Taking the lead: The trends that are driving the transformation of live sports broadcasting
In this blog, The Switch’s Joe Cohen looks at how the industry is meeting the challenge of changing technologies and consumer expectations.
A long career in live sports broadcasting has taught me that success in this industry rests on the ingenuity of its people. The great thing as we move into the 2020s is that we are seeing a lot of ingenuity, as new digital technologies and business models enable broadcasters, streaming services and other content producers to meet the evolving expectations of today’s sports viewers.
Modern consumers have more ways than ever to watch live sports – more devices, more mobility, more platforms offering fresh content – while rights holders have the ability to deliver more live sports coverage than ever. Over the next decade, real transformation in the production, delivery and consumption of live sports will drive major change, and we are already seeing some of the big trends taking shape:
New production models are changing the live broadcast game
Great innovations are already enabling dramatic improvements in production efficiency and quality – with more cameras, graphics, cutaways, replays and visual effects than ever. The trouble is this has led to an increase in the cost and complexity of producing live events. The outside broadcast of a typical US college football game, for instance, requires specialist technical staff from around the country – not to mention fixed equipment and OB trucks – leaving the rights holder with substantial travel, accommodation and freight costs.
Remote production is a new model moving the goalposts, massively lowering production costs for many live sports without compromising quality. Remote production, for example, can cut the cost of covering a typical college football game by 25% – so lower division and even high school games can be made available to audiences. It also suddenly makes live coverage of smaller and niche sports, like volleyball, lacrosse and surfing, more commercially viable. And the bigger broadcasters are taking note. For instance, NFL Network, supported by The Switch, is moving into remote production of college football games, while CBS is doing the same thing with college basketball.
Global audiences plus online platforms equals big opportunities
Over-the-top (OTT) TV is bringing more live sports to new markets. The NBA has been a pioneer in this area, with huge subscriber growth in markets ranging from Australia to Brazil, the United Kingdom to Serbia, the Philippines to China – where Tencent Sports, an online sports platform, pulled in five time the average US national audience with 25 million viewers tuning in for the season opener between the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers.
What’s more, non-traditional sports such as esports are exceeding double-digit year-on-year growth internationally – reaching 450-million-plus viewers worldwide and winning over hard-to-reach younger demographics. The impact of global audiences is brought home when we compare the 2019 World Series, which averaged 14 million total viewers a game in the US, to The League of Legends 2019 World Championship, which peaked at 44 million viewers globally during the final round between teams from Europe and China.
The broadcast doesn’t just start and end with the game
Many fans are insatiably hungry for news, analysis, interviews and just plain talk about their favorite teams and players – and OTT platforms are feeding that. Major media sports rights holders are able to create more buzz around all sporting events by extending coverage and debate before and after each event.
Shoulder programming will grow bigger as a staple of broadcast sports, with more extra programming at either end of the big game, as legalized gambling will generate shows built around analysis, predictions, odds and outcomes.
Live sports on tap is becoming an everyday reality
There are more opportunities to deliver and watch live sports than ever. There are over 50 services in the US alone, ranging from the big networks, to cable and satellite channels, to league-owned entities such as NFL Network and NBA TV broadcasting every game.
Sports fans today want to be able to access live sports in real time via apps that ensure access to the sports, teams and athletes they want to follow – and the industry is moving fast to accommodate them. The big streaming players like Amazon and YouTube are already getting into the game and more leagues are branching into subscription-based “league pass” OTT services.
While no single technology or business path guarantees success for every rights holder, there are more ways to succeed than ever for leagues, associations and rights holders. Whether they are in New York, Mumbai, London or Beijing, fans are willing to follow their passion on the device, timetable and cost model that suits their circumstances. It only remains for the industry to meet that demand.
Joe Cohen is President of Sports at The Switch.