The problem for sports broadcasters' declining viewing figures goes beyond just live streaming

Sports broadcasters are seeing audiences decline across the board

The widespread decline in viewing figures for sports is more than a shift in viewing habits, according to a new study which shows millennials' interest in sport is actually waning due to online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.

Findings from media research firm Ampere Analysis have revealed that demographic and cultural shifts are luring younger audiences away from live sport.

The study surveyed 32,000 consumers in Europe and the US and found that 10% of respondents chose sport as their favourite genre and of those respondents only 11% were aged 18 - 24.

Richard Broughton, director at Ampere Analysis said: " Younger consumers are turning off sport in favour of scripted and social video content including comedy, sci-fi, romance and action & adventure. Clearly, a ‘one-size fits all’ content strategy will not last as a pan-generational plan.”

He maintained that the lack of enthusiasm from younger viewers should “ring alarm bells for traditional media companies reliant on high value - and increasingly high cost - sports rights".

Audience numbers for live sport are in decline across the board, and while live streaming is already impacting upon this, games which aren't shown on social media are still suffering.

For instance, in the US broadcast audiences for NFL matches have dropped across all major networks in the first four weeks of the 2016 season. Figures from Nielsen show that NBC’s Sunday night games were down 13% year-on-year, ESPN Monday night games were down 17%, CBS Thursday night games down by 15%. Fox and CBS Sunday nights were the best performers, down 3%.

Similarly in the UK, September viewing figures for channels are suffering, including Sky Sports which has saw the viewing figures for its Premier League broadcasts fall by 19%. Taken together with BT Sport and Eurosport, there is a 9% decline across the board compared to 2010.

While live streaming is seen as something of a ticking time bomb for broadcasters, the interests of younger audiences appear to be changing too. Millennials who took part in the research said they were much more likely to identify with other content forms over sport. They are 21% more likely than average to agree they ‘love movies’ and 50% more likely to indicate that they ‘love TV series’, both of which Netflix and Amazon have been able to offer in abundance.

Other reasons for the decline have been attributed to the high costs of attendance at sports events and the shift of sport to pay TV channels, which cash-strapped millennials are unable to afford.

The findings suggest that broadcasters who are cutting back spend on TV to protect their budget for expensive sports rights may want to focus more on investing in other forms of entertainment.

Broughton said broadcasters and sports bodies need to encourage millennials back to sport or they face being trapped in an "unsustainable scenario of escalating rights costs against a backdrop of a declining or stagnating audience base".

He concluded: "Building fan bases internationally has been a core part of league growth strategies to-date – but securing domestic audiences will be crucial to future security.”

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