Live sport isn’t a passive experience and neither should sports content shared to social and digital platforms be. Understanding how to produce authentic, genuine content that creates meaningful interactions will distinguish content moving forwards
Gareth CaponGareth Capon is CEO at Grabyo, the browser-based video production and distribution suite integrated with social media. Grabyo’s technology is used by rights holders globally to produce professional-quality live streams and video clips.
The complex relationship between publishers and social platforms is going through its biggest change to date. With Facebook, Twitter, Snap, Amazon and Netflix now becoming major buyers of sports rights and with recent changes to data policies and content promotion, sports rights-holders and broadcasters have had to rethink their approach to creating and sharing content.
Facebook’s announcement in January of a change to the way content is surfaced in user’s news feeds caused many publishers and rights-holders to reconsider their strategy for publishing organic content to the platform. The change was designed to promote content that generates meaningful interactions and highlights content from friends and family rather than endless sponsored posts from brands and publishers.
The organic reach for thousands of publishers disappeared almost immediately. Those publishers that relied heavily on clickbait - ‘tag your friends…’, ‘like if you…’, ‘share with someone…’ - found that Facebook was no longer a viable way to collect data and drive traffic back to websites filled with sponsored posts and programmatic advertising - their only viable revenue source.
The effects of Facebook's algorithm change also impacted broadcasters, rights-holders and sports teams
Of course, the effects of the algorithm change also impacted broadcasters, rights-holders and sports teams. At Grabyo we saw an immediate decline in the impressions video content was receiving. However, what we also noticed was that those who had adopted a true ‘fan-first’ approach to content production saw an uplift in the conversion rate (views/impressions) and number of interactions (like, comments, shares).
Live sport isn’t a passive experience and neither should sports content shared to social and digital platforms be. Understanding how to produce authentic, genuine content that creates meaningful interactions will distinguish content moving forwards. The social platforms also understand this and have begun to double down on the amount of sports content they are acquiring and rights holders they are partnering with.
While Amazon has gone after exclusive sports rights (e.g. the ATP Tour and US Open tennis rights) Facebook and Twitter have developed broadcast formats that are tailored for social audiences, especially millennial and next-gen audiences who have stopped watching linear TV. Both platforms have focused on creating ‘social first viewing’ experiences for sports fans. Facebook is still in the process of launching its Watch platform but its most recent partnership with Major League Baseball to bring 25 regular-season games to a global audience has signaled the direction of what we can expect from the platform’s social broadcast intentions.
The MLB broadcasts feature larger, mobile-optimised graphics that are much simpler than traditional broadcast TV graphics. Ad breaks have been replaced by Q&A sessions with talking heads, and fans are encouraged to send in comments, votes and Instagram posts that are displayed on screen during the broadcast. Much of this goes against what traditional sports fans expect to see, but is aligned with what younger audiences want. Fans now expect to be immersed in content around sport, fashion, food and demand genuine interaction with athletes and influencers. Facebook and MLB are trying to capture and deliver that.
Developing new formats for social and digital platforms creates new sponsorship opportunities and new advertising inventory
It’s this content around the live event that presents rights-holders and broadcasters with exciting opportunities to not only increase fan engagement but also commercialise social platforms and make more of their existing rights. Developing new formats for social and digital platforms creates new sponsorship opportunities and new advertising inventory. With Facebook Branded Content and custom Twitter advertising, rights-holders are now looking to partner with brands to maximize the value of available rights.
This weekend, English Premier League champions-elect Manchester City used Facebook Live to debut a new pre-match and half-time live fan show. With the game not broadcast on TV in the UK, City took advantage of the conversation around the game on social media to offer a new viewing experience for fans across the globe. This was done in partnership with NEXEN Tire, a global sponsor for Manchester City, using Facebook Branded Content to provide incremental value to the partner outside its traditional sponsorship assets. It’s a smart move and one I expect more Premier League teams will look to replicate in the coming months.
For advertisers, the value lies in audience engagement and the immediacy of the content. Additional advertising is changing and money continues to pour into digital, mobile advertising. To combat this, Twitter has partnered with numerous rights holders to bring content to the platform offering pre- and mid-roll advertising in an extension of the amplify programme. Knowing that audiences, especially ‘GenZ’ and ‘Millennials,’ turn to their phones during commercials and breaks, advertisers are acquiring these rights as a way to reach new audiences with more targeted and effective media spend.
Outside of ad and sponsorship revenue, and despite all the continuing issues with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, social video still provides rights-holders and broadcasters with the platform and data to drive traffic, self-promotion and subscriptions for retail, ticket or OTT subscriptions. There are many OTT providers who use the platforms as an awareness and acquisition platform to deliver content free-to-air with a link or call-to-action to continue watching elsewhere - often with a time-limited offer and promo code. Understanding that social platforms offer a scalable audience and using the data they provide correctly is still an effective method for revenue generation and promotion.
Despite the recent challenges, it’s an exciting time for sports rights holders and publishers across social and digital as they look to deliver new fan experiences and (finally) increase revenues.