Recent MLB and NFL live game streams have delivered only modest improvements over previous similar events. Does this mean sports are losing their luster for online viewers?
MLB boosting Turner TV Everywhere usage
Turner says that its exclusive coverage of the 2017 National League Division Series has delivered a big boost to TV Everywhere (TVE) usage. The company says that it had streamed 4.3 million minutes through last Saturday via its TVE platforms. Over the same period last year, Turner streamed 3.1 million minutes.
It is far from clear how to interpret the TV Everywhere results stated by Turner. The increase in minutes streamed could be due to more people tuning into the games online or due to people streaming for longer.
Overall, Turner says the total audience across TV platforms and online for the games increased 14%, to average 3.2 million viewers. The number of those viewers that watch online is unclear. Nielsen does not provide any help here either, merely corroborating the figures given by Turner. Nielsen says for the two games on TBS on Friday the audience reached was 3.5M and 2.9M, which averages to 3.2 million per game.
TiVo data might suggest that the increase in TVE usage could be due more to people watching longer rather than more new users. In Q2 2017, TiVo says the number of people using TV Network apps remained relatively flat, 29%, versus the previous year. However, the frequency of use increased. Those using the apps on a weekly basis increased 10% year-over-year to 75%. Those using almost daily increased 8% to 38%.
Amazon NFL viewing shows better engagement than Twitter
The second streamed NFL game from Amazon showed a modest decline from the first in both viewers and time spent watching. In the week one matchup between Green Bay and Chicago 1.9 million worldwide viewers watched the pre-show and game, and 1.6 million watched the game alone. New England versus Tampa Bay drew 1.7 million for pre-show and game and 1.5 million for the game alone.
Similarly, the average viewing session for each streamer decreased slightly. Green Bay/Chicago streamers watched for an average of 55 minutes. New England/Tamp Bay viewers streamed for 50 minutes.
Last season, Twitter streamed the Thursday night NFL games and in some respects, did better than Amazon. For the first game, Twitter streamed it delivered a total worldwide audience of 2.1 million. However, people only watched for an average of 22 minutes, less than half the time Amazon viewers watched.
The Twitter NFL stream was available for free to everyone. Only paying Amazon Prime members can watch the games it streams. That could account for the lower viewing numbers for the Amazon stream. As well, Twitter primarily targets mobile devices while many Amazon Prime members already have Prime Video set up for viewing on television. The difference in screen usage could explain why Amazon streamers watched for longer than Twitter users.
One bonus that Amazon’s NFL stream is getting is delivery to mobile devices. Verizon purchased the exclusive NFL mobile streaming rights and all other services block viewing on mobile. However, last week I was able to view the Amazon stream on my mobile phone. That said, this bonus does not seem to be delivering a huge audience.
Sport losing its luster online?
Both the Turner results for MLB and Amazon for NFL show incremental improvements, though not in every dimension. Does this mean that professional sport is losing its luster online? Perhaps, but the situation has grown very complex. NFL viewership on television has taken a beating this season. Monday night’s game between the Vikings and Bears was down 17% from the previous week. Sunday night’s game was down from the previous week too. It could be that Amazon is just suffering the same sag in interest from football fans in general.
The gathering popularity of virtual MVPDs could also be blunting the appeal of Amazon and Turner in-app streaming. Why flip to an app when a subscriber can just tune the appropriate channel.
That said, it does look like the massive increase in online audiences driven by sport could be over, at least for now.
Why it matters
Sports have historically driven big increases in online streaming usage.
Results from recent MLB and NFL live game streaming have delivered only modest online gains.
The results could suggest sport is no longer the major drive force it once was online.