The unintended consequence of the rise of OTT in sport

The shake-up of sports media rights in the UK looks to be having one interesting consequence that hasn’t been discussed too much.

As live-streaming and OTT platforms boom, even more sport than normal is being shown on online-first platforms. Major names like Premier League have found new homes for some of their content on the likes of Amazon Prime, whilst La Liga and Serie A will be shown on Eleven Sports this season in the UK. But it’s also the case that other, less mainstream sports are gaining new platforms from the upheaval.

As online platforms search for more and more sport to build their portfolios some aren’t averse to doing deals for those sports not used to being on TV: Facebook’s deal with the World Surf League is a case in point. But the likes of the WSL’s acronym twin, the FA Women’s Super League, have found homes on Facebook Live as well as the BBC Sport website for their ‘free to air’ games each weekend. No longer do smaller sports need to hope for a break in TV schedules, but now the likes of the BBC can commit to showing almost endless streams of live sport hosted on the website or smart TV app.

Eleven Sports appear to be bringing the same spirit to their Serie A and La Liga coverage this year, as one live game per week from each league will be made available on Facebook – Eleven’s newly named ‘free-to-air partner’.

This comes after the OTT provider announced that they’d be streaming PGA Championship golf live on Facebook for free. It’s clear that the strategy – at least for now – is to ensure that some of the live content is seeded out without charge in order to boost reach and not rely solely on subscriber numbers.

But it also speaks to the fact that live-streaming platforms are dynamic and have the ability do this sort of thing. When BT Sport, for example, made some of their coverage of the Champions League available on YouTube they showed what was possible for a subscription-based broadcaster when they partnered with a ‘free-to-air’ platform. It certainly seemed more effective than adding a new TV channel in order to show one or two live games per week for free.

What Facebook, the BBC and YouTube offer is reach, and having eyeballs on the sport means potentially gaining new fans. That could mean more interested people liking and sharing on social media, which in turn could attract new sponsors. If the new fans are in a different country, that could mean new sponsors from all over the world – just like Juventus could see if the Italian giants can convince the market that Cristiano Ronaldo’s global reach their global reach too.

We’re starting to see the online streaming landscape mature a little bit, with subscription-based and ‘free-to-air’ platforms of their own. And that’s surely one of the unforeseen consequences of the growth of this new and exciting area.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 772 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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