of Major League Baseball Advanced Media) and Discovery’s sports giant Eurosport, who recently won the majority of European rights to broadcast the Olympics from 2018 (and in England in France from 2022).
Ralph Rivera, MD at Eurosport Digital, and Jeffrey Volk, SVP of Business Development at MLB Advanced Media, who both joined Team GB freestyle skier Rowan Cheshire onstage at Advertising Week Europe to discuss the future of live broadcasting, agreed that the way in which we consume TV is changing, and that sport will be the at the forefront of that change.
Rivera said: “Sport, unlike any other content type, still drives scale and passion in terms of live viewership … If you were to create the pyramid of content types that are really driving that level of engagement and scale, sport would have to be at the top of that.”
For athletes like Cheshire, that means their entire lives have become a way to promote their sport to fans who are “really interested in the backstory” of an athlete’s life – from YouTube videos of fitness preparation between sporting events, to photos taken by her trainer before she drops into a competition half-pipe.
And for Volk, also the co-founder of NYVC Sports, that level of commitment on behalf of the consumer puts the provider in a position of some power; all they have to do is facilitate the demand: “We believe in access. At the end of the day it all comes down to access. We’re in an era where content can be provided to people anytime, anywhere, on any device… We believe in providing amazing content to people in great audiences.”
This is a sentiment wholeheartedly echoed by Rivera. Digital is not a business strategy, but simply a reaction to how the consumers are choosing to access the content: “They’re looking at digital-first experiences because they can get a richer experience that goes beyond just the video … If you get the video, you get the data, you get the social layer around it, and you get the right sort of calibre of stream on a tablet… I’m choosing that before I choose plain old television.”
But what about the threats of piracy? The proliferation of illegal, low-quality online sources evoke clear parallels with the way in which the music industry has been turned upside down over the last decade, but for Rivera, the legacy of Napster’s (for example) influence on the music industry is food for optimism, rather than serious concern.
“Everyone said ‘Oh, look at piracy destroying the music industry,’ and actually it wasn’t. The percentage of people actually pirating music was relatively small and it was larger in a certain demographic – i.e. kids in college that wouldn’t be paying for music anyway – but they were becoming habituated to actually getting music online, and now you know the story…
“A lot of piracy happens not in order to get something for free, but just to get it … if someone offers it –for pay – and it’s $5.99 or $3.99 to watch, I’ll pay the $3.99!”
For Volk, too, it’s a question of providing a service that people would be happy to use, and normalising that service in a way that can be positive for both consumers and providers (whether platforms or sponsors). For example, providing coverage of, say, the outer courts at a Grand Slam tennis event that would simply not available anywhere else (other than on Eurosport) can be beneficial to everyone involved:
“If you provide content to people, people will want to consume it. And if you make it easy for them, I think they’ll be thankful, they’ll be willing to pay for it, and they’ll love the advertisers associated with it and making it available to them …
“People need to wake up, look at the ecosystem, provide access, monetise that access, either through subscription, pay-per-view or advertising and there’ll be enough money there, for sure.”