Beyond Live: Sports Media’s Rising Stars

Last month I was with old friends and the topic of the 2019 Cricket World Cup final came up. The conversation protagonist – who amazingly wasn’t me – said we’d be lucky to see drama like it again. He then asked where we’d each witnessed the Greatest Cricket Game of All-Time™, as he called it.

In the pub with 200 strangers. At home while looking after children – catching key moments on TV between chores. In an airport, streamed on an iPad, waiting for a delayed flight. On Twitter through text commentary and match clips because the men’s Wimbledon final was on at the same time.

And the two people who hadn’t seen the game were quickly brought up to speed as we thrust the five-minute highlights from Facebook in front of them.

The conversation would’ve been very different in 1999, the last time the CWC final was played at Lord’s. The amount of ways we’d have been able to follow the action – both during the game and after – would have been sparse; live on TV, yes, but radio was the only option if you were on the move, and unless you’d recorded it, there was no easy way to watch the action back.

Technology and high-speed internet are the difference between now and 1999. Official on-demand CWC19 content was widespread, and drew over 4.6bn views1. Today, sports action is at the tip of our fingers, via streaming, in-play clips or post-match highlights, all accessible on any number of connected devices. And for an adult sports fan, it’s a dream – though for a young sports fan, it’s just normal.

And that means the sports media business is being rewired both technically and commercially. Pessimists will tell you that for a business whose core value is based on live, linear TV coverage, this is the most challenging time it has ever faced. Immediate access to content has changed consumption, and though broadcasters and rights-holders know the long-standing business model for live, linear TV, the models for other types of content are less-established.

We take the opposing position: media fragmentation is a significant growth opportunity for sports rights-holders. We believe rights-holders will flourish, specifically, by developing packages of non-live clips and highlights – non-exclusive sports content, with new commercial models – that offer fans a way to follow sport that is complementary to live.

These media assets – clips, highlights, outside-the-ropes and behind-the-scenes content – have historically either not existed, or have been undervalued inclusions in live rights packages.

But by developing new media packages, rights-holders will cater both to the evolving tastes of fans, and the changing commercial pressures facing media businesses. And as a result, we project the global sports media market will be worth $60.9bn in 2024 – up from $48.2bn in 2019, a five-year growth rate of 29%.

Value of sports media rights globally ($bn)
Last Bastion of Live

Too often I read or hear people say that “Millennials” and “Gen Z” – those currently aged between 16 and 38, who account for 63.5% of the world’s population2 – don’t have the attention span to watch the full 90 minutes of a football match, or three hours of an American football game. It’s a lazy set of observations around a complex and digitally-driven fragmentation of the media landscape. Also – it’s not true, as anyone who has seen the data will know.

In a world of on-demand entertainment, sport is the last bastion of live content – it has to be watched or followed live, or you’ve missed out. That’s why last year live sport provided 92 of the top 100 most-watched US broadcasts in 2018, compared to just 49 in 2011.

The CWC19 final drew a global, live TV audience of 706m (up 22% on 2015)3, while last year’s FIFA World Cup final drew 884m live on TV (up 27% on 2014)4 – figures that don’t include the growing numbers of people who will have watched via a streaming platform. While we’ve seen certain events suffer a ‘drop’ in live TV audience – the Super Bowl falling to 98.2m in 2019 from 103.5m in 2018, for example – the reality is that’s more of a reflection of outdated measurement techniques than less people watching live. A 30-second Super Bowl ad spot on CBS hit $5.25m in 2019, after all, the highest ever level.

Humans are addicted to the thrill of not knowing what’s going to happen next, and live sport delivers seemingly impossible highs and devastating lows, time and time again. As long as this remains the case – and let’s face it, it’s been the case since the time of the Ancient Greeks – brands will flock to market around it, and fans will pay to watch it live, either through a third-party broadcaster or an owned, direct-to-consumer platform.

Macro-economic factors will also benefit both advertising and subscription models, the former through a bigger global population – growing at a rate of 0.79% year-on-year between now and 20305 and a wider access to media, global internet penetration projected to reach 90% by 2030, up from 51% in 20186. The subscription model will be supported by rising global wealth, growing at a rate of 1.83% year-on-year between now and 20307.

Live rights value will therefore continue to grow in value – to hit $49.1bn in 2024, a growth rate of 18.7% over the five-year period. That said, we believe the biggest growth opportunity is away from live.

