Change in live sport broadcasting is now an inescapable fact. It’s happening and it’s happening fast. This was the overwhelming verdict at the end of a fascinating round-table discussion at the Broadcast Disruptors event on the first day of Leaders Week in London, as part of the Broadcast Disruptors Roundtable to investigate the seismic shifts occurring within the industry.
Television broadcaster, digital content producer, sport governing body, social media platform, rights agency, technology supplier. All were at the table within the impressive surrounds of London’s BT Tower at the Leaders Week Broadcast Disruptors event. All represented are constantly re-evaluating their offer to their audiences, their need to attract new fans to their product, their need to reinvent themselves and grow alongside ever more sophisticated technologies whilst at the same time breaking down the industry’s barriers to entry.
What was once a simple path for live sport broadcasting, from rights owner to consumer via television or radio broadcaster, is now becoming much, much more complex. Change, of course, presents opportunity and the panellists were quick to eulogise on how they can reach and engage audiences in ways unthinkable little more than a decade ago. “We innovated this year by broadcasting the Champions League final in 360 degrees,” said Mike Norrish, Head of Digital at BT Sport.
“We distributed 100,000 Google Cardboard viewers and witnessed 10, 11-year-olds watching the match this way while their parents watched on television alongside them. We had people tweeting us saying ‘thank you BT, this is the future’.”
For UEFA, the switch to pay TV in the UK away from their traditional terrestrial home has been an “unmitigated success”, according to their rights agency, Team Marketing. “We wanted to go all-pay in some of our bigger markets because it allows us to do the innovative things we are discussing here today,” said Simon Crouch, Team’s COO.
So, breaking the traditional mould can clearly pay dividends. “We broadcast the Champions League and Europa League finals on YouTube as a subscription driver,” said Norrish. “It is live sport and it is premium live sport but it is low risk for us in terms of losing TV audience because the number of people signing up for our service, a long-term contract, at that stage of the season is low.”
For Avid, as a supplier and enabler of many of the advances being discussed, it was fascinating to see stories unfold as to how technology is powering the revolution across the content production industry.
NBA’s director of media distribution EMEA, Amy Lee, highlighted some of the ways the basketball giant is reaching and building new audiences: “We are facing the challenge of bringing in younger audiences and AR, VR and MR (mixed reality) are all very important. “We are testing a close-up “mobile view”, distinct from the television view, which also integrates statistics. Young people are more difficult to please. We are competing not just with sport but also entertainment.”
It’s not technology alone facilitating this change in the broadcast industry. It is how it is combined with the creative and storytelling skills of the content producers. And the rewards for marrying the correct technology with the right broadcast and creative strategies are clearly high in the race to win eyeballs – exactly the reason why Avid listens so closely to its clients and builds feedback into evolving their solutions.
“Nowadays you need to look as widely as possible in terms of customer segmentation and serve those audiences,” said Simon Green, Head of BT Sport, highlighting why the Broadcaster has such a mixed broadcast, digital and social media strategy.
A good example of deploying new technology and not being afraid to make mistakes came from the US PGA Tour’s Luis Goicouria, SVP digital platforms and media strategy. “At the Players Championship in Sawgrass, we had a live VR camera covering the island green. For the first three days it was 30 feet away from the action and didn’t look good at all,” he said.
“On the final day, the pin moved to the edge of the green and the camera was really close. Now that was really compelling. We got comments from people saying they ‘couldn’t believe the PGA was doing something this cool – now I want to go to a tournament’.”
Of course, the one place where change in the way sport broadcast is happening at an exponential rate is on social media. It can offer huge reach to content producers and is consistently experimenting with new formats – some winners, some definite losers.
Facebook partnership manager Jerry Lawton said: “Since the launch of Facebook Live a year ago, we have seen broadcasters gain a lot of traction with audiences in previously dark markets. The World Surf League went Facebook first and have since managed to build a very successful business from it.”
So social media clearly has benefits but it also has its pitfalls, according to the panelists. Uneasy alliances form to keep pace with change, often uncertain on both sides as to where they will lead to and at what price.
“Rights holders are in a constant internal struggle of how much content to put on which platform,” said the PGA’s Goicouria. “Golf has an older demographic, so it is key to attract a younger audience. But giving them free content on social media, when those platforms are now bidding for rights, can lead to a conflict of interest.
“Our position on this is nuanced, complex and changing constantly.”
The final comment sums up both the Round Table and the live sport broadcast landscape perfectly. Change is here, it is constant and only those who embrace it in the right way will thrive. It’s going to be a fascinating few years.