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AWS, ViewLift, & Altman Solon on the State of Sports Media 2024

Live sports is the last appointment viewing left in the media world, but meanwhile, chaos reigns in the realms of licensing and rights and the ability of streaming consumers to access the games they want to see. Matt Del Percio, Partner, Altman Solon, Julie Neenan Souza, Head of Sports, Global Professional Services, AWS, and Chance Mason, VP Global GTM Strategy, ViewLift, discuss the current state of sports media in this clip from Streaming Media Connect 2024.

Del Percio asks Souza, “From where you sit on the AWS side, what's your take on the current state of sports and sports media?”

Souza remarks that “everything old is new again.” In the pre-streaming TV days, sports were primarily watched on “bundles,” AKA cable TV, and then it all largely shifted to standalone platforms. Now, the pendulum is swinging back to aggregated content. She cites figures showing that in 2022, sporting events were 92 of the top 100 watched programs. “So that just shows the power of sports to bring eyeballs to a platform,” she says. “And I don't think that's necessarily going to change, but I do think that making it easier for consumers to find the content is certainly something we're seeing folks [focus on] right now.”

She also says that sports rights fees are crucial to consider. “We saw the implosion of regional sports networks in the United States, and they've got to figure out how to size that so it's sustainable. I think what you're going to see is with this inflection point, leagues that have local distribution rights parlayed or offered to their teams, the NHL, NBA, and Major League Baseball, those teams are starting to think, ‘If I don't have that big money RSN paycheck anymore, is there value in going direct and owning that direct relationship?’ When I was at ESPN, [people] used to ask me, ‘Are you scared of Amazon getting into the mix? Are you scared of Apple getting into the mix?’ And my answer then was, no, I'm more scared of the teams and leagues deciding to go direct. So that's a question that [lingers]. Given the volume of dollars we're talking about, I don't foresee that happening immediately, but I think we've already started seeing folks treading into that space a little bit.”

Del Percio says to Mason, “I know one thing that you and I spoke about during our pre-session meeting was some of the challenges around accessibility of live sports—knowing where to watch the game. ‘Which platform? Do I have access to it? Do I have to pay for it incrementally? Is it already included in a service or not? From where you sit on the ViewLift side, what's your take on the current state of sports and sports media?”

Mason agrees that figuring all of these factors out with sports viewing can be chaotic and confusing for viewers. Ultimately, he says, “I believe the teams will go direct. They're realizing their value for the consumer, and they want to build a direct relationship with them. And when I say consumer, it's not just the consumer on the digital side; it's the consumer also participating in the venue. Those consumers are starting to blend. The end-venue consumer and the OTT consumer now have ways via technology to blend that in-venue experience and that out-venue experience. And there are many different ways in technology to do that.”

He cites a personal example of being directly impacted by today’s chaotic nature of live sports viewing. “I'm a big women's basketball fan,” he says. “My daughter plays basketball. Caitlin Clark, an amazing player from Iowa, just broke the all-time scoring record. She's just an amazing lady. And we didn't get to watch the game. Why? We didn't have access to the game's specific platform. She does not travel through Atlanta for the second half of the season, so we don't get to see her after she breaks the record. Do you sign up, and do you churn out? Well, we had already done that, unfortunately, at the Kansas City game. And so we weren't going to use the same mail addresses.”

Overall, he says that some clients, such as the Vegas Golden Knights, are going direct to consumers because they “See the value of having a direct relationship and don't want to be dependent on those minimum guarantees. There may be other ways to monetize that…This is just another maturity curve. We've seen this before. We saw it with cable, and we saw it in the early 2000s with OTT. The most important thing, though, is the consumer and making sure that the consumer can access the content they want and need at a pricing threshold that they can afford.”

See videos of the full program from Streaming Media Connect February 2024 here.

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