From the Olympics to the World Cup, Sports Go Online

Jun 13, 2014

Article ImageThe joy of watching sports live has long been touted as one of the few things keeping people tethered to broadcast TV, but as NBC proved with its successful streaming of the 2014 Winter Olympics through its web channels, that may no longer be the case.

In the past, sporting events such as the Olympics, the World Cup, and March Madness had too many simultaneous events, matches, and games to fit into traditional broadcast schedules but as technology evolved and people were presented with more options and better means to consume streaming video, media companies began to deliver live and on-demand content online. This allowed companies to offer a greater viewing experience with nothing edited down or left on the cutting room floor.

For instance, the 2014 World Cup, which kicked off yesterday (April 12, 2014), is streamable in its entirety - all 64 matches -- for cable subscribers with the WatchESPN app (or on the WatchESPN site). Univision will stream the first two rounds on its site for free. No need for a subscription!

Just in time for one of the biggest sports events in the world, Sporting News Media released its fourth annual survey on U.S. sports media consumption, and reveals the demand for utilizing a second (and even third) screen to enjoy sports has heightened and more people are actually turning to the web to watch live sporting events than ever before.

The "US Know the Fan Report 2014," produced in conjunction with Kantar Media and SportBusiness Group, surveyed over 1,000 American adults aged 18+ in February 2014, and the results revealed that nearly half of sports fans claim to use an internet connected device at the same time as watching sports on TV.

Brent Lazo, senior manager, research and analytics for Sporting News Media, says the study showed that mobile consumption of sports content has doubled to 42% in the past three years, but it's still far below the 65% of sports fans accessing sports content from a desktop or laptop computer.

"Mobile phone use continues to grow and I think people most often use these second-screens to catch up on what's happening with other games being played via live text commentary and live scores," he says. "Everything is going to mobile and engagement is increasing as people have more access to highlights and video clips, and live streaming of games."

Shaun Koiner, CPO of Sporting News Media, says that among fans that watch sports online, live streaming remains the most popular content (38%), followed by videos of game/event highlights (31%), and videos of sports news (27%).

"More than half of fans that watch videos of games, event highlights or player/manager/coach interviews, do so via a mobile device," he says. "As NBC, ESPN and the others unbundle content beyond the screen, there will be a slow migration of people leaving the TV and watching an event live on their mobile."

Adam Ware, senior vice president, head of digital media for the Tennis Channel, notes that while traditional network TV will still be the place that fans can watch the big events that appeal to the widest possible audience, for the super fan, online video and related mobile experiences can provide the most targeted and readily available coverage with programming that's tailored to a fan's specific interest.

"Tennis Channel can now serve both [audiences] with big broadcast events on the network and more specific programming online or mobile based on a specific player, previously non-televised matches, classic play, and other interactive social features unique to the platform," he says. "It's wide open as programmers now have access to a parallel TV distribution system. One that exists on desktops, mobile/tablet devices and on the traditional TV set."

Saurabh Bhatia ?co-founder? of ?Vdopia Inc., a mobile video and rich media advertising company headquartered in Silicon Valley, says the percentage of people that are consuming sports content on connected devices outside of broadcast TV is staggering. "This gives an opportunity for smaller sporting events to get live or recorded coverage when not broadcast on TV, because they will be beamed exclusively on the web," he says. 

Ricardo Diaz, director of digital with creative agency Zambezi, headquartered in Venice, CA, says while viewers may be watching the game alone on their phones, they are doing so alongside thousands of like-minded fans. "Advertisers need to do a better job galvanizing their online video audience," he says. "We could start to see brands creating social platforms that help connect sports fans with each other in a more curated, concentrated way."

The future of online video will continue to enhance the stadium experience from a viewer's couch. The Manchester United Google+ Hangouts idea is a great example of this, with fans from all over the world getting the best seat in the stadium through an online video conference call. Not only is the fan watching the game, they are part of an immersive stadium experience.  

"If we are able to take this to the next level, we could eventually have the real-time point of view from our favorite player," Diaz says. "Imagine being in the virtual shoes of Lebron James before a monster dunk, or having the point of view of your soccer team's goalie before a penalty kick."

Bhatia feels the big watershed movement will come when companies like Netflix or Amazon Prime bid for sports rights and stream the content exclusively on the web via their platforms. He warns, "That day is not very far off." 

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)