Sports Streaming: Where Is the Trend Heading?
Linear programming – ad-supported or otherwise – lends itself to sports content
Historically, one of the surest things in network television was that you couldn’t go wrong when live-broadcasting two types of content: sports and news. There was something about the immediacy and shared experience of the former and the importance of the latter that drove people to tune into both in real time.
However, as shifts in viewer preferences and advances in device and platform technology have expedited, making streaming the viewership king, this fact hasn’t changed. In this new age, sports continue to be consumed most often via live broadcast – even more so than news. Sure, we need our news. But we love our sports.
And, that’s a trend that appears unlikely to change over time. Sports content remains one of the main drivers of terrestrial TV, and that has transferred seamlessly to the streaming space. So, how else might sports broadcasting evolve for programmers and viewers as streaming further grows into the dominant delivery model?
One example: fragmentation. As the concept of cable bundling unravels in the face of cord cutters, organizations are increasingly partnering with OTT platforms and creating their own media brands. The National Football League, with NFL Plus, is currently contemplating its new mobile strategy. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is already airing Friday doubleheaders and Sunday morning games on Apple TV+ as part of a reported $85 million deal, while the New York Yankees are trialing a couple dozen regular season games on Amazon Prime.
Initially, this could cause some frustration for sports fans. Apple’s agreement with MLB, for instance, is exclusive – meaning a viewer who wants to catch every one of their favorite team’s games will likely have to subscribe to the $5-a-month service in addition to a cable bundle or out-of-market package. For consumers with wide interests and numerous priorities, it’s no small consideration.
Over time, this is a problem that should solve itself. Viewers who are tired of paying for channels they don’t use will begin to see the value of a la carte streaming services. More leagues will be wooed by the control and profit margins of an all-in-one digital network of their own. And, as more streaming platforms begin embracing subscription and ad-supported revenue models, sports programming will likely follow suit. Consumer demand exists for both SVOD and AVOD, for both on-demand and linear programming. In the end, no single delivery method will drown out all others.
“Everything is important,” Noah Garden, chief revenue officer at MLB, recently told the Los Angeles Times. “Linear is still the most important for us.”
Linear programming – ad-supported or otherwise – lends itself to sports content. That urge towards immediacy and a collective viewing experience with other fans will always be an element that content providers must respect, or at least understand that most fans crave. And for programmers, AVOD and FAST maximize accessibility and viewership while maintaining the linear format sports fans have come to love.
At the same time, those who can’t watch a game live still want the option to view it on demand. That optionality matters. So, too, does the choice between a subscription- or ad-supported model – or even the option to toggle between the two. Certain broadcasting trends may hold up well, in sports and elsewhere. But nothing hits home with consumers like options.