How sports content owners can leverage FAST to boost revenue, reach and engagement
By Rachel Marcus Director of Content & Editorial - November 7, 2023
Twenty years ago, I’d open the sports section of the newspaper and go to Page 2 – the TV listings. There, the individual games would be listed, along with the network and air times, and I’d take note of the games I wanted to watch.
This wasn’t the earliest days of TV and cable, but the internet was still relatively new, and the main way most people watched games was on a TV screen. If you wanted to watch the NFL, you tuned into network TV (i.e. CBS or FOX), with the national games airing weekly on channels like NBC, ABC and ESPN. If you wanted to watch most other major sports leagues (i.e. NBA, MLB, NHL) and the game wasn’t on national TV, you had to watch on your local Regional Sports Network (RSN) through your cable provider.
Today looks a bit different. The simplicity of picking up your remote and turning to a cable/network TV channel still exists – many people still view sports through traditional broadcasts.
TheNew York Timescited the S&P Global Market Intelligence report: “Last year around 71 million United States households paid for a television package that included ESPN.”
But that doesn’t mean everyone watches ESPN, and the number of cable subscribers continues to drop.
The current landscape of sports media is shifting, and if you’re a content owner and rights owner, you’re probably wonderinghow you can leverage your sports content (both live and shoulder programming) through Free Ad-supported Streaming TV (FAST). Plus, what’s the bottom line? How do you maximize growth?
Let’s dive in deeper.
Does cable still have a stranglehold on Sports TV rights?
Yes and no. Lengthy, large sportsmedia rights dealsstill hold enormous value for individual leagues, such as the ones Disney (ESPN, ABC) and Warner Bros. Discovery (TNT) currently have with the NBA (rights deals that are up next year and due for negotiation). Those are not going away.
Axios’ Sara Fischer said it well: “Even with some fiscal tightening [media companies' shrinking budgets], the NBA will still have a feeding frenzy for its games, given live sports' outsized importance to the still-profitable legacy TV model.”
Thestatus of RSNsis another major area worth monitoring (Diamond Sports Groupdeclared bankruptcyin March and cord-cutting means fewer people continue to pay for cable).
But for the most part, fans no longer need cable to watch all sports (just some sports). Content owners and leagues can dive into alternative viewing options knowing they provide both major and niche opportunities to increase reach, engagement and audience growth.
Other signs of a changing TV world are also bubbling up. In early September, millions of cable subscriberslost access to Disney and ESPNfor 11 days – the channels were blacked out due to a carriage dispute between Disney and Charter Communications, the owner of Spectrum Networks. As cable TV providers continue to lose subscribers, such disputes are likely to recur more frequently than before.
It’s why keeping up with continued innovation in the sports broadcasting industry (and knowing what viewers and fans want) is essential.
“For years, live sports and news have been the cornerstone of the immutable cable bundle,” media reporter Oliver Darcywroterecently. … “That advantage, however, is rapidly evaporating.”
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How tech companies and streaming services are getting in on the action
How is the advantage of the cable bundle evaporating, as Darcy says?
Here are alternative models that are emerging:
Amazon: Last year, the NFL began airing Thursday Night Football exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. To watch, you need to subscribe to Amazon Prime. Amazon CEO Andy Jassysaidratings are up this year.
“I think it sort of proved … that digital distribution has arrived for sports. … I think you’ll see growth on the package,”saidthe NFL’s chief media and business officer Brian Rolapp.
In 2023, Amazon is teasingnew ad formatsand will air the first-ever Black Friday NFL game, marrying shoppable TV with live, streaming sports. That game, unlike Amazon’s existing Thursday Night Football games, will be free and not require an Amazon Prime subscription. The company is reportedly interested in an NBA rights deal according toFront Office Sports, and is also competing for NASCAR rights.
Digital Linear and the NFL:You also don’t need cable to watch NFL RedZoneand more(you can buy NFL+, or sign up for streaming options such as Fubo). NFL Sunday Ticket moved to YouTube TV for the first time this season, too (and had been well-received by viewers save for one Sunday with technical glitches). We might even see games air on NFL+ in the coming years, NFL Media GM David Jurenka toldFront Office Sports.
What does digital linear mean? Companies like Amagi can take assets from disparate sources (i.e. digital and social content) and blend them together to create a linear feed, which can address the viewing habits/desires of different viewers in one location.
The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights launched a streaming deal to complement its TV deal and broadcast games, starting with the 2023-2024 season. It's been successful so far.
The Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz announced their own streaming services before the 2023-4 NBA season tipped off. Monumental Sports Network, which took over the RSN called NBC Sports Washington and airs Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics games, announced its own Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) subscription membership. Most recently, the Los Angeles Lakersannouncedtheir D2C streaming subscription service.
WBD Maxes out: Warner Bros. Discovery added a sports tier, B/R Sports, to its streaming service, Max, and will simulcast games on the platform. You now have SVOD platforms adding live streaming. It will be free through February, 2024."[B/R Sports is] designed for people who are outside of the cable bundle,”saidLuis Silberwasser, chairman and CEO, Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.
What if you want consumers to watch your content free of charge?
Let’s go back to 20 years ago again – a time when sports leagues, teams and sports media outlets shared news and highlights via ESPN’s SportsCenter, Sports Illustrated, talk radio and/or newspapers.
