Sports and eSports is driving online streaming growth in Australia

Sports fans are watching social live streams for longer because they offer a level of immersion not available on TV.

Australia’s media landscape is undergoing a transformation. At the end of 2018, live TV remained the dominant video channel, but research shows a migrational shift to online platforms is well underway.

The main driving force behind this has been the vast sports and eSports audiences across the country - research by Nielsen found that in July 2017, almost half of Australia’s population were accessing sports content online.

The research also charted a rapid 6-8% growth each month compared to the previous year, with the top three sports being tennis, footy, and cricket.

Consumers are accessing sports content more frequently on their desktops, but spending double the amount of time on a smartphone - debunking the assumption that smartphones are only used to ‘snack’ on content. Publishers are finding highly engaged and receptive audiences across multiple digital channels on a variety of devices.

Social sports fans

Sports fans are watching social live streams for longer because they offer a level of immersion not available on TV. Audiences are able to actively engage with content; participating in real-time polls and Q&As while discussing with other viewers, all on the same screen.

The ‘have your say’ community-based video experience drives longer watch times and high engagement. Consumers can watch across any device, anywhere and anytime. Even if they are watching the game on TV, many will use their second screen to access related content and join the conversation.

As such, digital sports media publishers are not always competing with linear broadcasts for viewers but offering supplementary content for second-screen viewing.

Live and real-time social video enrich a viewing experience while marketing other media services and driving traffic to premium content - globally, short video clips achieve the highest level of reach and engagement of any social content when published in real-time around events.

Streaming needs support

The idea of streaming all of your entertainment online is now more possible than ever. As audiences become accustomed to platforms like Netflix, long-form viewing on social media and other digital channels has increased. We’ve now reached the point in Australia where more focused OTT platforms could gain ground on TV and potentially cannibalize its viewership.

Players like Seven, Foxtel and more recently Kayo Sports have attempted to get ahead with sports-focused OTT platforms to capture the market early. However, relying on subscription revenue alone may be risky for the time being - TV still holds substantial weight with Australian audiences.

These platforms will need to find other revenue streams to be sustainable until OTT take-up reaches the levels it has across the rest of the world.

Using social media, these platforms can maximize their assets to win views for native advertising campaigns across Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Live streaming and real-time clips can mediate between TV broadcasts and their services to tempt sports fans into cutting the cord.

Many sports media publishers are also creating bespoke content for digital platforms, such as training ground insights, player challenges and more. These formats, only available online, serve to showcase what is available through digital media while satisfying the need to engage with sports beyond the matchday experience.

eSports’ eVictory - inevitable?

To many, the rise of eSports around the world has not come as a surprise. Much like traditional sports, video game players love to watch the best in the world, to see what is possible and learn from them.

As casual and serious gamers are increasingly buying into eSports, it’s hard to see the rise of its audiences stopping. The audience is already there, they just need the content to be delivered at the right place and time.

In Australia, it’s much of the same story. 98% of Australian households with children have computer games, while 65% of gaming households have three or more consoles.

The audience is there, but Australia still lags behind the global curve. Many believe the industry’s growth has been stunted largely by the country’s geographical isolation from major eSports regions, compounded by Australia’s legacy network infrastructure.

The initial lack of localized content prevented any mainstream loyalty to eSports media. Australian pro gamers have resorted to relocating, to ensure they are not at a technical disadvantage to opponents abroad. The infrastructure issue has also prevented access to top-level tournaments, along with the investment and sponsorship that comes with them.

However, despite a slow start the Australian eSports industry is beginning to grow steadily. As of 2018, 33% of Australia’s gamers had watched or participated in an eSports event. For many, a taste of the live experience is enough to get them hooked. Investment has started too, with two AFL teams recently making acquisitions in the Oceanic Pro eSports League.

While nothing is a given in the media industry, the way eSports is developing lends itself very much to the idea that ‘build it and they will come’.

Horses for courses

The development of eSports has centered around strong loyalty from younger demographics - those are most likely to play video games. eSports media has thrived on the connected viewing experiences that younger audiences enjoy.

The rise of Twitch is a key example in the convergence of new media and eSports, paving the way for eSports teams and federations to build an audience base and enough brand value to branch out across digital media platforms.

Across the globe, the nature of live sports and eSports has changed consumer expectations and shifted their focus to digital. The wider media industry has had to innovate to catch up - witnessing the vast reach of content across social media, and OTT platforms, and the valuable advertising opportunities that follow.

It seems Australia may be about to follow suit.

Elliot Renton is the head of Asia Pacific at Grabyo

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