The decreasing viewership of traditional sports broadcasts has throttled the transition towards individual digital distribution, threatening the central and largest revenue stream for the pay-TV broadcasting industry.
The segment share of Americans who reported watching television via cable or satellite fell 20 per cent between 2015 and 2021, as reported by the Pew Research Center. Among those respondents:
- 71 per cent said that they don’t use cable or satellite services because they can access the content they want online
- 69 per cent said that the cost of cable or satellite services is too high
These statistics are sobering and are part of an ongoing trend that is projected to accelerate in the years to come. With streaming services growing increasingly competitive, convenient, and expensive, viewers will have to prioritise their entertainment investment. The trajectory proves that they have already begun opting for online streaming content over traditional cable.
This pattern and preference is even more pronounced among younger demographics. The same survey found that 91 per cent of young adults (ages 18-29) reported that they don’t receive cable or satellite because they can access content digitally online. Furthermore, only 30 per cent of those respondents subscribed to cable in their lifetime, showing that the medium is becoming obsolete to the younger generation.
As time goes on, this will likely lead to a continuous decline in the appeal of cable and satellite subscriptions, challenging the traditional revenue model that has been a reliable base for broadcasters and leagues alike.
Going digital is the answer… sort of
Of course, the decline of cable and exclusivity-driven broadcasting models is well known to the industry. As such, there has already been a strong shift towards digital content and an adoption of direct-to-consumer strategies. PwC estimates that the growth of sports media consumption on social media platforms will grow by 86.1 per cent and streaming growth will be around 85 per cent.
Major streaming services like YouTube, Apple TV, HBO, etc. are attempting to fill the gap that cable is leaving behind, and so far they have been quite successful. For example, Apple recently signed a ten-year deal with Major League Baseball (MLB) to exclusively license content for their Apple TV+ platform.
While leveraging streaming platforms as partners will likely continue to be central to sports media strategies, the structure of exclusive streaming licenses is rather similar to the model of old, and retains all of the disadvantages. Streaming platforms have tremendous negotiating power due to their ability to “gatekeep” access to millions of fans. This can make it difficult to get content to audiences in a way that maintains the control and revenue share rights holders would prefer.
Social media platforms are certainly powerful tools for connecting brands with audiences and distributing unique and engaging content. Ultimately, however, such outreach is difficult to monetise, and attempts to do so can lead towards unofficial or even pirated content.
PwC estimates that unofficial streams will grow by 47.6 per cent – lower than the overall growth of social media and streaming, but nonetheless a rising threat that will flood the content pool and dilute the value of content.
Despite the challenge, the reach of these platforms is undeniable. Content owners should leverage both of these avenues for distributing their content. However, it is wise to consider their limitations as well, and avoid the mistake of putting all revenue ambitions into one bucket.
Audiences want more
Ever-increasing content saturation is overwhelming viewers with endless choices, making it more difficult to stand out as a content producer and even harder to retain viewer loyalty.
Viewers want a more expansive and comprehensive experience that matches the technological capabilities of the modern age. Consider the results of the following survey:
Viewers want to know more, choose more, and have a greater connection to the content, teams, and events they tune into. They don’t want to be limited to a single game or viewpoint; they want a deeper dive into player stats and to connect with other viewers.
However, audience interest is dynamic. While surveys and research enable us to see a broad trend of user behaviour, what each individual fan in an audience values at a given moment is likely a mystery.
How can anyone know what their audience wants when they are composed of many unique individuals? Without clarity it is precarious to invest in innovative content or distribution strategies. On the other hand, each day of inaction and consideration is another day of losing customers in an increasingly competitive landscape.
This is the challenge. Audiences are less engaged and diminishing. The pay-TV model is losing efficacy, and its replacements have strings attached.
The question is, what should be done about it?
Giving fan experience and insights an upgrade
It’s clear that the battle to retain audience loyalty will be more competitive and dynamic moving forward. Thus, the platform used to distribute content should be flexible enough to adapt to audience preferences, and empower fans to enjoy content with a level of depth like never before.
I’ll use Snipitz, my business, as an example. Our Content Delivery Interface is a Smart video player allowing content owners to simultaneously deliver multiple screens of content within one iFrame alongside gamification features, such as NFTs and sports betting. Further, it gathers unique audience analytics in part due to the ability to measure a viewer’s
comparative interest in the content on different screens.
The platform is built to flexibly integrate with other services and content mediums, enabling enterprises to easily adapt the viewer experience to match shifting audience demands. And finally, because our platform is embedded into our client’s existing website, iOS, or Android, our clients stay in control of both their content and the platform it is distributed on.
I add these details not to deliver a sales pitch, but instead to demonstrate three key takeaways:
- Audiences want to be more engaged, and content owners need the tools to be able to
deliver. That starts with creativity in content strategy and ends with a platform capable of
providing more than just the traditional viewing experience.
- Content creators need comprehensive and frequently updated analytics to ensure that content is honed to an audience’s tastes and preferences.
- Competing in this landscape requires adaptability, which is far easier when remaining in control of content and distribution.
The next generation of audience engagement tools are here, and audiences are waiting with bated breath to see how sports will utilise them. Those who leverage new technologies and capabilities effectively will race past those who fail to adapt. Challenges abound, but they can be turned into opportunities with creativity and targeted investment.
It is time to take audiences to the next level, and technology is the key.
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