Maysoon El-Ahmad on Jul, 2018


With social media now ubiquitous, the way we consume media and all forms of entertainment has changed dramatically over the last decade, particularly how we watch sport. Scripted broadcast programming has experienced sharp drops in ad buying driven by the recent consumer shift towards On Demand, or other commercial-free options.

The tech giants are now bidding against traditional media outlets for sport broadcasting rights as they try to gain more of our attention. Over the last two years Amazon, Facebook and Twitter have been spending millions of dollars to acquire the rights of major sporting events.

  • In 2016 Twitter paid $10 million for the rights to simulcast American NFL Thursday Night Football games. Those rights have now been bought by Amazon, which broadcast TNF games last year and paid $50 million for the rights to broadcast games for the next two seasons. While Amazon streams the games to paying Prime members, non-members can watch for free through Amazon’s Twitch service.
  • Amazon also recently bought the coveted rights to stream 20 English Premier League soccer games starting in 2019. 
  • YouTube TV has also joined the streaming fight, spending millions to gain exclusive rights to broadcast games for Los Angeles’ new Major League Soccer team. This is said to be the first time a streaming service of any kind has made such a deal with a U.S. pro sports team instead of a TV alternative.
  • Last year, Facebook reached a deal to stream one simulcast Major League Baseball game a week, but this season, they are exclusively streaming 25 games that can only be watched, for free, on Facebook and just last week saw them secure a $200m deal to broadcast the English Premier League in South East Asia.


  • One of the key macro trends that constantly comes up in our trend work is the increased desire for a sense of community and connection. We believe these recent moves by the tech giants tap into this trend by empowering viewers with an enhanced experience that allows them to share, discuss and engage with peers in digital communities. Despite the recent data scandals, social platforms like Facebook act as key enablers that cater to the human need to connect with others (which explains why most of us are still using it!).
  • One just needs to look at the conversations and newsfeed on both Facebook and Twitter during a big sporting event to see the level of social conversations that are already taking place with viewers using two screens (in most cases their TV and their mobile phone). Social media platforms streaming live sports will help create a much more integrated, seamless and natural experience all on the one screen and platform. 
  • The trend of social watching could pose new threats to traditional media broadcasters beyond live sports. We could see a future where social media platforms buy the rights of some of the big reality TV shows (e.g. MasterChef) allowing viewers to watch and discuss their favourite shows with others as the show unfolds.
  • With Facebook working on several Virtual Reality projects we could see a not too distant future where social watching becomes a more immersive experience allowing viewers to virtually view events in the same space using VR technology, cheering, high fiving and physically feeling the real energy of a live event. Go out and watch Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” to get a glimpse of what this world could look like, while a different context that type of immersive VR experience could become the killer app.
  • While linear TV is still important and reaches a huge audience, traditional media broadcasters need to take note of not just the fact that the tech giants are now entering their space but how the viewing experience is changing as consumers needs and expectations are fast evolving. The future rests on their ability to keep up with these changes and capitalise on these trends to provide viewers a combined experience of live viewing and social watching that is both contextual and seamlessly integrated.
  • Digitally connected young people are increasingly becoming the mainstream consumers in this market. With online social media being their preferred way of staying connected, they are pursuing digital content as their main source of entertainment, so it is important to be ahead of these trends to ensure future survival.
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