Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media

Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media
Even before the pandemic, in 2019, 22 percent of consumers were seeking sports content on social media — up 47 percent from just 2016. (Supplied: Work In Sports Blog)
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Updated 26 October 2020

Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media

Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media
  • Sport — along with related topics like fitness and health — is one of the top three categories on TikTok right now

DUBAI: Whether you are playing or watching, sports are best enjoyed in person. But with social distancing measures in place since earlier this year, like many other activities, sports have gone virtual.

In May, when ESPN aired the final two episodes of its Michael Jordan docuseries “The Last Dance,” 20 of the 30 trending topics on Twitter were related to it. That night saw more than 1.5 million tweets about the final episode, bringing the total volume of tweets about the series above 11 million. Even before the pandemic, in 2019, 22 percent of consumers were seeking sports content on social media — up 47 percent from just 2016.

In fact, sport — along with related topics like fitness and health — is one of the top three categories on TikTok right now. “In the last couple of months, we have built a concentrated community that started allowing us to engage with different pillars of fitness and health,” said Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok. These pillars include everything from fitness motivation and health, lifestyle and workout tips to stunts and street performances, such as parkour and freestyle football.

A 2020 study in Saudi Arabia found that 73 percent of people on Twitter are football fans, with 85 percent of them using Twitter to follow along while watching a game on TV. The respondents also said that they use Twitter to follow the official accounts of players (27 percent), to check out the latest video clips (38 percent) and to view pre-match news and post-match analysis (28 percent). The football fandom on the platform is evidenced by the 91 million tweets related to the 2019-20 Saudi Professional League (SPL) season just this month.

According to recent research by Twitter, football is the most popular sport on the platform in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the SPL season was marked by a three-day Twitter campaign that was launched on Oct. 19 under the hashtag روح_الدوري# (“The League’s Spirit”). The first day of the campaign saw Twitter’s account in the Middle East invite comedians to share their takes on the best SPL commentary moments. These were shared through voice tweets, which add a more human dimension to conversations and which allowed the comedians to incorporate their own personal style in the commentary. Although the feature is currently being tested on iOS devices, everyone on Twitter is able to hear voice tweets and reply to them.

FASTFACTS

Sport and Social Media

- 73% of Twitter users are football fans.

- Sports is one of the top three content categories on TikTok.

- 520% more Instagram Live videos were produced from March-July 2020, compared to 2019.

The focus for the second day of the campaign was Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology. The comedians created their own VAR moments through humorous video content shared on the platform, which illustrated real-life scenarios in which VAR could come in handy — for example, to settle a challenge between friends or to find out who really spilled the popcorn. “Fans have always turned to Twitter to be part of the action in real time. We’re seeing the passion and energy of the football stadium now surging online. Twitter is where fans, players, experts and leagues weigh in with a range of viewpoints. With humor being a key element of Twitter conversation in Saudi, the روح_الدوري# campaign brought levity to a much-anticipated event in the Kingdom,” said Kinda Ibrahim, director of media partnerships, Middle East and North Africa, Twitter.

More than 170 million people follow fitness-related accounts (e.g. weightlifting, cycling, yoga, etc.) on Facebook, and more than 120 million people follow similar accounts on Instagram. Based on an index of Facebook and Instagram’s top fitness partners, 75 percent more Facebook Live videos were produced during the months of March through July in 2020 as compared to 2019, while 520 percent more Instagram Live videos were produced during the same months as compared to 2019. These numbers have resulted in the company capitalizing on the rise of sports and fitness content by building a team to focus on fitness, introducing products to help fitness businesses build an audience and generate revenue, and planning a Fitness Summit, where Facebook will share the latest product tips and best practices with fitness organizations. 

Even for fans that consume sports content on more traditional media like TV, social media platforms are almost always a part of the experience as a second screen. For instance, Snapchatters in the US send Snaps and Chats to their inner circle (29 percent), watch friends’ Stories (28 percent), post their own Stories (20 percent) and check out Discover highlights and shows (26 percent) while watching sports. Moreover, approximately 30 percent want sports leagues to use Snap to go behind the scenes, share news and player interviews, and tap into augmented reality (AR) that recreates the sporting venues they cannot visit.

The Middle East and North Africa region is among the most socially active and engaged regions, as well as one that loves consuming sports content. Social media plays a huge role, whether it is for clubs like Al-Ahli, celebrities like Mo Salah or independent social media fitness star Walid Yari. And with 26 to 33 percent of people in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, South Africa and Egypt saying that they use social media to follow sports news and events, it is time for brands to start paying attention. The sports industry is already realizing the power of social media, but advancements in technologies such as AR, accelerated by post-pandemic digitization, present new opportunities for growth.


