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Stop Pulling Sports Fans & Start Chasing Them

Karim Saade

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games was an event with many firsts. This year's athletes smashed 27 world records and 91 Olympic records, and thanks to more diverse licensing agreements, global audiences watched them do it on multiple video devices and screens.

By the end of the event, Rio 2016 racked up more digital coverage than any Olympic Games before it and rang in tens of millions of viewers across live streams, mobile apps and linear TV viewing. For a select few traditional broadcasters, it was a triumph, but for sports fans, it pushed one point home: Sports viewing is a multi-screen experience, and not all broadcasters understand how fans are really watching sporting events.

When sports fans watch a game, they typically engage in two major behaviors. First, they tune in on time at the event’s scheduled kick-off while pulling up a second device to conduct social conversations and monitor instant, breaking developments around the game. Second, they make sure to track the ramp-up and wind-down surrounding each event. To fans, this tracking is as important as having eyeballs on the game itself. But, while sports fans’ use of digital platforms has strongly increased over the past few years, many traditional broadcasters still focus solely on television and have more difficulty assimilating the digital wave into their approach.

Not all broadcasters were in the dark with Rio 2016. NBC -- the Olympics’ primary broadcaster in the United States -- ran with the changes in broadcast rights and aired the Olympics on select IPTV and OTT channels. On NBC alone, as many as 100 million unique users streamed 3.3 billion minutes of Olympics coverage across NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, an all-time high for the broadcaster’s live Olympics coverage.

So even though NBC's TV viewership dipped below the London games’ 33 million average viewers or Beijing's 34.2 million viewers, NBC did something that many traditional broadcasters didn't do: It directed audiences to official digital channels where they could live-stream their favorite events and enjoy the ramp up and wind-down of the pole vault competition, football matches or swim meets.

For NBC, this is just the beginning. In May, the company announced that it is experimenting with advanced technology in the hopes of offering "Playmaker Media" to media partners. When the network isn't broadcasting the Olympics or NFL games, Playmaker Media will turn NBC's live-streaming operations into a profit-making enterprise. NBC isn't the first to see the revenue opportunities in live streaming; Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) began as the league’s IT department, and it's now a leader in end-to-end video-streaming services.

For media companies like NBCUniversal LLC and MLBAM , this is a clever move; but for sports fans, it was long overdue. Sports viewers have digested Internet video and commentary across platforms for years. A survey we conducted with subscribers of our own sports streaming service, Dawri Plus, showed that fans primarily consume around-the-clock sports on social media, followed by television. All the evidence we've seen points in one direction; this trend will only grow.

Recently, two of the most popular social media networks spent millions to marry social feeds with sports content. In 2016, Twitter Inc. spent $10 million for the rights to live-stream ten Thursday night NFL games, and Facebook launched Facebook Sports Stadium, an app that aggregates live scores and stats, and displays what users post around the games they follow. In short, Twitter and Facebook are building on all the conversation on their platforms and maximizing value. Now they can deliver live content to sports fans, draw large crowds and grow ad revenue through deep data analytics gathered from their sports audience.

In the sports landscape, OTT is not a luxury; it is a necessity, especially when fans engage beyond TV and chip away at ad revenue, making broadcasters less relevant. Compelling programming was previously sufficient to attract audiences to the TV set. Today, these audiences are fragmented; they are on Facebook, on Instagram, on WhatsApp, on their mobiles, tablets and desktops. Even though television still dominates advertising (so far), broadcasters can no longer rely on pulling audiences to the TV screen; they need to chase their audiences on digital, wherever they are.

Smart broadcasters and savvy sports rights holders provide a second-screen experience that allows fans to complement their TV viewing with other touch points. This means investing in new platforms and serving sports fans on platforms as distinct as Snapchat, sports forums and fantasy gaming sites.

No matter what shape the investment takes, broadcasters must give audiences smart, tailored content that meets evolving viewing demands in line with each platform's specifics. Choosing the right material for the right platform is a good place to start. Grab fans' attention between games by loading live behind-the-scenes video content on Periscope. Start conversations by designing sharp, eye-catching infographs on Instagram.

A targeted, multi-channel approach may not be the only way to deliver sports content today. But faced with an increasingly fragmented audience and a competitive, digital world, it is the best way. Broadcasters can no longer rely on exclusive content rights and the immediacy of sports events to drive revenue generation and market share. The broadcaster who embraces a multi-channel, multi-screen and tailored content approach will not only live to see the next Olympics, but will thrive in it.

— Karim Saade, Senior Director of Digital Sports Products, Intigral

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