The Face Of Sports TV Viewing Is Changing - A Completely Different Race To Digital & Online

by Matt Roberts
2nd Oct 2018

There is no doubt that sports consumption is changing. Whilst TV remains king, there has been a significant increase in digital and social media appeal over the past few years. In a world previously dominated by TV rights deals, sports rights holders are being forced to seriously re-think their digital and social media strategy to attract the fans of the future. At Formula 1, this is paramount, as highlighted by recent website and app re-launches in addition to the launch of F1 TV Pro – the sport’s first ever OTT product.

Despite the growth of digital, live TV is still the main driver of sports consumption – accounting for 92% of all sports viewing in the UK in 2017. Whilst this has declined from 94% in 2012, sport is one of the few categories, along with news, which still has an appointment to view. Entertainment and movies, for example, see only 52% and 30% of their content watched live, driven by the growth of box sets and on demand OTT platforms such as Netflix. However, these numbers only tell part of the story.

Why are sports viewers’ faces changing?

1. The average age of sports TV viewers is increasing quicker than the age of the UK population
Since 2012, the average age of a Sky Sports TV viewer has increased from 49 to 52, whilst BT Sport has risen from 45 to 49.  Over this same period, the median age of the UK population has remained static at 40 years old. Tennis, cricket and golf have the oldest TV viewers (aged 58, 56 and 55 respectively), whilst wrestling, boxing and F1 are the youngest (34, 46 and 47 respectively). Given that the majority of premium sports events are now on pay TV in the UK, younger viewers are now viewing less of these sports, partially due to lack of access but also due to an increase in sport ‘followers’ instead of ‘viewers’ amongst the under-35s. Many of these class themselves as ‘avid sports fans’, but don’t actually watch any sport on TV – instead ‘following’ sport and watching content only on digital and social media platforms (behaviour which is not picked up by TV measurement systems).

2. Younger sport TV viewers watch significantly less often and for less time than the older generation
The average under-25 sports TV viewer tuned into sports content on TV just 44 times in 2017 – 4 times less than over-65s who tuned in 169 times. They also spent less time watching per viewing session (average duration 24 minutes versus 27 minutes for over-65s). Of course, younger people have less free time than older viewers who are more likely to be retired, but it is clear that TV plays a less significant role in their lives than it did before the explosion of the digital age.

3. Younger sports fans are far more likely to enjoy watching short-form sports content than older fans
Considerable differences exist between under-25s and over-25s when analysing the length and type of content they consume. In a recent survey conducted by F1 amongst UK sports fans, 42% of under-25s said they love sport but only have time to watch the highlights – compared to 35% for over-25s. 38% of them say they enjoy watching highlights or clips online more than live, compared to 32% of over-25s. They are also significantly more likely to watch short form clips or goals on social media and other apps.

Clearly there been a seismic shift in sports consumption behaviour over the past decade. It is by no means in decline, but the goal posts have shifted (pardon the pun). In recent years, sports rights holders like Formula One have been forced to seriously re-think their future digital strategy to ensure that they stay relevant and continue to understand and capture the attention and imagination of their ever-evolving fan base. Long gone are the days when a fan of a sport was classed simply was someone who watched that sport on TV, or who played it. Nowadays there are so many new touchpoints that many rights holders are still struggling to produce the most appropriate content for each new platform. Laziness is also a problem – there are some people within the industry who try to get by re-packaging their TV content. It was successful there, why not elsewhere? Digital and social media are the same, right? Wrong. That rarely works.

The strongest performing videos on social or digital properties are not always the ‘best goals’ or ‘best shots’, but often showcase more ‘quirky’ or ‘light-hearted’ moments around the sport. For instance, one of F1’s top performing clips this year showed a Kimi Raikonnen fan breaking down when the Finn didn’t win. Similarly, I still remember a record golf clip on from my Sky Sports days – a comedy pro-am clip featuring a member of boyband One Direction. The most successful sports digital brands are those that specifically produce content for digital or social media rather than regurgitating a previous TV clip and assuming it will work online.

I often get asked what I think is going to happen in the future. Are these younger consumers who have grown up in the digital age going to embrace TV content more as they get older? Nobody knows. However, it is clear that sports rights holders need to adapt to keep up with the changing behaviour of these younger fans that are likely to move further away from linear TV content in coming years. That said, sport remains in a fortunate place (compared to other categories) in that live content remains king and it will always attract a TV audience as long as content remains accessible across multiple platforms. If the advances of last decade are anything to go by, the next 10 years are going to be fascinating in the world of sports consumption. I can’t wait to find out what is going to happen.

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