New report shows extent of Turkey’s oppression of free press

Updated 05 December 2020

New report shows extent of Turkey’s oppression of free press

Demonstrators hold posters reading ‘Journalism is the insurance of democracy,’ in front of a courthouse in Istanbul, before a trial of jailed journalists. (AFP)
  • One concern about the new law is that it could push companies to comply with the government’s censorship trend by removing content upon request and handing over user data to the highly politicized authorities and courts of the country

ANKARA: An exhaustive new report published by the joint international press freedom mission to Turkey that took place in October reveals the extent of the country’s crackdown on media freedom in the country and calls for coordinated action from the international community to address the challenge.

The report, entitled “Turkey’s Journalists on the Ropes,” was funded by the EU and supported by 11 international organizations that focus on freedom of speech and human rights.

The mission took place against the backdrop of ongoing targeting of dissident media by the Turkish authorities, increased assaults on journalists critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime, and a newly introduced restrictive social-media law that is likely to further hamper the last remaining bastion in of independent reporting in the country.

The mission’s previous visit to Turkey, in September 2019, focused on the changes in trial proceedings, pre-trial detentions, the abuse of anti-terror laws to imprison dissident journalists, and potential changes that could be brought about by the Judicial Reform Strategy.

At the start of October 2020, 77 journalists were still in prison, one of the highest numbers in any country in the world. This year’s report drew attention to the controversial amnesty law announced earlier this year to ease overcrowding in Turkish prisons, which excluded journalists from its scope.

“Turkey’s press freedom crisis is worsening amid growing state capture of media, the lack of independence of regulatory institutions, and a new social media law designed to clamp down on the remaining spaces for free comment,” the report stated, adding that the lack of judicial independence in Turkey encourages the government’s crackdown on the press.

The report also criticized the new social media law, predicting that it would increase online censorship and cripple critical journalism in a space that had previously been open to the kind of independent reporting stymied by the government’s takeover of mainstream media.

HIGHLIGHT

The report, titled “Turkey’s Journalists on the Ropes,” was funded by the EU and supported by 11 international organizations that focus on freedom of speech and human rights.

One concern about the new law is that it could push companies to comply with the government’s censorship trend by removing content upon request and handing over user data to the highly politicized authorities and courts of the country — opening the way for further arrests of journalists who express dissident views online.

Last year, a total of 61,049 website domains were blocked in Turkey.

The politically motivated targeting of critical broadcasters in Turkey remains a significant problem, with regulatory bodies stepping up fines and broadcast bans on dissident TV channels and threatening to revoke their licenses if they receive a second ban, while pushing for advertising bans on critical newspapers.

“Growing authoritarianism, with the Turkish authorities trying to establish full control over the flow of information, is our main concern. They do this by different means — from jailing journalists to changing legislation to make it more difficult for journalists and media outlets to operate freely in Turkey,” Gulnoza Said, press freedom advocate and head of the Europe and Central Asia Program at the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Arab News.

Between March and August alone, there were 13 incidents of arrest or investigation of dissident journalists reporting on COVID-19 cases. Since the beginning of this year, at least 22 journalists have been arrested.

Their trials are not being held publicly, nor are lawyers permitted to attend the hearings. The authorities claim this is because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but observers have called for the government to uphold the principle of fair trials.

In November, at least 30 press-related trials were held in eight Turkish provinces, with some 40 journalists being prosecuted. Nine of those journalists were accused of insulting state officials.

“The international community must step up its bilateral and multilateral efforts to bring Turkey back into the club of countries that respects the rule of law. Human rights issues, including press freedom, must not be held hostage to geopolitical developments,” the report said.

According to Said, international leverage should still be used, but there are fewer levers now than there were years ago when Turkey aspired to become a member of the EU.

“Today, there is disenchantment with the West — both the EU and the US — in Turkey. That was coupled with the US distancing itself from playing (a central) role in defending democracy and human rights, including press freedom around the world, over the last four years. I hope the new US administration will be more vocal defending free press and independent journalists in Turkey and elsewhere,” she said.

The mission’s report welcomed some positive rulings by the Turkish Constitutional Court concerning the protection of freedom of expression online and offline. “However, lower courts increasingly ignore these rulings; for example, they have refused to lift website blockings in some cases,” the report noted.