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Are tech companies fast becoming the front runners in live sports broadcasts?

Recently, news broke that Facebook is making a big push into sports, signing off a £200 million broadcast rights deal with the Premier League which gives it exclusive rights to live broadcast the league games from 2019 to 2022 in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

The social media giant beat out competition from television networks BeIn Sports and Fox Sports Asia in this bid. However, this is not Facebook’s first leap into sports as it has previously live-streamed matches from Major League Soccer and La Liga. Moreover, Amazon Prime too secured a deal with the Premier League as well, sealing an exclusive coverage of 20 matches a season in the three-year deal.

CEO of Ampersand Advisory, Sandeep Joseph said that consumers worldwide are spending over four hours per day on their phones. In Malaysia, multiple research suggest the time spent is even higher. This comes at a time where the Millennial audience is spending less time watching TV, compared to older audiences.

“As media consumption habits change, it makes sense for brands and advertisers to follow consumers and new platforms in their quest for eyeballs,” he said. He added that numerous research has shown that live sport has always been a key driver for content platforms and in the US, live sport viewership is up by 41% versus a decade ago (according to Nielsen’s Year In Sports Media Report 2015).

“It is the most important content for platforms to have. Hence, it comes as no surprise to me that live sport has platforms like Facebook bidding for it,” he added.

Moreover, tech companies are now slowly evolving to become media companies too, and they know which content will connect with their audience. Given that sports is a highly social activity as people watch football and concurrently share their views on social media, before, during and after games, tech companies such as Facebook will want to leverage this behaviour.

He added that in Malaysia, iflix, which has sponsored Malaysian Football League and is the official OTT partner, is also seeing good results in terms of increases in number of users.

Echoing his sentiments for the Singapore market, Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner at Happy Marketer, said that social media networks provide a fantastic opportunity for fans to virtually congregate and consume live sports. One can watch games on their mobile devices anytime and anywhere, while connecting with like-minded fans and have chats and banters with real time notifications.

In the last few years, he added, there has been massive interest from Facebook, Twitter, Tencent, Amazon and YouTube to bag exclusive live sports rights for their audiences. Tencent is nonetheless leading the pack by signing a five year, US$700 million deal with NBA to bring it’s league to about 800 million audiences on the Tencent network, he added. Moreover, both Facebook and Twitter had put out serious bids to snatch the rights to broadcast the multi-billion dollar valued Indian Premiere League, the flagship cricket event.

Mazumdar added that having social media players stream content allows consumers to create and share ancillary content such as memes to add more flavour to the actual event.“This will potentially have the opportunity to engage with the celebrity players, managers, and sponsoring brands as well,” he said.

He added that live sports and entertainment are the final frontier for traditional TV companies given the massive spike in viewership, engagement and leading to advertisement. It comes as no surprise that the social media giants want to aggressively get a piece of that pie as well.

“The future of live sports broadcast is on social and amongst all the platforms I would back Twitter the most given that the fast moving, interest-based content platform lends itself really well to live sports and it’s renewed focus on video streaming makes it very relevant,” Mazumdar added.

As for the traditional TV broadcasters, the road to victory is not easy.

“The only two options they have is to massively invest in their own OTT apps to try and become the ‘Netflix of sports’ – something Disney and FOX are likely to attempt in the coming years, but it will be pretty tough to compete against the big tech giants given their headstart,” Mazumdar said.

Alternatively, he added that it may make sense to sign strategic partnerships with some of these tech giants to offer bundled TV and digital offerings to customers so that they get best of both worlds but the commercials need to make sense in that case.

Ampersand’s Joseph added that if traditional networks now want to make headway in this space, they really need to improve their online offerings, and make that the main focus going forward.

“Tech firms have become media companies a long time ago: media companies have been slower to become tech companies,” he said.

Traditional companies should also make sports content more affordable and accessible to users who are spoilt for choice. “Perhaps TV sports packages have to become “loss leaders” to retain potential cord-cutters,” he said. And last but not least, the broadcasters need to find ways to collaborate with tech platforms instead of trying to compete.

“The collaboration between Media Prima, Unifi and iflix to share MFL matches in Malaysia is a good example and pretty unique. All players must accommodate each other to some extent, to grow the sport audience and for each to have a share of the pie. The old winner takes all mentality won’t work anymore,” he said.

According to Gabriele Sani, head of marketing Carbon Worldwide, media consumption is inevitably moving towards digital platforms and sports are still a mostly untapped market for digital. Sani added that there has however been some hesitation as digital media companies wondered whether sports are a suitable form of content for the new models of consumption. Netflix, for one, has been on the fence, fearing that sport events will mostly be consumed live and therefore lose value as content with time. However, Sani added that the value of this market is too big to be ignored.

As for networks, he explained that they should have bet big on the shift to digital and online when the revolution was starting, the market was taking shape and prime movers were looking for investments.

“Right now the market is mature and dominated by a few huge companies, a situation where entering as a new player is very hard. The only slice of the cake left for them lies probably in the expertise and equipment required to produce TV-quality content which many tech giants lack,” he added.

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