Sports Fans Last To Cut Cord But Flock To Smart Phones

Sports viewers are less likely to cut the cord than average yet consume more content on smart phones as well as on social media.

This apparently contradictory finding comes from an early 2019 survey of 9690 consumers from the US, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Australia, conducted by Grabyo, a London-based provider of social video tools to sports leagues.

However, the contradiction can be resolved by noting that sports fans are drawn to platforms and devices where the content is viewable in the best quality possible wherever they are. If they are on the move they want to watch on smart phones as the most convenient device available, given that the primary alternatives of laptops and tablets may not be so handily opened and in any case usually rely on a Wi-Fi connection which is not always available.

On the other hand at home, sports fans favor the large screen to a slightly greater extent than the average viewer, especially for marquee events like Super Bowl in the US or the soccer World Cup Final. The main reason for the greater reluctance to cut the cord then is that a large number of premium rights are still held by legacy pay TV operators.

This is reflected in numbers of customers for satellite pay TV, which is the strongest sector in sports rights in the countries covered by that report, being subscribed to by 54% of people questioned. This compares with 46% for online services that include those without any live sports content such as Netflix. Then 19% subscribed to YouTube or similar services that do provide some live sports and 20% to none at all, just accessing free content or viewing premium events in public locations such as sports bars. This adds up to more than 100% because some consumers subscribe to services under two or more of these categories.

A key point though is that whether they subscribe to legacy pay TV or not, sports fans are gravitating towards online viewing and to social media. Almost 20% of sports fans use social media apps to watch video every time they log in as social platforms shift to content channels. Such content may complement the actual events, as for example athlete-to-consumer videos across Snap, Instagram and TikTok are becoming imbued in the overall sports video landscape. Such content is being encouraged by the shift in social video viewing towards live sports, with longer form social videos, such as highlight packages, available on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Demand for real-time clips is growing fast, with Twitter emerging as a key destination for real-time video.

Broadcasters and publishers that stream matches live to YouTube and Facebook have enjoyed greater traction as a result, as BT Sport did in the UK when allowing the 2018/19 Champions League Final for which it held the rights to be shown on YouTube. This helped the broadcaster reach over 11 million people, with 4.8 million tuning in through digital platforms.

For traditional broadcasters and pay TV operators there are opportunities in providing original content around events. This should include not just recorded or archive material but also original live content, which one third of fans reported they would be interested in watching. The main point is that linear TV broadcasters must aim to compete with OTT and streaming by offering their content online via mobile apps and catch-up services, while also being innovative in development of new material including live.

Furthermore, since many pay TV subscribers watch most often now on smartphones, tablets and laptops or desktops, they are more likely to churn from costly traditional subscription packages. Operators therefore need to offer stripped down OTT-only offerings that include premium sports content, as Sky has done in Europe with Now TV.

The Grabyo survey makes one assertion over age demographics that barely stands up to scrutiny, citing a recent study by Nielsen in the US showing that none of the major sports in the US had an average viewer age under 40. However this figure is put into context by the fact that old viewers watch some traditional sports in large numbers, as Nielsen itself indicated by pointing out that in the case of PGA Golf, the average viewing age is 68.

But this is not the case in the US for say soccer and when we look at Grabyo’s own findings they do not quite confirm this idea of ageing sports viewers. Grabyo’s breakdown of adult sports viewers aged 18 or over is that 15% of those are 18 to 25, 19% 26 to 35, 28% 36 to 49, 22% 50 to 64 and 16% over 65. We can compare that with the overall average age demographic breakdown across the US and Europe, which runs at about 15% 18 to 25, 18% 26 to 35, 24% 36 to 49, 25% 50 to 64 and 18% over 65.

So the proportions of younger consumers watching sports are almost identical to their share of the population at large, while the main differences are that sports viewers are concentrated slightly more in the 36 to 49 age group and correspondingly less among all those 50 and over, contradicting the prevailing wisdom somewhat. Indeed, if we include esports as a sport as some analysts do, then young viewers are consuming far more than their share.

What is undeniably true is that sports viewing is skewed heavily towards males, accounting for 76% in the Grabyo survey. 

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