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  1. The march of the tech titans on live sport

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    Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter and others are leveraging the power of live sports to help them grow.

    People are watching sport online

    The FIFA World Cup earlier this summer and other major sporting events have confirmed what everyone has long suspected: that an increasing number of fans are streaming matches online instead of watching them the more traditional way, on television. This is very good news for tech companies such as Amazon, Twitter, Google and Facebook who are looking to leverage the passion of live sport viewers and its appointment-to-view nature as a way of reaching new users and increasing ROI on existing ones.

    Facebook has been looking for ways to super charge its growth

    Facebook in particular has upped its live sports game, aggressively pursuing the rights to air football and other sports across the world. At the end of June, the social network announced disappointing results for the second quarter: this was in part down to issues surrounding GDPR in Europe and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but also, ironically, due to Facebook’s huge success – it has reached near-saturation point in mature markets in North America and Europe. Its future growth strategy therefore relies on two things: increasing revenue on each existing user in these mature markets, and attracting more users in countries where Facebook is less ubiquitous, particularly Asia and Latin America.

    The answer: live football

    The latter part of the strategy is already well underway, with live sports playing a key role – this was evident when they hired Eurosports CEO Peter Hutton to lead the push. Last week, it was announced that La Liga had signed an exclusive three-year deal with Facebook to live stream all its 380 matches for free to Facebook users in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives. The platform has 348 million users across these markets, with 270 million of those in India. India is a key growth market for Facebook: it already has the largest Facebook user base in the world (270 million versus the US’s 210 million) but, with a population of around 1.3 billion and a projected 500 million internet users by the end of this year, there is huge room for growth for Facebook. Increasing smartphone penetration, relatively affordable mobile data and a passionate football fanbase means that the La Liga deal is a smart move from the platform. This move is in addition to Facebook’s plans to roll out its video platform, Watch, into India – it’s currently only available in the US.

    La Liga isn’t Facebook’s only move into live football streaming: just a few days after the La Liga announcement, UEFA confirmed that Facebook had bought the media rights for certain Champions League live matches in Spanish-speaking Latin America for the

    2018-2021 cycle. The matches they have the rights to include the final and Super Cup games, and the number of top international players involved in the tournament means that it is a huge deal across the continent.

    Other tech companies are also snapping up live sports rights

    Facebook’s activities in the live sports space are matched by its competitors’: Amazon in particular has been signing deals to attract more customers to its Prime platform, including a five-year deal for the exclusive broadcast rights of the US Open tennis tournament in the UK, the rights to screen 20 Premier League football games each season, also in the UK, from 2019 to 2022 and streaming rights for Thursday night NFL games in the US. Meanwhile, Twitter works closely with the NBA, partnering with them to help people keep up with the latest news and developments and watch the games, no matter where they are. YouTube has the rights to Major League Soccer games, including the Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles FC, for which it has both streaming and broadcast rights.

    The future of live sport and entertainment looks dramatically different

    There are concerns amongst consumers, particularly in India, that slow broadband speeds will affect their enjoyment of games, and that it will take something away from the camaraderie of watching games as a group on television. This is perhaps mitigated somewhat by the fact that the games will be free to view. From an industry perspective the arrival of tech platforms on the live sports scene is a seismic shift. For advertisers, concern about TV live sports strategies being adversely affected will surely be offset by the huge opportunities presented by delivering targeted ads to passionate sports fans in real-time. For the major players in broadcasting space, it is the fear of the existential threat that this precise situation causes that has led them to rethink and overhaul how they operate; this has led to some of the huge mergers we have seen recently, including the AT&T takeover of Time Warner and Disney’s deal to purchase 21st century Fox’s film and television assets, which was recently approved by shareholders.

    There can be no denying that the media and technology industries are converging at breath-taking speed, and that the landscape will look very different, very soon. Agility and a willingness to innovate and take calculated risks will be the ways to succeed as this transformation takes place.

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