2016 Will Be the Year Live Sports Go OTT

-NFL Planning More Streaming Games
-MLB, NBA and Other Leagues to Follow Suit
By Kendra Chamberlain

The NFL made history this year when it broadcast, for the first time, an entire American football match over the Internet to a global audience.

That game, which reached 15 million viewers and generated over 33 million views online around the world, effectively broke the dam on live streaming sports.

As Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said recently, things are changing a lot faster than anyone expected, and the same is true for sports. 2016 will see the sports industry rocketing towards Internet TV.

 

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The thrill of sporting success: millions of TV viewers want to be a part of it

 

NFL’s Roger Goodell earlier this year announced his plans to make NFL games more accessible to viewers and fans online. “We are aggressively pursuing the streaming of a regular season game with our first over-the-top telecast,” Goodell said in his “State of the League” address in January.

In October, it executed its first live streaming experiment with Yahoo. The event was deemed by both parties as a smashing success. It proved to the world the Internet has become a viable distribution path for high-quality, premium content.

“We’re a lot closer to the Internet being a real, legitimate distribution platform for NFL games than we were one or two years ago,” NFL EVP of media Brian Rolapp told MMQB after the game.

Now, the sports genie is out of the bottle, so to speak. This week, Goodell and San Francisco 49ers CEO Joe York met with executives in Silicon Valley to explore more opportunities for Web delivered sports. York is a member of the NFL’s digital media committee.

“Roger [Goodell] and I met with multiple executives. We’re certainly looking at the success we had with the OTT [live streaming] game with Yahoo and how we can expand on that for a larger package for the 2016 season,” York told CSNBayArea.com last week.

The verdict is in: the Internet is the next distribution platform we’ll see live sports delivered on. OTT distribution will enable sports leagues to meaningfully improve their reach, not just to larger audiences in the US, but to global audiences as well.

Ratings for sports matches across leagues and TV networks in the US have been strong, and big tentpole games such as the Super Bowl attract huge audiences on linear TV. Any expansion online won’t come at the cost of jeopardizing that linear TV business, which is still incredibly lucrative for the leagues and the TV networks that bid on those rights. Live streaming sports will only serve to expand audiences and generate new revenue streams. Sports leagues can build global demand for content by expanding online, which is just what the NFL is hoping to do with its Yahoo experiment.

 

Leagues Want to Meet Fans Online

There is a growing appetite for sports content off the TV set, and particularly on mobile devices. A recent Consumer Technology Association (formerly CEA) study found a third of sports fans want access to sports programming on their smartphones and tablets, though all viewers tend to gravitate towards the best screen possible to watch video, where ever they may be. Live streaming becomes particularly important during long tentpole events and global tournaments that are held over a number of days, such as the Olympics or the World Cup. Internet distribution of sports can also help reach niche audiences more efficiently for smaller games or less popular sports.

“We are incredibly excited by the fact that we took a game that would have been viewed by a relatively limited television audience in the United States and by distributing it digitally were able to attract a global audience of over 15 million viewers,” Hans Schroeder, senior VP of media strategy for the NFL, said after the game.

NFL’s commitment to stream games online is directly tied to how viewers are consuming video entertainment – aka off the TV set and outside traditional linear TV offerings. This reality was tacitly acknowledged in Goodell’s January speech. “How our fans, especially younger ones, connect with the game is changing every day,” he said, and offering live games online would enable the NFL to “reach a worldwide audience, including millions of homes that do not have traditional television service.”

The NFL isn’t the only big sports league that’s ready to meet viewers online. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has also expanded live offerings of its basketball games. Last year, it partnered with Fox to offer live streams of in-market games across Fox’s regional sports networks (RSNs). Those games were made available on Fox Sports Go app and Websites. The NBA made a similar deal with NBC for the 2014-2015 basketball season, covering six of its RSNs and 440 games that were made available to stream in-market on NBC Sports TV Everywhere apps and Websites.

Viewers were eager to watch these games on connected devices. According to Adobe Analytics, live streams jumped 122% during the NBA season on…

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