Today’s sports fans can consume news and highlights for free thanks to social media. But while social media clips and news bits are useful, quick and convenient, they don't offer the broad scope of a FAST service, which offers free sports streaming, opportunities for live events, customized graphics, user engagement and international distribution.
Take Amagi’s recent deal with the NHL. The league’snew FAST channelprovides curated league content, including highlights old and new from recent and historic games, giving fans a robust content library to keep them engaged at all times.
Amagi has deals with not just the NHL, but with additional sports properties such as MLB, DAZN, and Tennis Channel. For premium sports rights holders, FAST can be a marketing vehicle for your franchise and a brand extension, boosting fan engagement.
Having a free sports streaming option – one that includes live events and shoulder programming, is a boon for consumers who don’t want to pay for five-plus subscriptions – and for advertisers and content owners who want to reach different demographics and expand their audience.
“Longer-term, FAST channels can encourage sign-ups and be an acquisition tool,” Steve McCaskillwrote in SportsProearlier this year.
Let’s take a closer look at two Amagi clients:
Amagi helpedTennis Channel launchtheir T2 channel on Samsung TV Plus in the US. Using Amagi CLOUDPORT, content scheduling services, Master Control Room (MCR) services and Amagi LIVE, Amagi helped expand the channel’s reach across the US and easy switching between live and recorded content with an effective Live-to-VOD functionality.
Speaking at Amagi’sLA FAST conferencein September, Andy Reif, Tennis Channel’s SVP Programming & International, spoke on the importance of shoulder programming. With Pay TV committed mostly to live coverage, there’s limited space for features or introducing the next generation of players. T2, Tennis Channel’s FAST channel, provides that luxury for viewers, said Reif.
“For us, shoulder programming has to be premium,” Reif said. “It’s critical. … The viewer knows this is a special channel being delivered to them, not just a playlist.”
T2 recently expanded its reach with October launches on Amazon Freevee and Fubo.
"We're really excited about what we've been able to accomplish with such a small staff on the FAST side," said Ari Brock, Executive Director Digital at Tennis Channel during Amagi's LA FAST Conference in September. "I think five, six years ago you would think it was impossible to launch this many channels to this many regions with such a small staff. So, to have a partner like Amagi to actually help our channels grow has been invaluable. It's something that I don't foresee we could do without having some sort of partner and technologies that are currently available in the space."
Urban Edge Network (UEN)
Recently, Amagi announced a partnership with the media company Urban Edge Network (UEN), toorchestrate live events on its Owned & Operated (O&O) platforms and apps. The platform hosts the most high-profile Historically Black College and University (HBCU) teams and conferences, and its recent broadcast of a college football kickoff game live on HBCU Plus/The Impact Network was delivered to over70 million homes.
“Urban Edge Network was created to disrupt the HBCU broadcasting marketplace while creating a new way to give premier access to brands, agencies, media and other stakeholders to a loyal and lucrative African American fan base,” said Hardy Pelt, Founding Member, Chief Revenue Officer, Urban Edge Network. “This partnership with Amagi allows us to achieve both goals of providing and maintaining high-quality content for sporting events and student activities.”
Exploring sports monetization models
We’ve established brand affinity, expanded coverage and more eyeballs on your content. But what’s the bottom line? Well, we’re only at the beginning.
Advertiser interest in targeting live sports via CTV/FAST is exploding, and it makes sense to capitalize on emerging monetization models for sports, especially live. From picture-in-picture ads to QR codes, the space for driving business back to your brand is only growing.
When discussing B/R Sports on Max, Jon Diament, who leads advertising sales for Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, toldThe Hollywood Reporter: “You have a combination of live and VOD, all ad supported,” he says, noting that the ads on the sports tier will also be accessible to consumers on ad-free plans. “So there’s new elements for the sports marketplace, and advertisers love reaching new audiences on new platforms.”
Amagi already powers advertising across more than 4.8 million hours of sports viewing each month via THUNDERSTORM and ADS PLUS, seamlessly connecting advertisers to fans.
What else do you need to know?
The key to a successful FAST channel strategy hinges on content discoverability, curation and keeping viewers engaged.Rokurecently took a step in this direction, adding features such as tracking your favorite teams, and ordering channels to your viewing priority.
FAST can also be a home for content that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of a major sports league.
At Amagi’sLA FAST conference, experts Evan Shapiro and Lisa Herdman discussed how FAST is an opportunity for live events, especially for smaller communities and smaller sports.
Pop-up channels continue to be an emerging space.
FAST channel usage can benefit women’s sports as well, and there should be more investments and opportunities for those sports, explained Ken Kerschbaumer, Co-Executive Director at Sports Video Group, at LA FAST.
We’re only at the start of advancement opportunities for FAST in sports.
Altman Solon’sGlobal Sports Surveyrecently stated that “over 70% of sports executives see expanding content offerings beyond live events, augmenting live media experiences, and personalizing content and recommendations as essential ways to increase engagement with fans.”
The growth of FAST as a one-stop shop to simply find sports content through personalization will better serve viewers, too.
“As purchasing power – and reach – within the Pay TV universe continue to dwindle, the expectation is rights holders will find a way to get comfortable with sports content living in more places,”JohnWallStreetsaid. “And FAST channels are expected to be among them.”
To learn more about Amagi and how to leverage your sports content, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.