Tubi: Streamers Love Ad-Supported Live Sports

Viewers have consumed commercials for as long as there has been televised sports. In fact, most sports, especially football, run games in accordance with televised commercial breaks.

Not surprisingly, that trend among streamers hasn’t changed, according to new data from Tubi — the free ad-supported streaming TV platform owned and operated by Fox Entertainment.

The FAST platform found that sports content of all kinds, from live events to clips to classic games to documentaries to sports talk, drives the highest levels of interest and audience attention — especially for males ages 25-44.

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More than half of the U.S. adult population displays an active interest in four or more sports, and spend on average 5.4 hours per week consuming sports content, according to the July online survey of 2,000 respondents ages 18-54.

Additionally, sports streaming audiences are rapidly growing, with a large percentage of viewers interested in more than 13 types of sports, including football, baseball, and basketball, among others (1 in 4 adults 18+, 1 in 3 females ages 25-34 and 7 in 10 males ages 25-44).

More importantly, Tubi found that sports ranks as the fastest growing segment within the streaming video ecosystem — including a strong preference for ad-supported streaming for sports. More than half (56%) of respondents said they preferred watching streaming sports with commercial breaks integrated into the event, if they could stream the game for free.

Tubi recently launched “Sports on Tubi,” featuring 10 live streaming sports channels, including professional football, baseball, soccer and collegiate sports. Live and on-demand content includes currently available brands Fox Sports, NFL, MLB, NASCAR, Big Ten, NHRA, PBC boxing, PBA bowling, and Concacaf soccer, among others.

Roku: Pandemic, Cord-Cutting Driving Streaming Video Consumption

Increased streaming video access to live sports and new-release movies in the COVID era is accelerating over-the-top video consumption in consumer homes, according to new data from Roku.

Citing a survey of 2,852 respondents (ages 18 to 70) in the United States, who watch at least five hours of TV per week via traditional pay-TV (i.e. cable, satellite or telecom service) or a streaming service, Roku found that the ease-of-use, cost-savings, and content quality of TV streaming was shown to have extremely broad, intergenerational appeal among American consumers.

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Roku said 25% of respondents call themselves cord-cutters, and on average pay less than half monthly what traditional pay-TV subscribers do for video content: $49 vs. $121. But cutting the cord doesn’t mean watching less. On average, Roku found cord-cutters spend three more hours per week streaming video than traditional pay-TV viewers spend watching content: 22 hours compared with 19 hours.

Roku found that not just young people are using streaming services to stay in the loop on social media. Social currency is also a reason that baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) choose streaming: 54% chose TV streaming compared with 25% who said they would turn to traditional pay-TV.

And streaming services are continuing to expand their audiences overall. While TV streaming is nearly universal among younger generations — 98% of Gen Z (1990s to early 2010s) and 95% of millennials (1981 to 1996) — the majority of boomers are streaming too.

Among boomer respondents, 71% of whom stream, nearly 25% cut the cord in the past year — and are just as likely as younger generations to be cord cutters (25% vs. 23%). Another 51% added more streaming subscriptions; 90% said TV streaming devices are easy to use.

Not so long ago, the only way sports fans could watch live sports was on cable, or at a venue. Now 42% of respondents said they watch sports via TV streaming versus 62% who watch via traditional pay-TV.

“Amid a year of uncertainty, this survey puts data behind what we at Roku have believed since our founding in 2002: All TV will be streamed,” Anthony Wood, founder/CEO of Roku, said in a statement. “These results show that TV streaming has passed a tipping point. Even more exciting, it’s bringing more people together, starting new conversations, and giving viewers of every generation more of the content they love, while also making it more accessible. TV streaming is here to stay.”

Nielsen: Live Sports Boosted Broadcast, Cable Market Share in July

With the conclusion of the NBA playoffs, ongoing MLB season and the beginning of the delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, live sports played a key role in jumpstarting broadcast and cable viewing in July, according to Nielsen.

While TV ratings for the Games dropped significantly (about 50%) from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, they still dominated the broadcast, cable competition this year with market share for both distribution channels inching up 1% from June.

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“We expect broadcast benefited somewhat from the Games,” Brian Fuhrer, SVP of product strategy at Nielsen, said in a statement.

At 28% share, streaming also benefited from the continued momentum of the growing stable of streaming services and a healthy influx of new content to the more established services.

“Behind the scenes, sports also impacted streaming’s share,” Fuhrer said. “This includes many of the Olympics highlights clips, which were posted on YouTube, where we saw some minutes increase.”

