This year’s Super Bowl made headlines, not just for the Broncos’ stunning upset over the Panthers, or the superstar-powered halftime show, but for the 3.96 MM people who streamed the Big Game live. Live streaming provides another point of access for cord-cutters and cable subscribers alike; however, the true revolution lies with the potential for fans to self-curate the game. Fans will be the obvious winners in a realm of D-I-Y sports programming, while broadcasters also have a lot to gain when advertisers seek out these highly targeted and engaged audiences.
Taking a step back for a moment, streaming sports has been gradually making its way into our viewing world for a while; Sling’s skinny bundle of channels included ESPN streaming last year, and Super Bowl 50 was actually the fifth time that fans could stream it. On the baseball side, MLB’s streaming app has been widely popular on millions of iPhones/iPads/iTouch and Android phones, and is taking things up a notch with At Bat for Apple TV this spring (which will include an extremely handy split-screen in HD option, among other features). As fans embrace this digital content pipeline, local blackouts will likely continue to frustrate them, and since the streamed content is the same as linear broadcasts, it begs the question: what’s the real benefit of streaming live sports?
What if streaming fans could customize their live feeds? Sports telecasts are already multi-camera affairs and future-proofing by shooting with 5K lenses; fans could choose from hyper-zooming shots, 360-degree camera angles, their favorite sportscaster commentary, etc. at will. Imagine watching the entire game mid-field with the coaches, from in-stadium bleachers, or on the sidelines with the cheerleaders (no judgements…); watching the standard linear feed would always be an option, too. Toggling between different vantage points is a natural fit since the devices that support streaming video – laptops, tablets, smart TVs and smartphones – are ones that people use for multi-tasking already. Other dynamic options such as real-time chat windows would be like a Game Day house party with friends, and perhaps celebrity commentators, real athletes, or coaches could even join the conversation. (NBC’s Winter Youth Olympics coverage from Lillehammer will include streaming and scheduled chats, but as separate, non-integrated events.) Akin to DVD special features, interactive streaming options would elevate the viewing experience, that some diehard fans might even pay more for.
Sporting events with simultaneous contests have most to gain from live streaming camera options. The Olympics, Grand Slam tennis and other multi-venue match-ups do their best to satisfy as many viewers as possible, but it always feels light on the sports I want to see, and too much on those I don’t. (Thanks, Bob Costas – I’m good on coverage of synchronized swimming and weightlifting). NBC’s Olympics live-streamed a few events from the Sochi Winter Games, but by creating a multitude of live streaming channels for the Rio Summer Olympics – perhaps one for every sport – they could inspire a wider variety of fan demographics to give streaming a try.
The opportunity to leverage sports streams can be huge for advertisers. After different sports are up and streaming, brand marketers seeking out specific target audiences can reach them in their native environment. Omega timepieces on the Track & Field channel. Forever 21 on the Gymnastics channel. Coppertone on the Beach Volleyball channel. In addition, brands receive a halo effect from the championship environment, and all the intensity of hard-fought victory that comes with it. Ads on live sports streams are a long-term play as well; interactive viewing leaves digital footprints, informing future targeted ad buys and customized creative campaigns that can change on the fly.
The ultimate payoff for streaming sports will be organic creation of an e-commerce platform. Brands that run ads on live streaming need only enable “click to buy” buttons to close the sale. Want to buy a Broncos jersey and show off your Super Bowl pride? Is there a sale on Djokovic shirts at Uniqlo? Does seeing the Olympics in Rio make you want to visit? Streaming live sports will embody the entire purchase funnel from awareness-to-sale on one screen, without missing a beat.
There’s nothing like a live game to get sports fans’ adrenaline going. But if streaming live sports lives up to its full potential, that’s something everyone can get excited about.