SPORTS IN FOCUS

The first annual LiveFronts event kicked off with the “Sports In Focus” panel, with heavy-hitters in the industry sharing insights on the ways that livestreaming can enhance or shift the sports experience.

The panel was hosted by serial entrepreneur and BRaVe co-founder, Gary Vaynerchuk, who posed questions on the current and future state of the industry to executives from Turner, WWE, Fox Sports and CBS Interactive. The conversation started with an examination of some of the benefits and appeals of live streaming for an industry that already thrives on live television broadcasts.

The initial goal was to make the live stream experience of FOX Sports as good as the TV-watching experience, said Clark Pierce, SVP, TV Everywhere at FOX Sports. Now that they’ve reached that point, he said, the goal is to make it even better than TV.

Will Funk, EVP, Sales and Property Partnerships at Turner, noted that live sports remains relatively immune from the DVR issues that other forms of entertainment have to deal with, putting it at an advantage from a monetization perspective.

Vaynerchuk asked the group to share details on how they’re marketing across the digital space, and wondered whether today’s conversations about things like Twitter’s experiment with the NFL could be comparable to the executives in the 50s and 60s that dismissed television in favor of radio’s audience.

Funk underscored the point, reminding the audience that it’s not just about the experience, but availability, as people typically “go to the best available screen.” If they’re in a car and there’s a game on Twitter, they’ll go to Twitter, but if there’s a 70-inch screen, they’ll go to that screen, he said.

George Barrios, Chief Strategy and Financial Officer of WWE, noted that the WWE Network’s two-year-old direct-to-consumer business is now their most profitable business. This has helped drive their YouTube presence fourfold over six years, Barrios said, making YouTube the way to globally monetize WWE’s content. Being platform agnostic and owning the intellectual property allows the WWE to determine where content will go, in effect allowing them to own the full customer journey, Barrios said.

Barrios is in the comfortable position of owning his content, as Vaynerchuk noted, but he asked the others what keeps the major sports leagues reliant on the networks with their ability to go live. Is there a concern that the leagues could strike out on their own, leaving the networks short on live sports content?

Jeff Gerttula, GM, Sports, at CBS Interactive said he wasn’t concerned, and noted that CBS Interactive has a massive footprint that partners like the NFL take advantage of. FOX Sports’s Pierce maintained that the premium content for leagues will remain in the hands of partners, even with things like Game Pass being marketed direct-to-consumer. Funk commented that Turner owns some of their own IP, including their eSports league ELEAGUE.

Vaynerchuk wondered if e-sports were the future of live and mobile, and the resounding answer from the panel was “Yes.”

eSports work well for the size of the mobile device screen, Barrios said, and that’s amplified thanks to integrated data. Gerttula expanded on that sentiment, saying that any content about sports talent seems to thrive in the live mobile universe.

Barrios added that this is a global phenomenon and it’s not slowing down. According to Barrios, the WWE has more viewers each week in India than in the US, and that global audience is shifting away from TV because mobile devices offer a cheaper, smaller and more individualized viewing experience. 


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