Why this world title fight could be a watershed moment for the future of live-streaming

Over the last few months it’s been clear that Facebook and Twitter are attempting to build up their portfolios of live sport, as the likes of Amazon Prime and other streaming services start to flex their muscles in the sector, too.

These aren’t often one-off events, though.

Recently, things like the PGA Championship golf tournament – the final major of the year – and the Champions League final were made available on various social media platforms for free. The idea there, though, was just to boost reach: with the golf shown free-to-air in the UK on the BBC, and the Champions League final on BT Sport, but shown for free on YouTube, putting it online in easy-to-reach places was a way to get more eyeballs on screen.

But these are unusual cases. More normally, it’s entire seasons’ worth of games which are being streamed online in places like Twitter and Amazon Prime. The Thursday night NFL game has been on both of these platforms, whilst the league itself will launch its GamePass initiative in the UK to allow fans to pay for all the games they want to watch.

When a streaming service picks up a sport to stream, it’s usually committing to a season-long package.

But then again, there are plenty of sporting events which are one-offs. With golf and football, if you haven’t seen or followed the rest of the season, it might be odd just to watch the final. The spectacle might still be worth watching, but you might not get the intrigue or know who’s in better form. But not all events are like that.

Last week, the Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor fight drew huge audiences – including reports of a large illegal streaming viewership – for a fight which had no sporting backstory of the same kind.

Later this month, the WBO World Heavyweight title fight between Joseph Parker and Hughie Fury will be streamed live on YouTube rather than on a traditional broadcaster.

But, unlike the Champions League final on YouTube, or even Everton Football Club making their Europa League tie with Hajduk Split free to everyone in the UK on YouTube, this will be a pay-per-view fight.

This fight certainly doesn’t have the glamour of Mayweather McGregor or the more comparable Anthony Joshua v Wladimir Klitschko fight back in April. Both were broadcast by Sky Sports for a fee on top of what subscribers usually pay for the company’s sports channels. But whilst this is a pay-per-view fight in the same tradition, it remains to be seen if it will bring in the crowds.

It is still an interesting move, though. It underlines the fragmentation which seems to be taking place in the world of sports broadcasting. If Sky Sports was to be considered the ‘home of boxing’ or even Premier League football, traditional broadcasters in general now have a battle on their hands to stay that way.

It also points out the fact that although you can watch boxing throughout the year and follow the fortunes of a particular fighter in a similar way to following a football team, it does allow for one-off events like title fights which lend themselves to one-night-only payments in a way that most sports don’t. The idea of paying extra – on top of the initial subscription – just to watch the Champions League final would be anathema to most football fans in a way a title fight isn’t to boxing fans.

But perhaps most importantly, it will be interesting to see how a payment model works on a YouTube stream. With Facebook and Twitter buying up live – and on-demand – sports content to put onto their platforms, there are questions around how that content is monetised. With traditional broadcasters, monetisation is no longer a question – Sky and BT, for example, have pricing structures, as do Amazon Prime and Netflix, should they enter into the fold. But Facebook and Twitter don’t, nor – until now – has YouTube.

This might be a one-off event, and it might not be the biggest fight of the year, but it could well be an important moment for the future of online live-streaming.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 480 posts

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

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