Why the Direct-to-Consumer Trend Encourages Sports to Go It Alone

Guest post by Charlie Horrell, CEO, Imagen

The way sports fans consume media is changing. While sports fans may have traditionally tuned in to highlights shows or watched live broadcasts on TV, nowadays they’re increasingly streaming the action on a connected device. Research from Google discovered that in 2017, 30% of sports fans streamed live sports on their smartphone or tablet. Similarly, appetites for sports content have also changed, with the watch-time of “funny” sports videos on YouTube growing by more than 50% in 2017 compared to 2016 and “interview” watch-time increasing by more than 60%.

As a result of these developments, a growing number of sports broadcasters and federations, including Formula One, the NBA and the NFL, are developing their own over-the-top (OTT) services. These subscription platforms allow sports fans to pay to watch content ranging from live events to exclusive interviews, as well as access coverage of niche sports, such as handball and wrestling, and women’s sports.

This direct-to-consumer (DTC) approach is transforming broadcasting for a new generation of sports fans. As the popularity of DTC offerings increases among sports fans, it’s no wonder that broadcasters are beginning to go it alone by developing their own OTT platforms. In fact, almost half (46%) of sports industry executives surveyed by Imagen said their organisation is investing or planning to invest in the launch of a DTC streaming product in the future. There are a variety of benefits to adopting this approach, including:

Engaging with a fragmented fanbase

OTT platforms present sporting associations like F1, the NBA and NFL with the opportunity to promote a deeper 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 viewer experiences

Adopting DTC initiatives allows 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. 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.

Commercial opportunities

This steer away from linear TV to digital-first and on-demand content is 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.

In the coming years, the DTC trend will continue to pick up pace as sports associations, federations, leagues and even individual teams recognise the major opportunity it presents. By implementing a cloud-based media management platform, these institutions will be able to store and share collections of live and on-demand footage online themselves. This will enable sports organisation to realise greater value from their content and appeal directly to a more engaged, tech-savvy fan base that want more than traditional TV is able to offer.

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