With the World Series kicking off tonight in Los Angeles, the NFL season in full swing and the NBA season underway, sports is top of mind for many a media consumer. This year, however, things seem different, as consumers seek out these games in new ways.
Live sports, long the linchpin for the traditional television bundle, appear to be finally finding significant viewership online, if early data from this year’s Major League Baseball playoffs and Amazon’s “Thursday Night Football” simulcasts are any indication.
According to Turner Sports, which broadcast the MLB National League Division Series and National League Championship Series, viewership on its TV Everywhere platforms was up 126% from last year’s NLDS, with a total of more than 7 million minutes of consumption.
Fox Sports, which broadcast the MLB American League Division Series and American League Championship Series, said the last game of the ALDS set a record for most division series viewers ever on its streaming platform, Fox Sports Go. The game averaged 142,000 streaming viewers. The final game of the ALCS also drew an average of 152,748 streaming viewers, also a streaming record.
Meanwhile, Amazon -- which has the rights to simulcast the NFL “Thursday Night Football” games this season -- averaged 372,000 viewers during its first game, and 391,000 viewers for its second game, according to the league. For comparison, those figures are up significantly from the 243,000 viewers who watched the first “Thursday Night Football” stream on Twitter last season.
To be sure, the number of people watching live sports streams is tiny when compared to traditional TV viewership (The NLDS averaged 3.7 million viewers on TV, while the premiere of “Thursday Night Football” averaged 14.6 million), but as streaming numbers continue to rise every season, that gap will likely only get smaller -- especially as more and more consumers leave large TV bundles for skinnier streaming bundles and services like CBS All Access.
As my colleague Wayne Friedman noted in a column last week, while younger people may not be watching as much TV as their older relatives, they are watching TV programs on digital devices and services, and that includes sports.
To that end, the NFL could reach a tipping point next season. As NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus noted at a conference last week, it's possible that NBC and CBS could find themselves in a bidding war with Amazon or Facebook for exclusive rights to next season's "Thursday Night Football." Lazarus said he expects the games to retain a broadcast presence, but the threat of a bidding war with deep-pocketed tech companies still looms.
While streaming certainly has flaws that hurt the live sports experience (video buffering being a big one), those issues doesn’t seem to be enough to stop the overall shift toward this viewing method.
And while some sports streams run the same ads as on the linear TV feed, others, such as Amazon, sell their own blocks. With a much smaller, but just as dedicated viewership, this could present an interesting option for media buyers and marketers looking to reach sports fans at a lower price point.