Search form

Last updated: 5 min 46 sec ago

You are here


Social media sites are new niche players in sports broadcast

Kinda Ibrahim, director of media partnerships at Twitter in the Middle East and North Africa.
LONDON: Twitter expects further growth in sports broadcasting, following the announcement that it is to live-stream the 2017 Arab Championship, the Middle East’s inter-club soccer tournament, free to a global audience.
The news follows a trickle of deals being made by social media giants Twitter and Facebook, with Facebook Live streaming American basketball’s NBA D-League, and Twitter earlier this year paying $10 million to live-stream 10 Thursday-night American football NFL games.
Both deals were non-exclusive, with traditional TV broadcasts also available to fans; and the set-up is the same for the 2017 Arab Championships, with all games available to both Twitter users and regular TV viewers.
The conversation among industry experts is now turning to what the future holds for these deep-pocketed digital corporations that are — for now — taking an interest in less-costly sporting events.
“They are just putting their finger in the water to check the temperature. It is a model of complementing the broadcaster, and for Twitter/Facebook it’s a way to reach audiences that (are) not reached by traditional broadcasters,” said François Godard, an analyst at Enders Analysis.
He added: “Sports needs some ad-supported broadcasting. It’s not healthy for sports broadcasts to be entirely pay-TV, and it’s not bad to have free-to-air exposure. Beyond a short-term return on investment, it’s also a strategy, as more people get to see club brands, which creates an emotional relationship to the club; then these people will (subscribe) to pay-TV later on.”
Twitter itself is cagey about its plans, not revealing where it will target next, but admitted that it is interested in the sector, including in the Arab world.
Kinda Ibrahim, director of media partnerships at Twitter in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), told Arab News: “In the Middle East, due to the high level of conversations on Twitter around sports, especially football, we expect that sports broadcasting will grow as we build on the instant two-screen viewing experience.”
She added: “Live-streaming video is a key focus area for the company and we look forward to providing similar experiences as the opportunities arise.”
While specifics about Twitter’s expansion plans are limited, some in the industry believe that a sea change is coming to sports broadcasting.
James Kirkham, head of Copa90, a football fan forum, told marketing and media industry website “Sport and the way we consume it are undergoing a revolution. Traditional TV sports broadcasting has come under fire … I don’t see this as the beginning of the end of TV sports broadcasting. But it does show how TV, mobile, social, messaging and communication platforms, like Snapchat, are coming together in a hugely exciting jumble. The players in this space that focus on the appropriateness of use, act upon fans’ demands and position themselves to be perfectly in tune with consumer behavior will be the ultimate winners.”
Traditional broadcasters are also facing heat from illegal streaming of pay-TV, a problem cited by Dr. Paul Smith, a senior lecturer in media and communication at De Montfort University in the UK. In a statement, he said: “It’s hard to (find) reliable data on how much illegal viewing of sports content is occurring. We can say with some certainty that among the younger, tech-savvy sports fans, there’s a fair amount of it going on. This year, the viewing figures for live Premier League matches have dropped by more than 10 percent and similar trends have happened in the US with the NFL. It’s suspected at least part of the reason for that is a lot of viewers are now watching illegal streams.”
The action of traditional sports broadcasters in partnering with social media giants could be seen as a mistake, according to Godard, but he added: “It is a fact that pro-sports are mostly not profitable as an ad-supported product. Most of it is pay-TV, so it’s not that Facebook will suddenly find advertisers who were not advertising before.”
In the 15-20 year outlook, Godard thinks that regular TV will focus on drama shows, news and sports, and live sports will “remain important.”
And the good news for players? “In 15 years time, sports stars will make even more money!” said Godard. It remains to be seen how much of that money will be the result of Twitter and Facebook encroaching on sports broadcasting’s gold-plated turf — but a slow shift of viewing habits has now begun.