“There is so much choice out there that has never existed (before),” said Keith Pelley, a longtime Canadian sports media executive who’s now CEO of golf’s European Tour. “That’s the reason why (1970s variety show) Donny & Marie had a 60 share. It was because there was very limited choice.”
Many sports consumers still pay for traditional cable while others pick and choose online packages — direct-to-consumer, or over-the-top (OTT) — and subscribe by the year, month, week, or even the day, depending on the event and the outlet. Broadcasts are available on laptops, digital media players, desktops, smartphones, and of course, old-school television.
The game has changed over the last few years and more developments can be expected as the domestic sports broadcasting scene evolves.
“I always say A, B, C: Always be changing. If you’re not, then you definitely run the risk of falling behind,” Pelley said from Surrey, England. “But there’s no question that you know what (viewers) want, they want unlimited choice. But also you have to understand that different demographics want different things.”
Former Sportsnet president Scott Moore, the CEO of media company Uninterrupted Canada, predicts that direct-to-consumer options and sports betting will be the two biggest developments that will impact sports broadcasts over the next five years.
Moore, speaking at the recent PrimeTime sports management conference in Toronto, said direct-to-consumer is a game-changer with its “ultimate bandwidth.”
“Every sport, every game, every contest can be broadcast and broadcast in multiple ways to multiple different end points,” he said. “So if you’re a consumer, you can watch on your big-screen TV, you can watch on your tablet, you can watch on your phone. You can watch the English broadcast, you can watch the Punjabi broadcast, you can watch the Japanese broadcast.
“Soon you’ll be able to watch a broadcast that is brought to you by regular commentators, you’ll be able to watch a broadcast that’s all about sports betting, you may be able to watch a broadcast that is specifically targeted to high-end stats geeks.”
Moore added that in traditional prime time there can be limited shelf space, but an unlimited schedule really opens things up.
“So that’s the one area that I think is just going to have an explosion effect on sports media,” he said. “The other is sports betting. Sports betting, as it becomes legal in Canada — and I believe it will be legal in Canada in the next two years — will impact every part of the sports ecosystem.”
Moore’s successor at Sportsnet, Bart Yabsley, said the live nature of sports is tough for other forms of entertainment to match.
“It has the ability to draw millions and millions and millions,” Yabsley said in a recent interview. “We all saw what happened during the Blue Jays’ run (in ’15 and ’16). We all saw what happened during the Raptors’ run (last spring). There’s almost nothing else like it.”
Sportsnet landed the national hockey rights in 2013 with a monster $5.23-billion, 12-year deal with the NHL. The network also has rights to the Toronto Blue Jays, Grand Slam curling, Rogers Cup tennis, IndyCar and the Canadian Hockey League.
The Toronto Raptors’ rights are split between Sportsnet and TSN, which also boasts a solid lineup with regional NHL rights, the world juniors, CFL, Season of Champions curling, golf and tennis majors along with Formula One and NASCAR.
Moore, who like Pelley has worked at both Sportsnet/Rogers and TSN, said when it comes to evolution, smart legacy players with strong brands have the best chance to succeed.
“They’re the ones who not only have the brand, who have the audience, who have the following, but if they’re on top of the evolutionary technological changes, they can still win. It’s not going to be just the upstarts,” he said. “And I think if you look at some of the upstarts that have come out in the business as it relates to sports — Twitter, Facebook, Amazon — have been abject failures at revolutionizing the way traditional sports are broadcast.
“They’ve all tried to do traditional broadcasts and they’ve all failed at them. And the legacy players are back doing most of the broadcasts and using those other platforms as additions to their broadcasts.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2019.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
The next killer smartphone app has arrived — and it offers the potential to transform how we communicate, share knowledge and even make new friends.
I am talking about voice-and-audio-based social networking startup Clubhouse. Its platform enables users to drop in and out of ephemeral chat rooms and take part in a range of gatherings, from small “water-cooler” type conversations to larger discussions featuring expert panels, often attended by thousands of listeners. Since its launch last March, Clubhouse has increasingly become a cultural phenomenon, attracting politicians, celebrities and experts from all walks of life. With its success and prominent backing, it may now be poised to upend the entire social media space.
