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Live Streaming: 2016’s MVP

What does a mature athlete media economy look like?
Live Streaming: 2016’s MVP
Source: The Basketball Tournament

This year saw the rise and rise of social video, and the impact of live streaming to social platforms on the sports market in the coming years could be seismic. Twitter was active — loudly trumpeting its deal with the NFL — while YouTube continues to focus on a few high profile events, but the real action was over in the World of Zuck.

Facebook launched an API in April to allow professional production and distribution of high-quality live video and audio through its verified pages and sports entities at all ends of the spectrum have suited up and gotten themselves in the game. Nothing else generates the passion that sport does, and now athletes, teams, leagues and publishers can activate the large fan bases they’ve built up on Facebook with rich content, notify them when they’re going live, monetize that content through sponsorship and re-target viewers directly with further promotions and tune in reminders into their news feeds.

Telescope’s Live Studio platform is supporting between 250–300 hours of live video content on Facebook per month and in sports, we’ve seen a number of distinct trends:

1. Shoulder programming around major sports and events — like NFL and NBA broadcasts, and The Olympics — such as locker room interviews with players, and post-match press conferences. It’s access that super fans would not usually get.

2. Game broadcasts for sports below the tier 1 leagues where there’s a smaller, passionate fan base but the availability of live games is a lot less because many of those sports or leagues do not have a broadcast deal with a network. Fans in this category are often thirsty for content from their favorite sports and teams, and FB Live is providing a very effective way for those fans to get to that content.

3. Content is now coming from a variety of sources — whereas it used to be ESPN curating sports content for the viewers, now it’s increasingly coming from leagues, teams and especially the athletes themselves. Early research from live streaming shows that — not surprisingly — fans are more likely to tune in when the notification comes from one of their favorite players as opposed to a publisher. This is putting even more power into the hands of athletes — who are now effectively publishers who can build and manage their own media brand.

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So who are the winners and losers from this? The clear winners are the fans — who can now get access to an incredibly wide range of rich content from their favorite sports, teams and athletes.

We are also seeing an increase in activity from the teams, who now have the ability to mobilize and monetize their audience directly. As an example, Real Madrid recently announced that they plan to end their in-house Real Madrid TV channel and focus all their efforts on Facebook Live. This moves makes absolute sense — Real Madrid is a global brand with 93m fans on Facebook alone, they no longer have to negotiate and pay for individual carriage deals with cable and satellite providers, that only reach a fraction of the global audience they have. This type of marketing channel directly supports their commercial activities, and I expect we’ll see more brands in general creating rich video content directly via their social media pages.

This obviously isn’t great news for the cable and satellite providers and sports networks who have traditionally used sports as the key plank in their content strategies to drive subscriptions and advertising revenues. It also complicates the rights jigsaw as everyone in the ecosystem tries to figure out what content can be captured and distributed by whom. Most importantly, it’s unclear how this content will be monetized in the future — the fans aren’t currently paying for it and the advertising/sponsorship model is unclear and at best nascent. If this undermines the value of those rights for the TV companies and the players and teams take a haircut on their revenues and paychecks, how will this affect their approach to creating content directly for their social media channels?

Facebook is already a major player in the video space — potentially the dominant one in five years time. They have the data and scale to create revenue streams across all their different assets to drive KPIs for all parties in the sports ecosystem. They have already opened up some forms of monetization and are testing others. This will likely define how major rights holders approach new platforms like this in the near future (of course, Facebook, YouTube and their ilk also have enough money to just buy the rights!). But for, if you’re a sports fan, it’s a golden age. Go ahead, make it your New Year’s resolution to indulge.

Jason George is the CEO of Telescope. Their Live Studio platform powers social video: http://telescope.tv/livestudio. You can follow him here and there.

To explore more about social live streaming across the sports ecosystem, join us for the Content & Distribution track at Hashtag Sports.

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