Too Much of a Good Thing?
Sports Media Fragmentation Challenges Teams, Advertisers & Fans
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the buzzword on every technologists lips was ‘convergence’.
Back in those technology dark ages, it wasn’t uncommon for people to carry 3 or 4 devices around with them at any given time. A cell phone for making calls, a digital camera for taking pictures, a MP3 player for music, a PDA for organization… You get the idea. It was, frankly, a mess. If your phone rang, it was entirely likely you’d miss the call because you were fumbling through all your different devices (and, yes, this is the very definition of a First World Problem.)
The idea of ‘convergence’ centered on the idea of unifying these different devices to reduce the complexity of all this personal technology. To paraphrase Tolkein (#nerdalert), the goal was to create the “one device to rule them all.”
After some fits and starts (Palm Treo, I’m looking at you), the ideal of convergence for personal technology level was more or less achieved with the release of the first iPhone in 2007. All the day-to-day tools we needed were now available in single, brilliant package of aluminum and glass, and all was right with our personal tech world.
While convergence was the goal for personal tech, the opposite appears to be true for sports media, where we’ve clearly entered a period of fragmentation.
I suppose it was inevitable: the rise of social media, readily available high-speed internet, and an insatiable need for growth forced companies to look for popular and compelling content to differentiate themselves. And what fits that bill better than sports? After all, about 75% of the most watched TV shows from 2016 are sports related.
After some tentative first steps (Yahoo live streaming NFL games in London), there’s been an explosion of deal making in the last 12 months:
Disney and BAM: Disney purchases controlling interest in MLBAM, with the goal of using the company’s streaming tech to create on demand services for its movies and sports (ESPN).
Amazon and NFL: Amazon pays the NFL $50 million to stream Thursday Night Football, and another $13 million for ATP Tour rights in the UK.
Twitter and League Deals: Twitter will be serving as a live streaming platform for second-tier several sports including the National Lacrosse League, National Women’s Hockey League, and others.
Facebook Launches Watch: Facebook launches Watch, and reveals that live sports in considered integral to the offering.
These deals are, of course, in addition to those currently held by legacy broadcast and cable channels.
Sure, for the hardcore sports fan, it’s nirvana. No sport is too obscure to find a home. But fragmentation is going to have an adverse ripple effect on a lot of different, important groups:
Rights Holders: The rise of cable TV and the need for content had a dramatic impact on college sports (college football on a Tuesday night, anyone?) With more rights holders, content demands will increase dramatically and put new pressures on teams and players to accommodate. More frequent games at non-traditional times will inevitably decrease the quality of the product.
Advertisers: The explosion in rights holders makes an already complex media environment considerably more so. Advertisers will see their budgets thinned out even more, making it much more difficult to reach already distracted audiences.
Viewers: The popular sentiment among new rights holders is that they are responding to consumer demands to deliver content in as many ways as possible. But as it becomes more difficult to find programming across a multitude of broadcast and Internet platforms, there is a substantially increased risk of consumer confusion. Confusion leads to frustration, and then eventually to disengagement.
The lessons learned from the Great Hardware Convergence of the Early Aughts are clear: users like unified simplicity. Sports media, inside its current epoch of fragmentation, runs a real risk of decreasing the effectiveness of the medium to bring value to teams, advertisers, and viewers. The ultimate winners from this period are going to be those that figure out how to balance the ever growing number of viewing platforms with a stakeholder desire for a straightforward, easy to navigate way to consume sports.