Digital Sports and Digital Shorts

NBC Sports is coming up with an update to its sports content offering — a step in the right direction in my opinion. The company is attempting a new effort to reach a larger customer base by providing short-form original content that goes beyond yesterday’s “highlight reel”. While they recognize that there is some risk in branching out of their core offering, it seems as though this decision involving more content generation will help position them to become not just a sports channel, but a sports entertainment distributor. From this article I see two major principles that I think we’ll continue to see with respects to sports video. First, the distribution model moving to digital is just as imperative for sports providers as other entertainment providers (and maybe even more). And second, the ability to extend past “clips and highlights” content is becoming of greater importance as consumers continue to demand a closer connection to their favorite players, teams, leagues, and sports in general.



First, the distribution model moving to digital is just as imperative for sports providers as other entertainment providers (and maybe even more).

While I was growing up, sports video content had been distributed in a particularly homogeneous manner. Content was created for cable or broadcast television, and best consumed on the big screen. Even with the rise of Internet media, all marketing efforts for sports providers were primarily focused on driving viewership via television. This is most likely a result of the underlying economics behind sports content creators and cable providers. Because demand for sports content is so strong and concentrated with respect to other types of content in a cable bundle, sports media providers (starting with ESPN) know they have a strong ability to negotiate for higher revenues from providers, as they are driving cable package subscriptions. Monetization on the cable platform is pivotal to these sports video providers, as rights associated with sports leagues are usually very expensive. Driving cable subscriptions translated to bottom line growth.

With the rise of digital video, sports TV providers were able to create parallels between their linear and digital offerings. This allowed for a stronger relationship to develop between content and user through a more uniform approach to ingesting sports both off and online. While consumption between linear and online is coming closer to parity, monetization is surely not. Still, sports providers use their online sites and apps as a method of marketing rather than a revenue stream. Hence, the apparent need to figure out an additional revenue stream that’s native to the digital world. Potentially, this could be the concept of creating original content, which leads me to the second theme.

Second, the ability to extend past “clips and highlights” content is becoming of greater importance as consumers continue to demand a closer connection to their favorite players, teams, leagues, and sports in general.

As we move to a more on-demand economy with respect to consuming video through products like Netflix and YouTube, the ability for sports content providers to branch out to deliver on-demand content is crucial. Live games and instant highlights and recaps are still the core, but providers are looking to extend their brand and product offering through non-game-related content. One of the pioneers in this effort was ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, which takes an assortment of topics related to the world of sports and creates a documentary for a show roughly an hour long. By creating a successful 30 for 30 series that was well received by the average sports fan (and by the general public I believe), ESPN proved a couple things:

  1. They showed that the common sports fan also has an aptitude for general niche entertainment and/or news (depending on which category documentaries fall under).
  2. They showed that they are focused on diversifying their content offering to help extend the valuable life of content that generally haunts traditional sports media.

The concept of decay is relevant in most media outlets, and resonates profoundly in the world of sports media. Typically, sports content decays very quickly. The life of sports content is very short — yesterday’s SportsCenter is basically worthless, and no one is going back to rewatch last week’s baseball game outside of the walk-off home run highlight. Most sports content is tremendously valuable live and shortly thereafter, and then dies immediately. Original content in the world of sports helps extend how long content is valuable — a potentially very valuable asset for sports media companies looking to extract value over a longer period of time. The relevant life of this content could be weeks or months after publishing, rather than minutes or hours.

Still, many unresolved questions remain with respect to NBC Sports entering the original content world. Will short-form content prove to be a valuable asset for NBC? Will advertisers be receptive to this new content generation stream? Will consumers be willing to pay for this content? Will original content help drive viewership toward traditional sports content, and vice versa?

I’m looking forward to seeing what NBC Sports is going to be creating in the coming months. Will short form video become a new wave for the future for these sports media providers? With the focus and heavy dollars still surrounding traditional sports and the small ecosystem around live events, I’m unsure if we’re ready yet, but undoubtedly we are moving in that direction. No surprise here, timing is everything.

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