For the third consecutive year, BT Sport, the UK pay-TV operator, offered the Uefa Champions League final free to view on YouTube and across its online channels, giving football fans globally the opportunity to experience the biggest game in club football, free of charge.
On the pitch, the 2018 Champions League Final will go down as one of the most memorable matches in the competition’s history. Mistakes by Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius, an injury to Mohamed Salah, Sergio Ramos’s off-the-ball clash with Karius and Gareth Bale’s stunning overhead kick all dominated fan discussion.
But away from the on-pitch action, was the BT Sport strategy deemed a success?
Streaming the Champions League final live was a contractual obligation imposed by Uefa and Team Marketing, its marketing partner, but it enabled BT Sport to claim to have pulled in a combined audience of 6.5 million in the UK – with 1.8 million of those viewers coming through digital.
As well as an attempt to attract new customers, the match also gave BT the opportunity to showcase its broadcast technologies to a younger, millennial audience. The match was shown in 4K UHD quality on YouTube, through an enhanced video player on BTSport.com, and the app delivered 360-degree highlights of all the key incidents that took place during the game.
The innovative way in which the coverage was delivered, though, received strong praise from fans online. Analysis from SMS INC. RADAR found that the sentiment was overwhelmingly positive, with 68 per cent of the conversation expressing positivity over the decision to air the final free of charge. Other key themes which developed included fans talking positively about the visual quality of the picture on YouTube, the uninterrupted stream and the capability to link the stream up to multiple devices.
Some limited criticism focused on delayed audio, the low stream quality and the “cringe-worthy” subtitle.
Most criticism, however, came from fans in relation to not being able to watch the final on terrestrial TV, while, conversely, broadcasting the final online and for free seems to have disgruntled some paying customers, who questioned why they are paying for the service in the first place.
With the additional interactive functions, such as clickable live stats and the wide audience that can be reached, live streaming engages with younger audiences on platforms that they are using regularly and offers the flexibility and immediate interaction that these modern audiences are demanding.
In the short term, if broadcasters are to continue to offer this service then they need to ensure their streaming platforms are robust enough to deliver a flawless service to the masses. The data tells us that while BT’s coverage was an overwhelming success, there still remain issues around latency and buffering.
That aside, BT Sport’s decision to broadcast the final online is proof that it is evolving to meet the demands of a new audience. More content is now being consumed through mobile devices and tablets than through television sets and live streaming is a logical, natural progression to engage the fans of the future, in particular the millennial. The overwhelmingly positive response from the data tells us that the decision to stream the final was a huge step forward in the mind of the fan.
What can BT learn from US networks already adopting online streaming services?
The meteoric rise of content providers such as Amazon, Google and Netflix, which have all entered the conversation around the broadcast rights to major sporting events in recent months, is posing a real threat to traditional broadcast outlets. In a world where there is increased choice, broadcasters need to adapt to changing viewing habits if they want to continue to grow their audiences.
We can already see the movement towards this in the UK with an increase in specific sports channels such as the Sky Sports Golf, F1 and Cricket channels. In USA, however, the success of team- and league-specific OTT networks, such as the NFL’s video subscription service Game Pass and UFC Fight Pass, demonstrate that fans are willing to pay for a service, provided the content is of high enough quality.
ESPN recently launched the ESPN+ streaming service, in an attempt to stop consumers cutting the cable cord in its first foray into OTT streaming services and BT’s decision to air the Champions League Final online itself is further proof that the movement is starting to take place in the UK.
As more and more sports events become available to stream online, the ability of consumers to dip in and out of content that appeals to them will be even more marked. We are already seeing the rise of multi-screening across international sports, and as content becomes even more readily available, consumers might not pick specific sports, but simply skim-watch multiple sports and events at the same time.
Ultimately, the winner in this shift toward streaming is the fan, as shown by the overwhelmingly positive data set collected through SMS INC. RADAR.