Fuhrer said the biggest change in streaming in July was the outsized presence of the Tokyo Games on NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform. In addition, many of the daily highlight clips from the Games were streamed on YouTube, provided by NBC Sports.

“That certainly increased viewing minutes on that platform,” he said.

Disney, NFL and ESPN Reach Long-Term Agreement

The Walt Disney Company, ESPN and the National Football League have reached a long-term agreement that will result in ABC/ESPN joining the Super Bowl rotation, having additional playoff action, exclusive national ESPN+ matchups over the course of the agreement, and more regular-season contests including “Monday Night Football.”

The deal will also result in enhanced game quality and new schedule flexibility, according to a Disney press release.

The 10-year agreement begins with the 2023 season.

“This landmark agreement guarantees that ESPN’s passionate fan base will continue to have access to the best the NFL has to offer,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in a statement. “Bringing all the considerable and unique capabilities of The Walt Disney Company and ESPN to the table opens up so many opportunities across our industry-leading direct-to-consumer, broadcast, cable, linear, social and digital outlets. Special thanks to Roger Goodell and the NFL owners for continuing to embrace new ways to appeal to their fans, especially through increasingly important platforms like ESPN+.”

“When ESPN and the NFL work best together, the results are transformational for sports fans and the industry,” Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and sports content, said in a statement. “Some of the most remarkable collaborative examples have occurred in the past 12 months and have demonstrated the extraordinary range of The Walt Disney Company that is fundamental to this agreement. There are so many exciting new components, including Super Bowls and added playoff games, new end-of-season games with playoff implications, exclusive streaming games on ESPN+, scheduling flexibility and enhancements, and much more. It’s a wide-ranging agreement unlike any we’ve reached with the NFL, and we couldn’t be more energized about what the future holds.”

“We are thrilled to extend and expand our partnership with Disney far into the future, as ESPN will continue to host cable’s most-watched series, ‘Monday Night Football,’ and ABC is returning as a Super Bowl broadcaster,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “We look forward to working with Disney as they use new platforms, including ESPN+, in innovative ways to reach even more NFL fans.”

ABC/ESPN will carry two Super Bowls (2026, 2030 seasons) as part of a rotation between the NFL’s media partners, marking the first time that an ESPN-NFL agreement includes such Super Bowl rights, according to the press release. ABC last televised the Super Bowl in February 2006 (2005 NFL season). Also, ESPN will present more playoff action, adding an annual divisional round game to its schedule, which will continue to include a wild-card matchup.

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ESPN’s increased regular-season package will include one annual exclusive national game on ESPN+. The game will take place internationally and will be aired live in the Sunday morning Eastern time zone window. Additionally, this agreement allows ESPN the opportunity to simulcast all ESPN/ABC game telecasts on ESPN+.

Also included is rights for the return of ESPN+ highlights show “NFL PrimeTime” each week on the streaming platform.

ESPN will increase its regular-season schedule by 35% — six more games per year (from 17 to 23). It will include an ESPN game on Monday nights (including three weeks with a separate game on ABC), a Saturday doubleheader the season’s final week and the Sunday morning game on ESPN+.

The added two Saturday games will take place during the final week of the regular season and will showcase matchups with playoff implications. Both of those games will be simulcast on ABC and ESPN.

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The agreement includes new elements that will enhance the caliber of the “Monday Night Football” slate, according to the press release. First, the schedule will be more flexible than in years past with the ability for the NFL to swap “a more meaningful” game into the “Monday Night Football” slot with 12 days’ notice from Week 12 on, according to the press release. Additionally, top teams will appear more often, as a result of the agreement which provides ESPN the ability to showcase any four teams at least twice, “leading to even more compelling games,” according to Disney.

With comprehensive NFL highlights rights, ESPN will continue to offer and/or develop NFL-branded programming, pre- and post-game shows, news, analysis and highlights studio shows, storytelling vehicles, digital and social content and more. The deal also includes data rights (e.g. – NFL’s Next Gen stats), according to Disney.

In addition, ESPN has once again secured rights to the annual Pro Bowl. Other key elements include opportunities for alternate telecasts, extending and expanding ESPN’s international rights (including areas in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Oceania, India), ESPN Deportes and more.

ESPN has also obtained rights to NFL Drafts, an event that has been an ESPN fixture since 1980, as part of the agreement.

The 2021 season will be the last in ESPN’s current arrangement with the NFL. ESPN and the NFL have reached a bridge agreement for 2022 — the year between when the previous agreement expires and the new 10-year extension begins. For both the 2021 and 2022 seasons, all the foundational components from the agreement expiring in 2021 will be included (e.g. – weekly “Monday Night Football” games), in addition to select elements from the new 10-year agreement. For example, in 2021, ESPN will be adding the two Saturday games with playoff implications on the last weekend of the regular season. For the 2022 bridge year, ESPN will showcase the two Saturday games with playoff implications on the last weekend of the season, a Sunday morning ESPN+ game and one ABC “Monday Night Football” broadcast on a week there is also an ESPN Monday Night Football telecast.

