The Sports Broadcasting Game is Changing

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Regular readers/social media followers will know about my love of sport. Personally, I follow loads of them, from Premier League football to Major League Baseball. Professionally, I am fascinated by the way sport is broadcast and the rights divided. As I’ve discussed many times, live sport is just about the only thing keeping old-fashioned linear TV and cable bundles alive. For now.

Even the biggest broadcasters seem to be preparing to move on. Last week, as the sports world was turning its attention to Las Vegas and Super Bowl LVIII, there was a stunning announcement. ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery are coming to come together to launch a combined streaming service. Per the Wall Street Journal, who originally broke the story:

Each of the companies will have one-third ownership of the new service, which is expected to launch in the fall. The companies didn’t announce pricing.

The slate of sporting events the three companies can provide is staggering, posing the existential question – if this service exists, what is the point of the cable bundle?! Those who want to watch shows not sport can stream them already, those who were keeping cable for the sport are going to have an even greater incentive to scrap that bundle.

Clearly, sport viewership is moving to streamers already. NBC announced that the recent Arsenal vs Liverpool game was the most streamed Premier League match ever in the US, with an average viewership of 1.15 million. The same service had 23 million watching the AFC Wild Card match just days earlier.

It is worth putting these numbers in context. Around 123.4 million people watched the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in overtime across various linear TV and streaming services. Not much matches the Super Bowl though, so the numbers for those other events are impressive. The Arsenal 3-1 win was the first time a Premier League stream cleared an average million viewers on Peacock. It all shows the importance of sport (and Taylor Swift) to broadcasters. Keep looking out for the NBA rights deal later this year!

In the UK, things are arguably more simple. Almost all major sporting events are already on two main subscription streaming services – Discovery+ for TNT and Now TV for everything on Sky. Anything else is picked up by free-to-air broadcasters like BBC, ITV and Channel 4. Those all have existing streaming services and tend to broadcast big tournaments as opposed to the weekly live-action. For instance, the Women’s World Cup was streamed 25.7 million times across BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website. Consolidation between the paid services is unlikely, but when you’re essentially jumping between two it is not such a problem.

Whichever way you look at it, the game is changing, it just remains to be seen how fast.

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