<iframe src="https://www.googletagmanager.com/ns.html?id=GTM-P36XLWQ" height="0" width="0" style="display:none;visibility:hidden">

Opinion | What is the state of sports streaming?

James Lamberti, chief marketing officer at Conviva, highlights some of the key takeaways from the company’s latest State of Streaming reports.

7 April 2022 James Lamberti

Getty Images

It’s been a busy few months for sports streaming. Between the return of pre-pandemic audience levels, massive events like the Winter Olympics and Super Bowl LVI, and surging social media engagement, sports are hitting it out of the park.

Let’s take a look at some of the milestones from Q4 2021 and Q1 2022 to understand the state of streaming when it comes to sports.

Return of pre-pandemic numbers

Some of the best news to come out of Q4 was the return of pre-pandemic engagement levels for North American sports. In October 2021, engagement levels for the five major men’s leagues exceeded January 2020 levels for the first time since Covid upended regular programming.

What’s more, social media output has also increased. In Q4 of 2021, total posts for US sports were up 42 per cent as compared to the same period in 2020. Total video postings enjoyed a whopping 56 per cent increase, led mostly by the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA), as total engagements expanded by 23 per cent. And while the National Football League (NFL) and NBA boasted the largest overall share of engagements, the NHL and Major League Baseball (MLB) led in absolute percentage growth.

Meanwhile, European sports have also enjoyed a rebound since the onset of the pandemic, even if the Q4 numbers alone represent a small boost. The European market was the first in sports to see growth following the sudden halt of the sports season in Q1 2020, when the pandemic began. In fact, engagement levels for European sports had generally stabilised by Q4 2020 and, as a result, numbers have not increased wildly since. In Q4 2021, total posts were only up one per cent, while videos increased four per cent. Still, overall engagement was down two per cent during this period.

Then there’s the Asian market, which had a fairly rough game in Q4 2021. As compared to the same period in 2020, total posts were down 31 per cent, total videos were down 37 per cent, and total engagements were down 23 per cent year-over-year. The leading source of decline has to do with the Indian Premier League (IPL), the sub-continent’s leading cricket competition. In 2020, the major IPL tournament was delayed until late into the year, wrapping well into Q4. In 2021, however, the IPL had already finished by October, resulting in lower engagement numbers for the year’s final fiscal quarter.

Winter Olympics in Beijing

In 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) postponed the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, waiting until the state of pandemic was more manageable. But when those Games finally occurred in the summer of 2021, heightened control over the pandemic also led to fewer viewers staying home to stream the Olympics. Still, with the rise of the Omicron variant in the subsequent months, and the onset of colder winter weather, more people returned indoors to stream the ensuing Winter Games in Beijing. And stream they did.

First, let’s consider the opening ceremony. Global streaming for the occasion spiked 349 per cent as compared to the same event in 2018. The massive single-day streaming numbers represent the huge inroads streaming has made in only four years.

Of this immense worldwide viewership, 71 per cent was captured in the middle two hours of the ceremony – and not by accident. While the pomp and circumstance of previous ceremonies have stretched over four hours, the 2022 Games were a far briefer affair. The brevity of this year’s edition condensed viewership into a tight two hours.
So how did people stream the event?

Tablets seem to take the gold medal, accounting for 28 per cent of streaming share during the opening ceremony. These numbers are surprising, considering the measly five per cent share of overall streaming time associated with tablets. Meanwhile, connected TV devices like Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast represented about an equal share of opening ceremony streaming, while desktops came in third with 17 per cent. Rounding out other devices were smart TVs with 14 per cent, mobile phones with 12 per cent, and gaming consoles with one per cent of streaming viewership.

Trending topics

Social media also came in hot in the lead-up to the Olympics. Official Olympic committee accounts from over 120 different countries spent weeks building anticipation for the Games. But in the final seven days before the opening ceremony, the Olympics generated a 370 per cent increase in engagement as compared to average engagement in the previous six weeks.

Leading the social media pack was Twitter, which generated 37 per cent of all social posts leading up to the Games. Close behind was Facebook, which represented 34 per cent of all Olympic-related content in the run-up week, followed by Instagram, which made up 27 per cent of all Olympics content. But when it came to engagement, Instagram pulled into the lead, representing a commendable 66 per cent of all Olympics-related fan engagement. Facebook followed with 23 per cent of engagement, while Twitter represented only 11 per cent.

Super Bowl

It truly was game day for streaming and social media, as audiences enjoyed February’s Super Bowl LVI in changing and innovative ways. The era of cable monopolising the way we watch live events is far behind us. Fans across the US – and the world – streamed the big game on a variety of devices, and joined the global conversation through social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

For the most part, those who streamed the game stuck with it for the long haul. Audiences viewed the game for an average of 132 minutes per unique device, an impressive 23 minutes longer than last year’s Super Bowl. Other streaming bright spots included video start time, at a nominal 3.9 seconds, and buffering at just 0.22 per cent. Unfortunately, there was some anguish when it came to video start failures, at nearly six per cent, as well as picture quality, which languished at 6.63 megabits per second.

Halftime and big screens

The highlight of the night, at least in terms of streaming numbers, was the all-star Halftime Show. Average audience engagement during halftime was 13.4 per cent higher than average viewership during the game. Social media engagement also spiked during halftime.

It probably comes as little surprise that 78.4 per cent of streaming audiences used a big screen to watch the game. Within that group, 38.4 per cent of viewers used a TV with a connected device, while 33.5 per cent used a smart TV, and 6.5 per cent used a gaming console. Roku, Samsung TV and Amazon Fire TV proved Super Bowl giants, representing 68.5 per cent of big screen streaming devices.

Social gains

As the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals duked it out on the field, their fans kept the competition alive on social media. The Rams ultimately beat out the Bengals online as they did in the arena, with game day cross-platform engagements totaling 2.07 million. But it was a close call. The Bengals, for their part, ignited a total of 2.06 million cross-platform engagements. The truth is, both teams moved the goalposts for social media engagements, with triple-digit increases on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as compared to regular season game day averages.

So which platform had the most engagement? For the fourth year in a row, Instagram took the lion’s share, with 56 per cent of all Super Bowl-related content on game day. But that lead has deflated in the last four years. At the same time, Twitter has expanded its advantage for the fourth year in a row. For Super LVI, Twitter enjoyed 26.3 per cent of all social media engagement, while Facebook represented a small but commendable 16.7 per cent of game day engagement.

Of course, there’s that new kid in town called TikTok, and it’s not pulling punches either. Both teams gained over 100,000 followers on the video sharing app, with the Rams tallying 616,000 engagements, and the Bengals enjoying 740,000 engagements on TikTok.

Go long!

The state of streaming is strong when it comes to sports, and changing every day. By keeping an eye on the data, and monitoring new and innovative uses for social media, we can start to understand the future of sports programming in a streaming-dominant world.

Keep up to date on all the streaming trends with Conviva’s State of Streaming reports.

1 / 1insight articles read

You’ve reached your article limit for this month. Please create a free account to continue enjoying our content.


Have an account?