Parks: 55% of Pay-TV Households Say Live Sports Key to Keeping Service

Live sports remains a key driver in pay-TV as subscribers’ love for football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey outweighs dropping the more-expensive home entertainment distribution channel with over-the-top video. New research from Parks Associates finds 55% of pay-TV households in the U.S. report availability of live sports is important in their decision to keep their pay-TV service.

Major pay-TV operators Comcast Cable, AT&T U-verse, DirecTV, Disneh Network and Fios Video lost more than 5.6 million combined video subscribers in 2020. Charter Spectrum added 19,000 pay-TV subs.

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“The churn rate for pay-TV services continues to trend significantly lower than the rate for OTT services,” Steve Nason, research director of Parks Associates, said in a statement. “This is fortunate given the lack of live sports in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year, churn rates for OTT and [onlione TV] services both declined as consumers turn more and more to online video sources for their entertainment.”

Amazon Prime Video Eyeing Italian Serie A Soccer Rights

In a major move, Amazon Prime Video reportedly is set to bid on exclusive TV rights to Italy’s Serie A professional soccer league. The deal for three years could cost the SVOD platform upwards of $1.4 billion, and would put into competition against Comcast’s Sky, which is the current rights holder, according to Bloomberg, which cited sources familiar with the situation.

The league has set a Jan. 26 deadline for carriage rights.

Amazon, unlike other SVOD services, has not shied away from live sports, with Prime Video currently streaming NFL Thursday Night Football in the U.S., in addition to the English Premier League and select rugby matches overseas. This deal would be different as Amazon would have exclusive broadcast and streaming rights.

When Disney acquired 20th Century Fox’s assets, it included India’s Hotstar, which has streaming rights to cricket — a national sport in the world’s second-most-populous country. Disney has now rebranded SVOD to Disney+Hotstar, and in the process “acquired” 30% of Disney Plus’ 88.6 million subscriber base.

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Gracenote Launches Statistics and Related Content Feature for Live Sports

Nielsen’s Gracenote is launching a new live sports solution designed to help smart-TV and auto manufacturers display game statistics and other related content in real-time.

Leveraging Gracenote Global Sports Data, CE manufacturers and automakers can integrate real-time team statistics, recent game results and live updates into TV and video home screens and auto infotainment systems.

By accessing Gracenote Sports Data through plug and play widgets, a smart-TV maker can present previews of upcoming games featuring a viewer’s favorite teams followed by dynamic updates during game play. Notifications can be created to offer ways to navigate directly to the game broadcast or stream on a consumer’s preferred service at home. Or a connected car manufacturer can deliver game scores and league standings to infotainment screens in real-time.

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“Live sports are an increasingly important differentiator for entertainment platforms seeking to increase user engagement,” Simon Adams, Gracenote chief product officer, said in a statement. “For years, Gracenote has powered sports viewing experiences for the largest TV providers in the world. With Gracenote Global Sports Widgets, CE companies and automakers can easily launch new sports experiences which maximize audience engagement and drive consumption while minimizing development costs and engineering resources.”

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At launch, the Gracenote Sports Widgets will cover major North American sports leagues including the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL; international football leagues such as the English Premier League; Germany’s Bundesliga; Ligue 1 in France; Serie A in Italy; Spain’s La Liga; Brasileirão Assaí in Brazil; Mexico’s Liga BBVA MX; as well as Korean baseball league KBO. Languages offered include English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Dutch. Additional coverage of global sports leagues will be made available throughout the year.

Gracenote is the content services arm of Nielsen Media.

AT&T Eyes AVOD on HBO Max to Widen ‘Available’ Customer Base

In addition to streaming Warner Bros. Pictures first-run movies, HBO Max’s major initiative in 2021 revolves around rolling out an ad-supported component to the platform’s SVOD legacy.

Speaking Jan. 5 on the virtual Citi Global TMT Conference, retiring CFO John Stephens (at the end of March) said AVOD enables WarnerMedia to expand its “available customer” footprint in the same way broadband and data plans have helped grow the cellular business.

“That’s what AVOD is going to help us do: expand the opportunity to serve customers in a different way,” he said.

As ad-supported VOD platforms proliferate in response to SVOD market domination by Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, the distribution channel, which includes The Roku Channel, IMDb TV, Pluto TV, Shout! Factory TV and Tubi, has been dogged by a dearth of higher profile content.

NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service, which launched in July as the market’s first hybrid SVOD/AVOD business model, is looking to change that. The ad-supported VOD option is targeting original content, including live sports such as the U.K.’s Premier League soccer to entice viewers.

AT&T CEO John Stankey told an investor even last year that live sports is an appealing component to OTT video in Europe.

“You’ll probably see as we move through AVOD, maybe we do some additional live work that we have coming forward,” he said.

Stephens said he fully expects AVOD to impact Max SVOD sub growth both positively and negatively, while at the same time luring non-SVOD consumers to the pay model.

“I see [AVOD] as an opportunity to serve additional customers, and from a finance perspective, amortize the investment in content over a greater customer base,” he said.

Report: Live Sports-Themed SVOD a Golden Opportunity

Live sports remains a primary staple of pay-TV due to existing long-term distribution agreements between sports leagues, college sports and broadcasters.

Although a handful of rights-holders, such as Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and FIBA (soccer), have been operating proprietary SVOD services for years, over-the-top video distribution of live sports remains a nascent market. Most sports rights holders distribute highlight clips and other short-form content on third-party platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Germany’s pro soccer Bundesliga is reportedly eyeing launch of a SVOD platform in the Middle East and North Africa where the league has no pay-TV presence. Boxing-themed DAZN, dubbed the “Netflix of sport,” just launched global access in 200 countries with a £1.99 monthly option.

Regardless, live-sports streaming is a market SVOD behemoth Netflix thus far has no interest in entering. Rivals Disney, via ESPN+, Amazon Prime Video, through its NFL Thursday Night Football streams, and YouTube TV with MLB, offer streaming access but with limited content selection.

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The reason: Money. Global sports media rights revenue hit $51 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach $56.1 billion by 2022, according to the Sport Business Global Media Report 2019.

New data from MediaKind suggests the next five years could see live sports increasingly migrate away from the current pay-TV distribution model to a hybrid option including streaming video.

The report contends sports rights holders have four options for consumers: free access; free access featuring content as part of, or an alternative to, pay-TV (i.e. ESPN+ and Amazon Prime Video); free companion services — those provided as a free adjunct to pay-TV; and subscription-based access (i.e. MLB.tv, NBA League Pass and NBC Sports Gold).

“With a handful of exceptions, most sports D2C services are still dealing with a low number of simultaneous live streams, but this is set to change,” read the report. “D2C services will become more central to fans’ media consumption as more rights-holders carve out content from traditional linear broadcast agreements or use them to light up dark markets. More fans will consume live video streams simultaneously, and rights-holders need to be prepared.”

John Stankey: Live Sports Could Play Limited Role in HBO Max AVOD Rollout

With HBO Max looking to expand its presence in Latina America and Western Europe in 2021, WarnerMedia’s subscription streaming VOD platform will also tackle an ad-supported option going forward — that could include live sports.

Speaking on AT&T’s recent fiscal call, CEO John Stankey addressed a host of questions on Max and its relation to the existing pay-TV ecosystem, and its main draw: live sports. WarnerMedia’s TNT networks has major distribution agreements with the NBA, Major League Baseball and the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament.

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Stankey said that live sports will remain a unique pillar of pay-TV, which he contends will be the distribution channel’s key advantage when  cord-cutting reduces the pay-TV household footprint to around 50 million to 60 million in the coming years.

“Sports content is important to our linear business, our cable networks business to make sure we have enough of it that sustains that business and keeps it at attractive must-have offering, an offering that our customers want to have in that cable bundle,” Stankey said.

At the same time, AT&T’s online TV  platform, AT&T TV, and Max aim to push WarnerMedia content beyond premium television. And live sports could be part of the mix — as professional soccer, cycling is doing in Europe. Stankey said the concept of adding live sports to streaming video distribution is appealing.

“You’ll probably see as we move through AVOD, maybe we do some additional live work that we have coming forward,” he said.

But Stankey cautioned that any move would be complementary to pay-TV and not involve growing the company’s sports footprint to include additional leagues beyond e-sports and gaming. WarnerMedia recently launched “TNT Bets,” an online companion show available through the TNT app that features live-streamed feed of the games, commentary on betting analysis and odds.

“ELEAGUE,” the interactive gaming show that airs on TBS, just partnered with Amazon’s Twitch for “Super Punch,” an interactive show where fans can discuss the most relevant gaming topics of the day and week.

“Our goal is not to become known as the sports company,” Stankey said. “I don’t see going deeper in sports is the direction for WarnerMedia.”