As readers of VideoNuze know, live sports is the last bastion of hope for TV execs that want to retain their legendary grip on Madison Avenue. So it’s no surprise The Wall Street Journal catalyzed media insider rumblings with its October 6th piece entitled “Ratings Fumble for NFL Surprises Networks, Advertisers: So far this season, viewership on major networks is down about 10% from last season.” Writers have followed-up with speculation about why the NFL is experiencing the decline.
Is it the content? Perhaps Presidential politics are blame; maybe it’s the “Kaepernick effect”; or, it could be an unlucky streak of boring games.
Is it the disruption of TV ongoing? Perhaps younger viewers are catching the highlights and recaps they need on Social Media. Or young adults might be watching online; or doing something else entirely.
When it comes to questions about the future of Sports Television, Social Media has important things to say. New research from Ring Digital llc gives us insight into the challenges and opportunities facing Sports TV as Social Media consumption grows.
Here are some fascinating findings along with the Thuuz Sports perspective on one possibility that no one’s talking about.
1) The Content: News Just Overtook Sports as the Top Social TV Genre.
The Social TV Index has fielded five tracking studies since August 2014. Previously, Sports has been the #1 genre (or tied for #1) every time. In our March 2016 survey, Sports declined, but it remained in the #1 spot. But by August, that decline accelerated and News jumped to the top.
That’s evidence the Presidential election is having an impact. Elections aren’t live sporting events, but if they were, this year is exciting!
That’s noteworthy when you combine it with another hypothesis – that the games have just been a bit, well, let’s call it un-exciting. Quite a few blowouts – and no celebrity athlete that draws like Manning or Brady.
The conventional wisdom is that Live Sports is a ratings guarantee, but don’t forget that sports, after all, is about stories. Viewers need suspense and context and delight to be infused with their emotional investment into favorite teams, players or fantasy rosters.
2) Behavior: TV Viewing Habits Changing Significantly for Many.
Just 15% of the U.S. Internet population actively engages with TV on social media (“Social TV Engagers”.)
But when you survey more desirable demos like Mobile Social Media users, the number climbs to over 45%. Data slices by age also matter – as expected, younger audiences engage in more interactive viewing behaviors.
That’s a critical insight for Leagues that want to engage younger viewers. Particularly given another fact: Nearly 37% of Social TV Engagers report that it increases their enjoyment of TV.
Tweets & comments about the game contribute to the storytelling; the Social TV Index data shows that females, in particular, value this. Social TV is also ideal for expressing opinions – something males particularly love to do, according to the data.
3) Social TV Matters: It Helps Viewers Find What to Watch. But, Spoilers…
Here’s where social’s sticky gets tricky.
According to the Social TV Index, nearly 37% (which is the #1 response) of Social TV Engagers say that social helps them discover what to watch.
That confirms the Facebook / Twitter #SocialTV narrative that gifs & clips drive up ratings. (Earlier this year, Facebook released Nielsen data showing that an increase of one Facebook Share in the 15-minutes prior to the start of a game correlated to an additional 1,000 viewers during the first minute of that game.)
Perhaps that why Twitter’s acquisition of SnappyTV in July of 2014 is still at the foundation of the company’s Amplify relationships. Near-live clips posted during an in-progress game can drive viewership up – especially when digital teams incorporate alerts paired with TVE App stream URLs.
But there’s a problem with social media and sports -- and it’s highlighted by the NFL’s recently leaked new policy to ban teams from posting any moving images on team social accounts from the start of a game until 60 minutes after completion. (For more, search NFL Video Ban.)
The fact is, Social Media can be a spoiler – in two important ways.
For one thing, younger viewers may be over-snacking on sports, spoiling their appetite for a full meal.
If that’s the case, social media highlights may in fact be too much of a good thing. Or to be more precise, too much of a good free thing.
If highlights, recaps and condensed games are the core asset for future generations of sports fans, then we’ll need to measure, manage and monetize them. And somehow, at pay TV scale!
But social media can also be a classic “TV Spoiler”, in that it can spoil the game for people that actively use DVRs to watch sports.
What’s that you say? Live sports are DVR-proof? Actually, not quite.
4) Spoiler-Free TV: Sports Needs a Retro-fit into our Modern Lifestyles
Perhaps the most interesting stat presented by the report is from a separate survey, one that asked 1,000 pay TV subs with DVRs about their sports viewing habits.
From the data in the report, we learn two key things:
- Most Sports DVR usage is not cannibalizing.
It’s nothing more than insurance for the avid sports fan that’s just too darn busy to catch every game at the right time and channel. It’s clearly used as a ‘back-stop’ when fans can’t watch a game or might miss the start of one.
- Sports has upside in Direct to Consumer, ad-free models.
There’s been a secular move in media from ad-supported content toward premium subscriptions that contain fewer ads, or no ads at all.
The data suggest that Sports has a similar opportunity, since ad-skipping, saving time and condensing the game are clearly high on the list of reasons that Sports DVR viewers use the time-shifting tech.
In fact, one of the most successful examples of this is the Red Zone channel, where viewers can catch every touchdown from every game on Sunday afternoons.
The survey data confirm the fact that sports fans want more convenience & productivity in sports consumption. It needs to fit our modern lives.
Which is the perfect segue to our final point.
5) The Listings: The Chaos of Fragmenting Times, Screens, Channels and Platforms
Of all the reasons why NFL Ratings might be declining, there’s one reason that might be too obvious:
It’s hard to know where and when to tune-in!
An Atlantic article published on October 11 “NFL Ratings Just Fell Off a Cliff: Why?” put it this way:
“Once a singular Sunday-afternoon experience, football has splintered across days, screens and platforms.”
In fact, that fragmentation is part of a strategy that Brian Rolapp, President & CEO of the NFL Network, laid out recently at the NeuLion SMT event, when he said: “The secret of our model is, we don’t have one broadcast partner; instead, we have a handful.”
While digital makes it easy to follow highlights, it can be difficult to find any particular game’s broadcast channel – let alone the right authenticated live stream. You know, the one that you think you’re entitled to, or as far as you can tell.
TV isn’t dying. But the TV Listings were in the newspaper! Now that print’s dead, we’ll need to innovate there, too.