Clubhouse’s latest figures reveal how quickly it is growing. During a weekly town hall event on Sunday, co-founder Paul Davison said the app’s weekly active user base had doubled to 2 million over the last couple of weeks. He also announced the startup had raised another investment round led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, adding it now has more than 180 investors. While he didn’t offer any specifics, The Information reported on Friday that Clubhouse was getting interest at a $1 billion valuation. If true, that means the company’s value has risen by a factor of 10 since its earlier Series A round last May, also led by Andreessen Horowitz.
Something special is happening inside the Clubhouse community. Call it the power of the voice — and it’s what separates Clubhouse from other platforms. A short back-and-forth live conversation, with its nuance and tone, can build closer relationships more quickly than dozens of written posts and text messages sent through more established social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Since I joined Clubhouse last summer, I met and became friends with professors, filmmakers, artists, engineers and more from places all over the world. It has been intoxicating listening to people’s life stories and absorbing their knowledge and experience, from learning how a streaming video executive greenlights projects to getting expert political analysis on the latest breaking news. It has easily become one of my favorite pastimes.
To illustrate the kind of agenda-setting conversations that are becoming a staple on Clubhouse these days, here’s one example: Earlier this month, the mayors of San Francisco, Miami and Austin congregated inside a “room” to tout their cities as good places for tech companies to do business. Thousands of executives, investors, and employees tuned in to the vibrant interactive panel. For an app like Clubhouse — or any social media platform looking to extend its influence and user base — this is the holy grail of the virtuous feedback loop, where the network effects of a large influential audience attract the highest-quality speakers and vice versa.
Impressive as Clubhouse’s latest metrics are, they may actually understate its potential. All the growth thus far has come largely by worth of mouth, and from only half of the smartphone market. The app still requires an invitation from a current member to join and is exclusive to Apple Inc. devices. So when the founders decide to open Clubhouse to the public and release an Android version, growth will take off to higher levels.
The nature of Clubhouse’s platform offers the potential for money-making opportunities. For instance, Clubhouse could take a commission from room admission fees for large panel discussions. Or, similar to Amazon.com Inc.-owned Twitch channels, it could offer monthly subscriptions for specific interest-based club rooms. One can also imagine users buying unique animated reaction emojis to give visual feedback to speakers and interact with other members of the audience. Of course, the ability to make money will also attract and retain the best room hosts for the Clubhouse ecosystem. On Sunday, Clubhouse’s cofounders said they will start testing ways for the platform’s creators to get paid through “tipping, tickets or subscriptions” in the coming months.
Clubhouse has its challenges. Like other social media networks, it has faced criticism for objectionable content that was broadcast on its site. Last September, Clubhouse was hit with a flurry of negative publicity when some speakers perpetuated anti-Semitic stereotypes. The startup needs to invest more aggressively in trust and safety features and hire content moderators to mitigate harassment. There is also competition on the horizon with Twitter Inc. testing its own audio chat room feature inside its app called Spaces.
But it may be too little too late for other players. While Twitter’s new service does offer some differentiated features – including real-time transcriptions that appear on screen and the ability to share tweets to the room for discussion purposes – it is thus far largely siloed around a specific account’s followers. It lacks Clubhouse’s distinctive serendipity that lets people from diverse backgrounds meet and form their own connections through their own wanderings. Clubhouse also is at a stage where it is adding new innovations on a near weekly basis — including different room types, activity-based notification feeds and event calendars. It will be difficult for any other company to catch up.
Of course, the app has benefited from the pandemic as people look for ways to socialize while avoiding in-person interactions and outdoor activities. But Clubhouse usage may prove more durable than many believe after daily life returns to normal. It’s a convenient, frictionless way to meet new people through the intimacy of conversation and listen to conference-like events that otherwise might be difficult to attend in person.
Perhaps most importantly is the stunning level of usage and engagement. On a personal level, since installing Clubhouse I have noticed my time spent on the app is significantly higher than any other social network on my smartphone — more than TikTok, Twitter or Instagram. It is a sign of how appealing audio-based social networking can be. And judging from the activities of my friend list inside the community, I am not alone. I have little doubt once Clubhouse opens up to the general public, its user base can grow into the tens of millions. The social media giants should be concerned.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Beth Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org
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