Head of Global Business Development, Cerberus Tech
Women’s sport has enjoyed a great start to 2022, with the Women's Super League (WSL), Six Nations, and Women's Cricket World Cup, proving key to record UK television audiences. The Women's Sport Trust found that “UK women’s sport viewership increased 140% from 1st January to 15th May” and Sports Pro Media recently highlighted that WSL broadcast consumption was up 285% in the first year of the Sky-BBC rights deal, based on data from the same study.
However, to build on this momentum, the broadcast industry needs to do more to maximise growth in all tiers of women’s live sport. In recent years, media content delivery has become more diverse from a technical perspective. Sports broadcast organisations can capitalise on this to become more diverse in their approach to content creation. By exploring different content formats they can expand reach and take a wide variety of sports to new audiences.
The Next Generation of Fans
Before the pandemic, Nielsen Sports noted some key challenges with Gen Z’s engagement with live sports. “They have higher expectations for entertainment experiences than their elders, and new ways to discover and consume content.” The data from the Nielsen Fan Insights study across eight different markets (China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK and the US) revealed that 16–24-year-olds prefer “shorter, ‘snackable’ content and, from a sporting standpoint, are less inclined to watch entire games.”
Some commentators have dismissed the generational shift away from traditional consumption habits, as an issue with the Gen Z attention span. Many in the industry have implied that Gen Z are simply too distracted and demanding, to sit through a full sporting event at an allotted time. But as Nielsen highlighted, “if the content is sufficiently engaging and provides regular opportunities to interact, they (Gen Z) are still prepared to invest meaningful time”. Fans of watching online video gaming in the US provide a case in point – 29% under the age of 25 state that they watch continuously for one to two hours, whilst 14% watch for three to four hours at a time.”
It’s also important to remember that the Nielsen figures were shared prior to the pandemic. Since then, social watching and online interaction has expanded exponentially. Many consumers have integrated second-screening and virtual connection into their viewing habits. Statista data revealed that the share of people using other devices while watching TV in the UK was 69% in 2021. It’s important that content owners think creatively to optimise evolving viewer behaviour. If a fan’s attention is split, then it provides opportunities to consolidate the viewing and engagement experience across different platforms.
There is an increasing demand for new types of content to consume, which touches all areas of media, as well as new ways to engage with it. At the same time, audiences expect to feel closer to clubs than ever and connect directly with players, as barriers are brought down through social media. Women’s sport must already contend with fewer opportunities for coverage and less lucrative sponsorship deals. So, by responding to an evolving landscape, clubs and federations are in the best position to maximise future growth potential.
Every Moment Makes Content
In the age of interactive media, everything is content. The commentary and speculation, behind the scenes footage, and supplementary stories can often be as engaging as the main event. These content formats can help build a compelling new narrative for sports rights owners and engage new audiences. Women’s sports clubs and federations can explore the potential of additional content to deliver wider reach and expand revenue opportunities. The rights for extra content could be sold to additional takers and broadcast outlets, delivering one main world feed supported by multiple supplementary feeds. Content could also be used to increase awareness around women’s sport and build links with audiences in new regions.
To ensure a benchmark of video quality for women’s sport, the broadcaster still needs to receive supplementary content at as high a quality and bitrate as possible, if the assets are to be leveraged effectively. Additional content has an appeal, but unlike a main feed, the diversity of this content means potential revenue generation is divided across a large number of media assets. From an investment perspective, satellite isn’t the right method for this content model, but this is where broadcast-grade IP is the perfect fit. A sports content owner does not need to allocate satellite capacity to multiple supplementary feeds; content can simply be made available in the cloud so that takers can access it in accordance with demand.
This agile, cloud-based model of content delivery will give audiences a chance to set the viewing agenda. There is clearly an interest in women’s sports content when it’s made available to view. A recent prediction suggests that the “value of women’s sport could treble by 2030” and that “broadcasters and brands have a significant role to play in helping the sector achieve its £1bn goal”. To facilitate this, content owners need to think beyond a traditional ‘main feed as the only feed’ approach and a linear, fixed schedule consumption strategy. In addition, an over reliance on traditional satellite infrastructure, as the sole delivery method, means missing out on a host of on-demand content opportunities.
As with other sectors of content production, audiences will soon start to define the supplementary viewing formats of sports coverage. The future of women’s sport is closely tied to grassroots engagement and getting the next generation of female fans invested in watching and playing it. The opportunities that cloud-based content delivery offers, as well as the accessibility that next-generation technologies provide, will help level the playing field for those fans.
The tools are in place for some exciting few years ahead but the industry needs to see the potential and act. Gen Z are changing long established patterns of video consumption. So, it’s important that women’s sport moves in a direction that supports emerging trends, rather than being restricted. With an innovative outlook, content owners can expand the event footage available and move women’s sport into exciting new areas.