The importance of sport to broadcasters is evident in the most recent Premier League rights deal worth north of £5bn and the fact that it is still dwarfed by the amounts US networks are prepared to pay for the NFL. Its importance to publishers is evident in News UK’s willingness to use its goals, tries and wickets service as a loss leader in the hope of driving paying readers behind the paywalls of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. And its importance to viewers is evident in the amounts advertisers spend at half time, between the overs and sets.
The appeal of sport is nothing new, of course. What is new is how sport has emerged as the only TV event that really must be viewed in real-time. Live is what makes it a premium product. This is no longer true of other forms of televisual entertainment, from drama to talent shows to reality TV. Here viewers are watching increasingly at a time of their choosing. For sports fans, on the other hand, time-shifted highlights remain a poor substitute for the live, shared experience.
This is not to suggest that sports broadcasting has escaped the disruptive effects of digital. Rather, disruption manifests itself in different ways. Consider the threatened disintermediation of the value chain, as everyone becomes a broadcaster – #Periscope allows any spectator with a smartphone in their pocket to be a cameraman in waiting, ready to film anything from a six second Vine to live streamed action.
Rights holders are fighting back, an understandable response given rights exploitation is a threat to most broadcasters’ business model. This includes our public service broadcaster, where BBC Worldwide is predicated on its ability to sell assets globally. Rights management procedures, policies and technologies matter now as much as before. However, results from chasing abusers inevitably will be mixed and an acknowledgement of the changing landscape is required.
If the democratisation of the means of broadcast production and distribution is a characteristic of this newer landscape, it’s not the only one. Others include the emergence of data as a content tool, the globalisation of consumption, and a move from passive viewer to interactive participant.
By bringing these strands together, sports broadcasting can be rethought. Here are a couple of ways it might play out.
First, imagine the approach of a new Formula 1 season and the chance to go up against Lewis Hamilton from your front room. Or how about taking on Rory McIlroy at the Masters, assuming you’re prepared to start your round as early as the professionals do. This is the gamification of sports broadcasting. It’s about extending the community and turning a unidirectional experience into a bi-directional one. It’s about using data beyond the realms of today’s hugely popular, but limited, fantasy sports franchises. And it’s about interactivity that goes beyond the second screen as we might conceive it today.
Here’s a second idea, this time using global geography as the entry point. Imagine a Google Earth-style interface that allows the viewer to explore a world of sport – India for Twenty20 cricket, South Africa for club rugby, perhaps even Cuba for baseball. Wherever there is a sports event on a given day, the viewer can be there, zooming down to street level, joining Klaus on the terraces of Munich’s Allianz Arena – moving images supplied by Klaus’s helmet cam, commentary provided by Klaus himself.
Immersive, interactive, boundaryless and data-driven – welcome to the future of sports broadcasting.
Image credit Richard Matthews on Flickr.
He is a former Management Consultant, having spent five years at A. T. Kearney, advising and leading on IT Outsourcing and operational efficiency solutions across a broad range of sectors.
He is a graduate of Manchester University, Electronics and Electrical Engineering, FIET, holds a Dip. Law from City University and completed his Bar Finals in 1995. He is the former Chair of the City of London Citizen's Advice Bureau and Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.
He is married, with one son, and lives in Islington. Outside of work, his interests include music, and writing screenplays.