The Rising Stars

Our data insight found that of total sports video content consumption, the average sports fan8 will watch 55.4% live in 2019. This is the majority, but it was a larger proportion in 2014 (58.6%) and by 2024, it will fall to 53.2%.

This isn’t because the average person is watching less live sport, it’s because they are watching sport in different ways, in formats and on the platforms that they want. Rights-holders who are able to package content that reflects this will drive commercial revenue they are otherwise not realising. And in doing so they will complement live event coverage, not cannibalise it.

For instance, fans now want to be able to view the major moment of a game while it’s still happening – even if they aren’t in front of a big screen. If they read that the best ever catch in cricket history has been taken or someone has scored from the halfway line, they want to be able to see it immediately, and then share it with their peers.

These viral clips are of interest to broadcasters looking to drive people to live coverage, or online media platforms looking to drive users and dwell time. They also drive significant views, and therefore are of interest to advertisers.

In its domestic UK market, the Premier League currently packages these rights – in-game goals and major incidents9 – to subscription broadcaster Sky Sports, which will show 128 Premier League games live over the course of this season. Sky uses the clips rights as a marketing tool for its live coverage and to drive traffic to its owned platforms.

These in-play clips will grow in value by 76.2% over the next five years and will be worth $1.6bn globally by 2024.

Highlights will be another key growth area. Fans want to watch the action they have missed, they heard about in the media or through friends, as soon as a game finishes in a short-form highlights. And more avid fans want to watch longer highlights packages, perhaps not immediately, but still on a platform that suits them.

Going back to Sky Sports in the UK, this season for the first time the broadcaster has begun hosting three-minute highlights of each game on its YouTube channel, for free, shortly after the end of a match. Highlights from matchday three (August 23rd-25th) hit a cumulative 3.6m views in just over 24 hours.

Similarly the ICC ’s short-form highlights packages from CWC19 games, published on both owned ICC channels and the channels of selected media partners, were a key part of the digital media arsenal that drew 4.6bn views.

Carving out media assets like these, which have historically been bundled with live long-form rights, is the challenge many rights-owners find themselves grappling with. Crucially, the Premier League and ICC package these highlights in a way that realises their genuine value.

Like clips, short-form highlights packages will interest any media platform looking to drive users and dwell time, and their high viewing figures will also support an advertising model. We predict these rights will grow at a rate of 101% to hit $3.2bn in 2024.

The ‘traditional’ way a football fan in the UK has watched Premier League highlights is through Match of The Day, the BBC show with a running time of at least 60 minutes, broadcast around 10.30pm on a Saturday night. In 2018/19, Match of The Day drew its biggest programme audience since 201610 – predominantly through an audience of avid football fans. The Match of The Day format is 55 years old, but critically is now available on-demand on the BBC’s iPlayer service – accessible to fans on more platforms and a time that suits them.

Long-form highlights are playing a critical role in servicing the evolved, diversified sporting palette of fans – blending the richness and depth of storytelling found in long-form event coverage with the efficiency of highlights

These long-form highlights packages are playing a critical role in servicing the evolved, diversified sporting palette of fans – blending the richness and depth of storytelling found in long-form event coverage with the efficiency of highlights. Whatever the means of distribution, the rights-holders capitalising best in this space are those that have best recognised and acted upon the value inherent in these formats.

Longer-form highlights like these will grow in value by 46.9% over the next five years according to our projections, predominantly through platforms commercialising them as part of a subscription package.

The Right Media Strategy

The industry is being rewired, and different economic models are emerging: exclusive and non-exclusive; rights-fee and revenue-share; owned and third-party; revenue now and revenue in the future. The billion-dollar question for sports rights-holders is this: what are the right non-live content packages that need to be created, and what are the distribution channels that will drive the biggest long-term commercial growth?

Data holds the key to the answer. By understanding the audiences a rights-holder is reaching or wants to reach, and how and where they want to consume their content, rights-holders will have the foundations for a packaging and distribution strategy. And we’ve already seen progressive rights-holders like the ICC, Premier League, R&A (see case study) and ECB doing this to great effect, experimenting as the buyers of sports media rights find their own way through media fragmentation.

But by being flexible and letting data guide them will lead rights-holders towards the optimum packaging and distribution strategy.

5 United Nations
7 US Department of Agriculture
8 Sports fans in The World Bank’s 80 ‘high-income’ territories, per The World Bank definition
9 Outside English football’s Saturday afternoon blackout window (2.45pm to 5.15pm)

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