Sports streaming: The next big OTT wave

Opinion OTT

The last few months have been a sports lover’s dream, with a huge number of sporting events and championships concluding, progressing or beginning. From the conclusion of the European club football season and the entirety of the European Championships (Euro 2020), to the 2020-21 NBA season reaching its end; from the FIA Formula 1 and Formula E championships going strong to the finish of the 2019-21 ICC Test Championship; from three of the annual tennis Grand Slam tournaments to the start of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics; it has been a significant time in the world of sports throughout the course of this year. And alongside this, sports streaming has also steadily been gaining more relevance and popularity.

While physical attendance/viewership of sports remains stunted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, digital viewership has experienced the largest amount of growth in the last 10 years. While a portion of this can be attributed to a greater focus placed on sports TV broadcasts, the inclusion of sports streaming as a part of the OTT space is the most important factor behind this trend.

For a benchmark in comparison, let us look at the European Football Championships (Euro). Euro 2016 had set viewership records at its time, with over 2.94 million viewing minutes per match. Of this, it is estimated that almost 80% came via TV broadcasts. Fast forward five years, and Euro 2020 (delayed by one year due to the pandemic) has broken the previous edition’s records substantially. SPSN estimates that Euro 2020 had over 4.3 million viewing minutes per match – a 46% increase over Euro 2016. However, what’s interesting about this figure is that almost half of this viewership came via online streaming.

Sports streaming has become a priority for many OTT service providers. In fact, several renowned broadcast services have themselves invested in streaming services in order to maintain their audiences while staying relevant with the time (for example, ESPN has begun transitioning to its own streaming service ESPN+). In India, Star India led the way by launching Hotstar during the 2015-16 period. Hotstar was one of the first few platforms to offer sports streaming; and that innovative idea has played an important role in Hotstar beating out foreign giants such as Netflix and Prime Video as India’s most popular OTT service.

Today, almost every major sporting event has licensed and official streaming mechanisms. The Barclays’ Premier League and the La Liga Santander are streamed on SPSN and Facebook Watch respectively, while the NBA also streams on its own League Pass via ESPN and ABC. Hotstar has agreements with the FIA for multiple motorsport events, as well as for all major tennis and golf tournaments.

However, the provision of sports streaming by these services would be a moot point without the rapidly escalating interest among consumer and fans. Forbes reported that the largest monthly spikes in OTT viewership in 2019 and 2020 coincided with major sporting events, while total sports streaming minutes have increased by almost 40% in the past two years. YouGov Sports (one of the most popular data collection agencies for sports viewership) reported that in 2021, 41% of total sports viewership occurs via online streaming in India (China leads this metric, tallying 53% of total sports viewership). Europe and North America are also above the global average (27%) and are rising steadily. And what’s most interesting about these figures is that the number of younger people (aged 18-30), who prefer online streaming over TV, is over double the number of older people (45 and above) – indicating that online streaming will continue gaining relevance over the next few years.

Evidently, the popularity of online sports streaming has grown alongside that of the OTT sector itself, and is on the verge of igniting the next major wave in the OTT market. Both consumers and service providers are bullish on the concept, and the only way forward for this market appears to be upwards.