What Is the Play for Sports Content on FAST Channels?
A giant leap in the evolution of televised sports is happening right now: streaming sports.
It would be fair to say that the spectacle of sports as we know it today was created by television. “Monday Night Football,” Magic vs. Larry, baseball’s “Game of the Week” – take your pick of content that elevated our viewing experience, and drove further interest and innovation in broadcast sports. A quick glance at the media news suggests that a giant leap in that evolution is happening right now: streaming sports.
Whether it’s Amazon Prime nabbing exclusive streaming rights to “Thursday Night Football,” ESPN signing a deal with Major League Baseball that includes simulcast streaming rights for “Sunday Night Baseball” or Paramount+ hosting the UEFA Champions League, streamers are increasing their footprint (and investment) across world-class sports.
But those blockbuster deals are all part of larger rights packages with enormous media houses and subscription-based content providers. They are also built around live-game broadcasts. That leaves a lot of sports, niche leagues and juicy content out of the mix. And because advertisers love sports, this is a major opportunity for enterprising organizations and OTT programmers. After all, why wouldn’t anyone with sports content rights try to capitalize on FAST?
Limitations of FAST for Sports Content Providers
The parallels between traditional television and FAST (both ad-supported, linear programming) might make the latter seem a natural fit for live sports, but real-time game broadcasts aren’t quite the same opportunity for FAST programmers. First of all, the cost of big-league licensing agreements is prohibitive for all but a few media partners. Because of the fragmentation across entertainment viewership, let alone streaming sports, it turns expensive rights for limited markets into a bad investment.
But what’s to stop a sports league from building out its own FAST channel and airing live games? Nothing. And on the surface, a self-contained streaming model has potential. Still, this organization would need to have a deep content library in order to fill (and, realistically, add value to) the air between games. 24/7 programming is a heavier lift for live sports than pre-recorded content blocks. Hardware requirements could make viewership difficult to scale. These problems have solutions, but the technology hasn’t yet reached the maturity to bring them fully forward.
Sports Content That Works on FAST
Calls for the consolidation of the streaming sports market and wishes for ESPN-style FAST channels featuring a comprehensive selection of live games on a single free, ad-supported streaming platform aren’t close to becoming a reality anytime soon. FAST providers eventually will find new ways to fit live, major-league sports into their model, but in the meantime content creators and programmers should consider alternative sports broadcasting that is already FAST-friendly.
Classic games, events and packages (think postgame interviews and parade coverage following championship wins) represent ideal FAST sports content – cheap, extensive and linear in nature, encouraging audience retention. Highlights and interview shows, strategy-and-matchups programming and past draft coverage offer a mixture of current and classic content that die-hard fans can’t get enough of. Documentaries (“Welcome to Wrexham”) and original series (“Winning Time”) and films (“42”) belong on FAST channels for the same reasons.
What might these channels look like? Some already exist, including the Lax Sports Network and the Fight Network, which feature live action, highlights, interviews, talk shows and more from a variety of sources. League- and team-focused channels in the major global televised sports will be more difficult to pull off initially, but organizations with fervent fan bases and the cleanest path to consolidating all rights to their own content figure to be on the front end of FAST. The World Poker Tour, for example, is already thriving on Tubi and Frequency just helped PokerGO revamp its channel on Pluto TV.
Live sports may not fit like a broken-in glove for FAST just yet. But in the meantime, the same entities that control those games’ rights can begin laying the groundwork for their own free, ad-supported streaming channels and building an audience using content they already own or have easy, affordable access to.